Sumter Elks Lodge 855 has joined with more than 2,000 lodges nationwide in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the BPOE - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. While the original Elks lodge was founded in 1868 in New York City, the Sumter lodge …
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Sumter Elks Lodge 855 has joined with more than 2,000 lodges nationwide in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the BPOE - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. While the original Elks lodge was founded in 1868 in New York City, the Sumter lodge received its charter in 1903.
Lodge 855 Exalted Ruler Johnny Raffield said the Elks, originally a fraternal organization founded by "a group of actors called the Jolly Corks," changed its focus when one of its members died suddenly, leaving his family destitute. The other members stepped in to help. Jolly Corks leader Charles Vivian then founded what became the BPOE, with new service roles and rituals.
The elk was adopted as the organization's symbol, beating out the buffalo by just one vote.
Raffield said the Sumter Elks Lodge 855 has a strong emphasis on charitable work, while also serving as a base for social activities for its members.
The Elks' state project, he said, is Alzheimer's disease.
"We provide respite for the caregiver, (and) the recipient does not have to be a member of the lodge to be eligible," he said.
Formerly located in a large house on the corner of Broad Street and North Salem Avenue, Lodge 855 moved in 1971 to its present site overlooking Second Mill Pond on West Liberty Street. Since then, Raffield said, "We have given over $3,026,000 to the local community."
An annual donation is the awarding of college scholarships to Sumter County high school students.
"Last August, I had the privilege of signing certificates for 10 students that were awarded $1,000 each from Sumter Lodge 855," he said.
Service to veterans is a large part of the Elks' mission.
"Locally, we take water and magazines to the VA (Veterans Administration) clinic on Church Street," Raffield said. "We have a glove and scarf drive during the fall, with the items collected given to homeless veterans. We entered a float in the Veterans Day Parade. Last November at the Dorn VA (hospital) in Columbia, we provided the funding for 60 dialysis patients to receive Thanksgiving dinner."
Sumter Lodge 855 maintains "a close affiliation with the Boy Scouts. They operate the Halloween Haunted Trail and assist with other activities, such as the Veterans Day Parade and Youth Basketball Hoop Shoot."
There is also a soccer shoot, with its winners and the basketball hoop shoot winners advancing to district, state, regional and national competitions.
"Last year, and for many years, we sponsored a Special People's Dance for adults of all ages who have physical or mental disabilities," Raffield said. "The event was held quarterly. (These) are just some of our charitable works."
Among the lodge's social activities are "a Super Bowl Party watch party and chili cookoff," he said. "We will hold a St. Patrick's Day party on March 17, and throughout the year we hold such functions. Many times a member will prepare a ham, turkey or beef, and other members bring a favorite dish to share."
Other activities include NASCAR nights, a Halloween Trunk or Treat followed by a party for adults, Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas party.
"Bingo is held every Wednesday night (with) good participation from members and guests," Raffield said.
Proceeds benefit Elks charities.
"Ceremonies open to the public include the Installation of Officers - expected to be in April," Raffield said, "Flag Day on June 14, and on the first Sunday in December, we hold a service in memory of our members who have died during the year. With us, 'Living or Dead, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken.'"
Events held in February in observance of the BPOE anniversary included a steak dinner for prospective members, attended by about 60 people, he said, resulting in applications from seven people and more expected.
A party held in the lodge for members and guests on Feb. 17 also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the national Elks.
"The Sumter Lodge #855 does seek new members," Raffield said. "Persons who would like to join simply request and complete an application. To qualify, a person must be of good character and a citizen of the United States, believe in God, uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States of America and not affiliate with any group seeking to overthrow the government of the United States by force or violence."
Becoming an Elk will not conflict with a person's duties to self, his or her family or religious or political opinions, he emphasized. "We seek men and women of all races for membership."
Raffield said, "We like to think that we are the best-kept secret in town, although we do not want to be a secret!"
For more information about the BPOE, visit www.elks.org. For more on Sumter Elks Lodge 855, 1100 W. Liberty St., call (803) 773-6324.
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