Happy Birthday BPO Elks: 150 Years and Still Growing

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Jamestown, NY, Lodge 263, and its approximately 340 local members join with more than 2,000 Elk Lodges and one million members across the nation on February 16, 2018 to celebrate their 150 birthday.

Elks lodges operate only within the United States, its territories and protectorates, though its members strive to make a difference around he globe. The Elks of Canada, founded in 1912 is not directly affiliated with the American organization, but the two agree they “…share a common history and enjoy a friendly relationship.”

A Matter of Principle
“Our core principles are the ones in our motto,” said Jamestown Lodge’s Exalted Ruler, Mike Fish. “They are Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, and Fidelity. But don’t let that third one fool you,” he added with a smile, “women are members here too, some of our best, in fact.”

“We don’t brag much about what we do,” said 38-year, third-generation, member, Jim Murphy. “But philanthropy is our aim in everything we do. We give out more in scholarships, for instance, than anyone else in America, other than the U.S. government.”

Overall, according to Fish, the Elks contributed more than $3.6 billion in cash, goods and services to the nation’s veterans, the disadvantaged and handicapped, and to patriotic and civic programs. “As long as there is a U.S. veteran, they will never be forgotten by the BPO Elks,” Murphy added, citing the local Elk Lodge’s 100-year tradition of hosting the free annual Jamestown Veterans Day breakfast. “It is the longest running Veterans Day Breakfast in the country.”

Elks Lodge #263, 339 E 4th Street, Jamestown, NY

Simple Origins
The organization that eventually became The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks began modestly in New York City in 1868 as a social club with a membership of 15 young men, all of them minstrel show and theatrical performers. Their origin as a private club was simply meant to side step New York City’s tough laws governing public tavern hours. They called themselves the “Jolly Corks.” Many of the Elks’ rituals, traditions and titles reflect their early theatrical roots.

The social club soon transformed itself into a serious service organization after a member died leaving his wife and children destitute. Their help and concern in that situation gave birth to additional service roles and a new name intended to evoke… “a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America.” The Elk narrowly won out over the Buffalo.

Local Contributions
Among the many civic programs carried out by Lodge 263 in Jamestown, Fish notes their 40-year tradition of Aspire/Resource Center Client Christmas Parties with more than 6,800 dinners cooked and served and gifts delivered by Santa himself.

Since the founding of the Special Olympics about 40 years ago, Elks have donated and served free lunches to all of the participants and coaches. Flag Day ceremonies and classroom presentations in local schools are also a key annual highlight of the Elks’ programs. A $2,000 annual donation to St. Susan Center has recently been instituted to further reflect their commitment to the local community.

“We work hard, and then we play hard,” Murphy said cheerfully. “Fellowship, comradery, family and friends make the Elks a special place that knows how to enjoy each other’s company and then work together to make difference in our community, our country and around the world.”

Learn More
The BPO Elks claim six U.S. presidents, seven state governors, six generals, more than 20 members of the U.S. Congress, a score of famous actors and even more great athletes among their members, present and past. Mike Fish believes there are many more citizens of the Greater Jamestown region who belong in that club, too. The number for Jamestown’s BPO Elks Lodge 263 is (716) 484-1751.