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Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
12:21 PM Tue, Dec. 18th

Kingman Elks Lodge down, but not close to out

Changes affecting civic organizations everywhere

KINGMAN - Like any club with nearly 700 members, Kingman Elks Lodge 468 has its share of internal squabbles, conflicting personalities and blame games.

Some members feel they're not treated with respect and appreciation. Others complain the quality of food has gone to the dogs. Getting them to work together on a project can be like herding cats.

Despite declining membership and lack of member participation, the lodge is not on the verge of closing, 37-year member and past state president Jerry Grimes told The Miner on Thursday.

The lodge is in good financial shape with reserve funds, generating income from daily lunches, dinners, banquets, wedding receptions, birthday parties and family reunions, Grimes said.

The district leader of 12 Elks lodges said he was disappointed to see comments made by Exalted Ruler Ken Coombs in the August newsletter.

"Without a substantial increase in member participation, there is the possibility that our lodge will close in the near future," Coombs said. "Participate or take a chance at losing your lodge."

The Elks lodge will probably have to cut paid staff and use volunteers in the social quarters and kitchen, he said. Substantial expenses such as utilities and maintenance can't be cut. The only paid staff would be secretary Mike Blair and treasurer William Riehle.

One Elks member said it's sad that a lodge in existence since 1899 can't keep its doors open due to mismanagement.

"They need to clean house and get rid of those who have caused problems if they want to have the Kingman Elks Lodge stay open," the member said.

Coombs resigned as Exalted Ruler in August, Grimes said.

Kingman Elks Lodge has 681 members, down from more than 800, but well above the 460 count when the Elks convened at their downtown lodge.

Membership has declined from its peak, but the numbers have remained steady over the past few years, Grimes noted. He doesn't know of any civic organization that hasn't lost membership.

"Times are changing," Grimes said. "Fraternal organizations are not as important as they were in the past. Lifestyles have changed, kids grow up in a different era, so you have to change your method of thinking. We have a proud history and expended a lot of money in the community."

The Elks purchased the former Kingman Country Club at 900 Gates Ave. after their historic downtown lodge was gutted by fire in November 1992. They paid $350,000 for the 12,000-square-foot facility on 3.5 acres and spent another $150,000 to finish a new wing. Members pay a little over $90 a year in dues.

Mohave Republican Club pulled out of having its dinner meetings at the Elks Lodge because of the food issue, club president and Elks member Richard Basinger said. At $13 a head, the club wanted a choice of more than one entrée. Also, the Elks were going to start charging the club $100 to rent the room.

"Over time, what was excellent food began to deteriorate," Basinger said. "Prices were going up and it got to the point where there were so many complaints ... it would be late, sometimes they ran out of food ... there was a huge push to find somewhere else."

The Republican club met at the new hospital until it closed and then went back to the Elks Lodge after promises were made that the food would be better and a choice of two entrees would be offered for people on special diets.

When those promises were broken, Basinger went to the Elks House Committee and was basically told they didn't want his business.

"Frankie Sandoval (then chairman of the House Committee), in so many words I can't use, said he couldn't care a blankety-blank about our dietary issues and we don't want you here," Basinger said.

The club took its business to Golden Coral restaurant where dietary concerns are covered, overflow crowds are accommodated and the sound system is better, he said.

The Elks banquet hall is available for rent for $450 for five hours, or half of the hall for $225. It includes tables and chairs, coffee, tea, water and bar service.

The lodge serves lunch open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and fish dinner on Friday nights. Thursday is bar bingo night.

The kitchen has been hopping and food quality has improved tremendously since Tasha Creek took over as club manager. She showed a calendar schedule filled with events such as the Marine Corps ball and veterans' breakfast.

"I told the Republican women I'd have to raise their (lunch) prices by $2 in January and they had no issues with it," Creek said.

Grimes said Elks membership nationally has dropped to 835,000 from more than 1.1 million members 20 years ago.

"Even though our core numbers are shrinking, the core of people who believe in Elkdom are there with their time and labor and money and they continue to give," he said. Last year, the Elks donated $11,000 to the Kingman community, he added.