Hoboken Elks Lodge No. 74 is gearing up for a week’s worth of events to celebrate 125 years, all spent at their current 1005 Washington St. location. The events will kick off with an open house held on Sunday, April 21 in which members in tuxedos will offer historical tours of the building. On Thursday, April 25 new members (which could see up to 70) will be initiated into the “anniversary class.”
To round out the festivities, the Elks will hold a black tie-preferred anniversary gala on Saturday, April 27 at the lodge. The gala, which offers a formal cocktail reception, red carpet, and a rich menu, is on target to reach its 200 person attendee goal.
The last gala to celebrate 100 years was held on the campus of Stevens Institute, not at the Elks Lodge.
“We don’t want people to be uncomfortable or to be packed in here,” said Rick Gerbehy, lodge secretary (though Gerbehy said he considers his role to be the busybody around the lodge for the last 30 years).
The gala cocktail reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the banquet will follow at 8 p.m.
What is an Elk?
The Benevolent and Protective order of the Elks was formally organized in February 1868 in New York City. They are dedicated to the principals of charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity. Many artists and musicians comprised the original organization. The organizations are primarily funded through dues and fundraisers.
“We self-generate all of the money right here in the community,” said Jason Maurer, member and former Exalted Ruler of the Elks.
Depending on the chapter, different social events (for members and non) and civic programs are created by Elks.
“We have at least 20 programs,” said Maurer. “Programs for drug awareness, special needs children, seniors, sports, veterans, scholarships…We try to meet the needs that we see. For example we fundraise for and disperse anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 to help send kids to college. It’s a layered approach to community service.”
The Elks also lend their space to other organization’s events.
“There aren’t really any places left in town for events,” said Gerbehy. “There are no more parish halls or backrooms.”
“We are happy to be in a position to allow people to use our facility. It helps us help them,” said Maurer. “A member has to sign off on the event, so all events are sponsored by a member. When you consider we have 600 members, you’d really have to be very isolated not to know a member.”
Maurer said that the Elks have been used to giving back without any fanfare, but some members became unaware of the benefits available to them, because they were only lightly publicized.
“Every member should know what is available to them and plug into our programming, so we’ve stepped up some of the PR,” said Maurer. “We want people to know we’re more than that building on Washington with the elk outside.”
“As a kid, we used to sneak in and watch the guys play pool.” – Rick Gerbehy
In order to be a member, you need to be an American citizen, believe in God, and receive a majority vote by the members. Maurer and Gerbehy said that 25 years ago, all it took was three members to blackball someone.
A history of the Hoboken Elks
As membership grew, members dedicated their efforts to finding a suitable location. In 1894, the generosity and determination of the early members enabled the lodge to secure property at 1005 Washington St. The fundraising efforts of member A.J. Demarest garnered over $15,000 for the building fund.
“As a kid, we used to sneak in and watch the guys play pool,” confessed Gerbehy. “We just thought it was where a bunch of old guys go to play pool and cards.” Gerbehy said that after a college buddy suggested he join, he saw it differently than a kid enamored by a larger than life old-fashioned pool table.
“Monday nights in the lodge were a big deal, way before Monday night football,” he said. “The guys would fish and then bring them back to cook them up for dinner during the summer. Then the Monday nights moved to fall and later incorporated football.”
Gerbehy said it wasn’t until he was a member that he toured the ornate meeting rooms upstairs of the five-story building.
The city of Hoboken at one time hosted many fraternal organizations like masonic temples, an Odd Fellows Lodge, a VFW, and an American Legion Post. As the demographics of Hoboken changed, membership was no longer sufficient to support the buildings. Today, only the Hoboken Elks Lodge remains in the city.
The Elks are the only organization in New Jersey still in their original building, and for more than 100 years. (The room where Gerbehy was being interviewed was once an active bowling alley and also a filming location of the popular movie “Rounders”).
“The building is the anchor that keeps it all in place,” said Gerbehy.
One of the biggest member benefits back in the day was for businessmen to be able to stay at Elk locations in other towns if they were away on business, Gerbehy explained. “That’s where the term ‘lodge’ came in; some could be 200 room facilities. But the main lodges were considered Newark and New York and they were both concerned that Hoboken could be a competitive hotel, so the design of Hoboken was more community-oriented,” he said
Gerbehy said that Hoboken was also unique because members pretty much left politics at the door.
“Members kept [politics] outside the lodge. It wasn’t ‘who’s on what side of the fence.’ Members could be enemies then friends here and then enemies again.”
The evolution of an elk
Today, the Hoboken Elks have somewhere around 600 members, a far cry from the Depression, World War I and World War II numbers. In the mid-sixties, Hoboken saw only a little over 100 members.
With the times, came change. One of the biggest changes in Elk membership, is that the organization used to only allow male members. Now, females are not only members but also are moving into many leadership roles within the organization, Maurer said.
“In 10 years, we could be gender neutral,” he added.
Maurer attributes some of the rise in female numbers to spousal privileges enjoyed beyond 20 years ago.
“A lot of the wives or lady friends came to the affairs, they enjoyed the privileges, they may not have felt the need to join,” Maurer said.
Along with gender changes came tradition changes. Rituals are beginning to slowly modernize or shorten to bolster membership.
“Older members are die-hards,” said Gerbehy. “There are resistant spots.”
Modern titles like president or vice president are coined exalted ruler or knight.
“These were terms of the time,” said Maurer.
“The fact that altering these titles even came up at a Grand Lodge convention shows that they try to do what they can to promote membership,” said Gerbehy.
Gerbehy and Maurer said they do see a lot of younger members though.
“Traditionally, the family members of Elks want to join but sometimes young adults coming out of college want to continue their civic work,” said Gerbehy. “In the eighties we actually saw a lot of twentysomethings bringing in their fathers.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.