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Local Elks enjoying a light moment. (L. to r.) Exalted Ruler Elect Robert Giglio, Past Exalted Ruler Leon Jankowski, Past Exalter Ruler Ed Calapa, and Exalter Ruler Kathy Cush. A picture of Iwo Jima is in the background.

Lodge #1543 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, located in Port Washington and also serving Great Neck and neighboring communities, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The lodge will be marking the event with a dinner dance at the Plandome Country Club on Sunday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. "It is open to the public," said Leon Jankowski, membership chair and past exalted ruler, adding, "It will be lots of fun."

Regarding this milestone anniversary, Exalted Ruler Kathy Cush said, "What the Elks do for the community, our youth, our veterans and all the others we help warms my heart. To be active in an organization that does so much for so many is truly a labor of love." She added, "I love our motto, 'The faults of our members we write upon the sand, their virtues upon the tablets of love and memory'."

According to Ed Calapa, past exalted ruler, the Elks is a benevolent organization wholly dedicated to service. "We are not primarily a place where people come to make business or political contacts," he said. In our community, the Elks sponsor a wide variety of activities. A popular annual event is the "Hoop Shoot," a free-throw contest for boys and girls ages 8 through 12. This year's event, at Weber Middle School, had an excellent turnout. The winners go on to district, then regional, then statewide competition. In the Feb. 5 Port Washington News, Youth Activities Director Dick Scallon was quoted as saying, "This event is the largest and most visible of the many youth activities sponsored by the Elks Lodge. We love hosting it as it highlights our commitment to America's youth."

As part of their "Americanism" program, the Elks sponsor an essay contest every year in the local schools. Awards are given in two divisions: fifth and sixth graders and seventh and eighth graders. The last theme was "What Does Old Glory Mean to You?" According to Robert Giglio, exalted ruler elect, in recent years the Elks have combined the essay awards breakfast with "drug awareness." The latter, said Giglio, includes an essay contest and literature distribution. In addition, the Elks support many community activities initiated by other organizations. "When the community comes to us, for example the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, the lodge is always there to help," said Giglio.

Major projects include annually sponsoring a play, the proceeds of which go to assist persons with cerebral palsy, awarding college scholarships, and activities with disabled veterans. Giglio said, "We take the vets on picnics and dinners, take them to games, give them a night out. We try to break up the routine." Exalted Ruler Kathy Cush-Calapa, said, "As long as there are disabled veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will not forget them."

Social events are an important part of the Elks. Every Friday night they gather for dinner. (The food is delicious!) All holidays are an occasion for a celebration. Other activities include picnics and trips to Atlantic City.

In spite of their many good works and numerous "fun" events, the officers of the Port Washington Lodge are concerned about rising costs, particularly in the context of a stable membership. Town and school taxes are the biggest burden, along with rising insurance, fuel, and utility costs. Calapa said, "Taxes are killing us. We do many good works; we should get a tax break. In other states fraternal organizations do not pay taxes." The Port News followed up on this with the Nassau County Assessor's office. A spokesman from that office told us that New York State law very specifically states that fraternal organizations are not exempt from property taxes.

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a national organization with over one million members. It was founded on February 16, 1868 by a group of 15 men with mutual interests. The declared purposes of the Elks were, and are, to practice its four cardinal virtues: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship. (From The Story of Elkdom published by the Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.) The Elks is non-sectarian and non-political, and is open only to American citizens. Once an all-male organization, it was opened to women in recent years.

For reservations for the dinner dance, which costs $75 per person and includes an open bar, call 516-944-3180. For more information about the Elks, call 516-767-3236 or visit www.elks.org. (You can link through the library website.)


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