“Sometimes it’s like we’re the best kept secret in the community,” laughed Jerry Wernicke, membership director at Elks Lodge in Chilliwack.
But they don’t try to be.
Our local Elks have been working diligently and generously under the radar for quite some time. After 95 years, they’ve built up a strong yet quiet reputation as an incredible charitable organization in the community.
The Chilliwack Elks (Lodge #48) will be celebrating their 95th anniversary on Nov. 14 at the Mount Cheam Lions Club. Elk members and their guests will be joined by local politicians and representatives from Elks of Canada for a dinner, reception and dance to commemorate the milestone.
Wernicke filled out his initial Elks membership application in 1982 while enjoying a steak, cooked by local Elks where he lived in Fort Nelson.
Within a month, he was behind the grill donning an Elk pin of his own.
Wernicke’s home Lodge has been in Chilliwack for the past 22 years. He actually served as Grand Exalted Ruler, meaning President at the national level, from 2011 to 2012, when Chilliwack hosted the national Elks convention.
When Ken Johnsgaard retired in 2010, he decided to join the Elks as a means to stay social and continue to give back to his community.
“It just progressed from there,” Johnsgaard explained. “Before I knew it, jeez – I was President!”
The public may still view Elks as a fraternal organization, which they were for many decades. However, a referendum vote in 1997 brought them together with sister organization, the Ladies of the Royal Purple.
The now family-oriented organization is made up of men and women who are motivated to serve their communities. Wernicke and Johnsgaard’s spouses Beverly and Yvonne have been included in Chilliwack’s membership for years.
“It’s been quite an improvement to have the ladies join. They keep us guys on our toes,” Wernicke revealed.
Elk volunteers are most known for their services to children. Their national charity fund provides financial assistance to children and youth’s medical needs, supports and promotes awareness for programs geared toward children with hearing and speech disorders, and provides bursaries to students studying communicative disorders.
They also offer three accessible camps in B.C. which provide fun, recreational activities and accommodations for any organized group of children at no cost.
“Our immediate concern is kids,” Johnsgaard explained, “but we don’t stop there. We help people in need.”
Locally, the list of organizations, events, and individuals that they have supported is endless.
In 2014 alone, the Chilliwack Elks donated upwards of $45,000 and innumerable volunteer hours to assist groups in the community including Chilliwack Community Services, Safety Village, Kiwanis clubs and local sports teams.
They take on individual cases too. They’ve helped a family who desperately needed a new transmission in their van, local athletes who dreamed of attending international competitions, and they’ve provided heart monitors and fire alarms for Chilliwack schools
The Elks have invited three of their most primarily supported organizations to receive a donation at the anniversary event: The Salvation Army, Ruth & Naomi’s Mission, and the Ann Davis Transition Society.
Once you join the Elks, you tend to stick around. “It gets in your blood,” Johnsgaard enthused. “The outcomes are really special… to see the results of what these kids are getting.”
Also attending the event are four of Chilliwacks longest-participating Elks. Between Bob Fraser, Don Crowe, Wes Norrish and Gordon Pybis, there are over 200 years of membership.
If you are interested in learning more about Elks or becoming a member, visit www.elks-canada.org or contact the Chilliwack Lodge at 604-392-4414.