A couple of votes different and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.) could have been the B.P.O.B. – for “buffalo!” Either way, however, the organization has absolutely nothing to do with wildlife protection but a lot to do with helping the weakest among us who are in need.
And along the way, members have plenty of time for fun and fellowship.
Ray Highley, a longtime Frankfort resident and member of the local lodge, is currently serving as state president of the Elks. He says that some of his buddies asked him to join several years ago and after he did he quickly discovered the organization is more than swilling beer and bowling in its clubhouse down on Lewis Street, the stereotype often attached to Elks.
“We do a world of charity works,” said Highley, 73, who retired several years ago from IBM as first a typewriter and then a computer repairman. “Children and veterans are our main priority but we try to do whatever we can to help those in need, whoever they are.”
The local lodge, for instance, recently gave dictionaries to every third grade student in Franklin County. In 2011, the group provided some $22,000 in aid to veterans. Pictures of Elks members visiting patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington have often appeared on the Community page here.
Highley admits the group has fun but it does a lot of good, too. And it’s that “benevolent” thing that caused Highley to pursue higher offices beyond the local lodge.
“During the year of my presidency (that began in February), I’ll be visiting some 30 lodges in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas,” he said. “I’ll try to promote Elks’ programs and help lodges that may be struggling.”
Highley says one of his concentrations will be on membership.
“I want to ask current members why they joined and encourage them to invite others in.”
Like many such organizations, the Elks have witnessed a decline in membership across the last several years as older members die and aren’t replaced. It seems people have more to do these days, more responsibilities and joining any organization isn’t a high priority.
Membership is open to men and women but active members must sponsor all potential Elks. The requirements are the applicant be at least 21, have no felony convictions, be a citizen of the United States and express his or her belief in God. A background check is conducted and the candidate is voted on.
Locally there’s a mix of men and women in the lodge. Highley says the opening of the organization to women was a great thing.
“Men have a lot of ideas but it seems to be the women who put things together to get them accomplished. They do what we might call the ‘dirty work’.”
A former Jaycee himself, Highley says many of the members are former Jaycees. He says he “found” the Elks after many years in the Jaycees.
“It seems that Jaycees make great leaders and they are willing to serve.”
Highley is the fourth member of the local lodge to serve as state president. The others were J.S. Taylor (1910-11), Joe Pat Gaines (1980-81), W.O Rogers (1986-87) and now Highley.