Their rituals may be cloaked in secrecy, their initiation rites concealed from outsiders, but there's nothing covert about what the Craig Elks Club does to benefit the community.
This year is the 100th anniversary for Colorado Elks Clubs. The Craig Elks Club got its start some 40 years after the first Colorado club and quickly established a reputation as a "boys club" where men went to drink and play cards.
Debunking that reputation is one of the goals of the club's Exalted Ruler, Frank Sadvar.
"We're basically a charity," Sadvar said. "Everything we get goes back to the community."
He estimated the club contributes an average of $7,000 to $10,000 a year to the community. And, there are few limitations on how it gets there. The Elks Club has donated funding for a myriad of projects and events ranging from veterans dinners to college scholarships to exchange trips to foreign countries.
The club's original goal was to help veterans. They provided dinners and contributed to a week-long disabled veterans recreational event.
"We're basically here to support veterans, that's our main thing," Sadvar said.
But that's changing. Now, the Elks Club gives six college scholarships -- and the opportunity for youth to compete for a national scholarship that's worth $60,000 a year for four years.
The club contributed toward the purchase of the senior bus and bought a trailer for the Boy Scouts.
One of their biggest projects has been the KRAI Holiday Drive. In 2003, the club contributed $1,500 worth of toys to Christmas for Kids and $1,500 in grocery story gift certificates to the Interfaith Food Bank.
In the same holiday spirit, the club rents out the West Theater for a day once a year and provides a free movie for area youth. There are no income limits, no eligibility forms to fill out. The movie is a gift from the club to all the community's youth.
But, the Elks Club doesn't give everything away free.
Many of its beneficiaries have to demonstrate their need and have to show how they're working to meet their goal.
Those seeking funds can't just write a letter to the Elks Club. They have to attend a meeting to plead their case and answer questions.
Few are refused.
This year, the club sponsored an essay contest. Youth competed for prizes up to $50 by writing on the topic, "What this war means to me."
There were only four entries, but Sadvar said they were moving just the same.
"It was impressive," he said. "I just stood there and thought 'wow.'"
Several of the club's events give youth a shot at advancing to district, state or national competitions.
Each year the club hosts a hoop shot for youth ages 8 to 14. Those earning first place advance on to districts. The Craig club pays all expenses until a youth qualifies for national competition, then the state Elks pay for the trip.
The club has also contributed to more off-the-wall requests. This year a young man who's earning his Eagle Scout award by replacing fireplaces at Sherman Youth Camp got funds from the Craig Elks Club, as did a local boy who went to Australia to play on the U.S. baseball team.
The Elks Club can contribute a hefty amount to the community because the community contributes a hefty amount to it.
The club raises money by sponsoring weekly bingo games in its lodge. An average of 45 players spend Friday nights in competition for jackpots that have reached $5,600. On the night of that jackpot, 137 players bought cards.
Bingo, Sadvar said, is a win-win situation for all. For $16, players get a night of fun and a chance to win some money. The Elks Club earns funds to return to the community.
It's a cycle.
"I always thank bingo players," Sadvar said. "I tell them it's not us (who contribute to community projects), but you. If not for them, none of this would happen.
Revenues from bingo will help the Elks Club remodel its building -- an $80,000 project -- without the need for a loan.
It's one of Sadvar's goals as exalted ruler to turn the 2,800 square-foot downstairs area into the bingo hall. Turning the basically unused space into a bingo hall will allow the club to separate smokers from non-smokers and provide a place for children to play.
Once that's done, the upstairs area of the Victory Way building will be used only for club meetings.
"I want people to come in and say 'wow,'" Sadvar said. "It'll be more than what we need for meeting room, but I hope to get back to hosting community dinners, too."
The Craig Elks Club boasts an impressive 168 members, but like many services clubs, a majority of those members are over 50 -- and very few of them are active in the club.
Sadvar said he's got a core group of about 15 members that keep things running.
That lack of participation has held the club on the brink of extinction more than once in the last 10 years.
Though the inner workings of an Elks Club are protected by the utmost secrecy, Sadvar did say there are 11 officer positions -- what those positions are he wouldn't say -- and five trustees.
All need to be filled in order to induct new members and perform certain ceremonies.
The lack of volunteers has caused the state Grand Lodge to consider closing the Craig branch. An average of five Elkslodges are closed each year due to lack of participation.
The threat of closing is what increased Sadvar's participation.
"I swore I wasn't going to get to involved when I fist started and dad signed me up," he said.
Now he estimates he spends 20 hours a week on Elksbusiness. In the three years he's been the exalted ruler, he's established his board with the full 11 members and the local club was able to hold its first new-member initiation in at least four years.
Of the three initiated, one was Sadvar's grandson.
He makes the fourth generation of Sadvars committed to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Craig.
As exalted ruler, Sadvar got to preside over his grandson's initiation, which Sadvar said is "big time formal and behind closed doors. It's really a big deal."
The Elks Club is not religious based, but members have to believe in God and have to be willing to salute the United States flag.
Seven women are members of the club, all but one joining in the last five years.
"Some of the older guys have a hard time having women in the club," Sadvar said.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.