Johnson County opens first Elks Lodge - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Johnson County opens first Elks Lodge

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JOHNSON CO. -- A nationally known civic organization will expand it's membership. For the first time ever, Johnson County has it's own Elk's Lodge organization.

The men and women wear their bright orange proudly, hoping the people notice they're here to serve.

"We've been really well received, I mean everyone's been real gracious about helping us out," said Lodge President Norman Suits.

Last November, Johnson County chartered its first Elks Lodge, opened by a a group of ladies, including Cheryl Qualls, who said, before 1995, women weren't allowed to join.

"Here we had a brand new lodge that just started. First one in 50 years and four ladies that opened it, so that was kind of pretty exciting for us," added Qualls. 

The idea started years ago by David Riddle, but Riddle abruptly passed away in 2015. His wife Debbie and three other women continued the dream.

Over the past nine months, the not-for-profit has gained almost 90 members that have helped raise money for veterans services, including the Honor Flight and This Able Veteran. They've also funded youth programs and provided scholarships.

"That's made a big difference in them getting their people that they've got, is they've picked up a lot of new people that's not been Elks before," said Marion Elks Leading Knight Ted Clendenin. 

Clendenin helped with the initiation for the new lodge, but the club has yet to find a building. That's what Suits is working on.

"We try not to just dedicate everything to a building. I'm sure a building will come in time," added Suits. 

This year marks the 150th year for the Elks and Qualls and Suits believe it's better late than never to do more for the community.

"Hopefully this lodge will stay here and be here for our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and on," said Qualls. 
"If there are organizations or people in the community that are looking for help in something, please contact us and we may be able to help out," added Suits. 

He said all the money they raise goes back into the community.

Flag Day is Wednesday, June 14, and one the Elk's biggest celebrations. Sunday, the community is invited to learn more about what the group does. A ceremony take place at 1 p.m. at the Vienna City Park. To learn more you can click here for their Facebook page.

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