After more than 50 years in operation The Mount Airy Elks Lodge will end an era when the group’s facility will be auctioned Feb. 16 at noon.
It may be the end of the familiar facility, but the upcoming auction does not end the Order of the Elks in Mount Airy. Instead, it allows the members to refocus their energy and money on what is important in the heart of an Elk - helping others, president Freddy Badgett remarked. “We love to help people. Our members have servant’s hearts. They help others, and do it quietly. We love to make a difference.”
The local chapter of the The Order of the Elks began in January 1958 with 100 members. During that time Mount Airy did not offer the variety of restaurants and social venues the town has today. Recognizing a need in the community, the members purchased a parcel of land in 1962 and built the first lodge, later expanding with a fully equipped kitchen, pool, and concession stand.
Through the years, especially with the state of the economy, membership has declined. At one time the membership was up to 1,000, but in recent years decreased to around 200 men and women. Badgett says that at peak membership the lodge was filled with “the movers and shakers of Mount Airy.”
“Our members included the owners of industries around town, upper management, bankers, and that type of people. Now, all those big industries are almost gone from the area. It is the harsh reality of the times we now live in. With our source of income being our membership base, it has become difficult to operate a large facility.”
A few years ago, in an effort to keep the facility open, the members decided to sublease the restaurant and open it to the public, but the restaurant is no longer in operation.
According to Badgett, the Mount Airy Order of the Elks will move into a new facility. “The Elks will continue. We are looking into getting a smaller facility and we will make sure there is always an Elks Lodge in Mount Airy. We have no debt — we are in the clear right now and are looking down the road at what we want for our future. We have made the decision to downsize at this time so we won’t have any financial problems in the future.”
The Elks have a long history dating back more than 150 years in the United States. In fact, the Elks funded the building of the first veterans’ hospital right after World War I and continue to support veterans to this day. The Mount Airy Elks hold a veterans’ banquet yearly. They also support four veterans’ homes in North Carolina and raised money to buy the buses and televisions for those homes.
The local Order of the Elks support many organizations and hold several fundraisers each year, including breast cancer research, the local Red Cross, hospice, and Camp Carefree, a camp for children with chronic illnesses and their families. They also hold a hoops shoot at Reeves Community Center each year for boys and girls and the winner of the event has a chance to advance to the national championship, where before last year, the past three national champions were from North Carolina.
Last year a motorcycle group at the lodge, which includes members and several past Elk leaders, collected more than 200 coats. They donated the coats to the Surry County Children’s Center and the Yadkin Children’s Home, but were left many coats. Around that time, the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy devastated many people up north and the members decided to send the rest of the coats to the victims. Due to the generosity of a locally-owned trucking company, the coats were shipped for free to an Elks Lodge in Ephrata, Penn., then passed on to the Smithtown, N.Y. Elks Lodge, whose members made sure the coats were given to a local charity and distributed to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Until the new owners purchase the facility, the Mount Airy Elks Lodge will continue as usual. The Super Bowl Party is still on the schedule for Sunday.