A news article published on this date in 1965 reported around 50 prospective members gathered at the Rustic Rock Inn on Jan. 17, 1965, to discuss organizing a Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge in Sikeston.
The Sunday meeting was presided over by Joseph Bollinger, district deputy grand exalted ruler of the Chaffee Lodge.
The Lodge became official as Lodge No. 2319 with its charter on May 3, 1965, and the installation of its first officers.
"The first exalted ruler was Ray Hart," said Wayne Smith, the Lodge's current exalted ruler. "He passed away a few years ago. He was member number one."
Other original officers included: Charles Mitchell, esteemed leading knight; Billy Burch esteemed loyal knight; Robert Porter, esteemed lecturing knight; Charles Springs, secretary; Bennie Walker Jr., treasurer; Robert Meyer, esquire; James Malone, tiler; Fred Danner, chaplain; and Jack Brady, inner guard.
Over a dozen of the original members remain with the lodge, according to Harry Holsinger, current secretary of the Sikeston Elks: Bob Porter, C.D. Springs Jr., Bob Meyer, Dwight Crader, Bill Ferrell, Jim Doster, John Hux Jr., Cotton Holyfield, Lloyd Evans, Ralph Armour, Ben Marshall III, Lynn Ingram, Joel Montgomery, Allen Blanton and Bill Lewis.
The lodge operated out of the Rustic Rock Inn until it moved to the old Kentucky Fried Chicken building. "It was the old Cyrus Restaurant at that time," Holsinger said.
In the early 1980s, the Lodge purchased the Tumbleweed nightclub building off Interstate 60 where they remained until moving to the present building at 349 Dona St.
"We purchased that land and built that building about 1998," Holsinger recalled.
"We built this Lodge new, from the ground up," Smith said. "It's the first Lodge we ever built."
In addition to having ample room and parking, members are particularly proud of the Lodge's kitchen facilities and the food they prepare there. "I'd put our steaks up against anyone in town," Smith said.
The Elks have provided much more than a good meal over the last 40 years, however.
"Our main purpose is charity," Holsinger said. "Our big thing is scholarships as far as I'm concerned. We give out quite a few scholarships." Smith estimated the Sikeston Lodge gives out around $20,000 each year in scholarships.
The Elks also are staunch supporters of veteran programs and youth activities. "Those are our three main ones I would say," Holsinger said.
Many area residents don't realize the annual Independence Day fireworks show is put on by the Elks, not the city. "We do a lot for the community in general," said member Wayne Hart, brother of the late Ray Hart.
The Sikeston Elks Lodge presently has 613 members, according to Holsinger. "The last three or four years it's been growing probably 10 percent a year," he said.
"In the last seven years, we pretty much doubled our membership," Smith said, adding that there is plenty of room for new members.
Formally organized on Feb. 16, 1868, in the City of New York, the Elks have grown to be one of the largest and most active fraternal organizations in the world.