Exalted Leader Marie Ammon and Secretary Linda Renfroe pose outside the Elk’s Lodge in Cottage Grove. The Elks supports local communities Cottage Grove and Creswell, all the way to Elkton. Aliya Hall/The Creswell Chronicle
Marie Ammon first became interested in the Elks when she joined their Relay for Life team. She said she loved the community service aspect, and now 11 years later she is the Cottage Grove Elks Exalted Ruler.
The reach of the Elk’s Lodge extends beyond Cottage Grove, the organization also helps communities in Creswell all the way to Elkton.
Their main focus is children and veterans, Ammon said, because veterans ”kept us alive, and children are our future.”
Each month, the Lodge recognizes a student of the month with a certificate and check. They give money to the schools to be used for different programs, they supplied dictionaries to 3rd graders in Creswell, they give to crisis and community centers and last year they started the snack pack program. This program delivers weekly packs of two breakfasts, two lunches and snacks for students to have on weekends, as well as holidays; they deliver around 100 packs a week.
”The most rewarding aspect are the charities we do,” Ammon said. ”The people that come up, hug you and thank you for doing that. I’ve had parents come up to us and shake our hands saying, ‘Thank you for the dictionary; my child has had that throughout school.’ It’s little things like that.”
Ammon was elected Exalted Ruler last March. Secretary Linda Renfroe explained that the position is up for nomination, and if there are more than one candidate nominated there is a secret ballot.
”It’s a great honor that this lodge put its confidence in me to oversee that the organization runs smoothly,” Ammon said. ”I don’t have power, but I make sure everything runs smoothly. I run meetings, and it’s a great honor to have that on my shoulders.”
Cottage Grove Elks have 342 members. To join the Elks, one must be an American Citizen, not be a ”hard nosed” felon, believe in God and have a sponsor. Ammon clarified that while the Elks are not just a Christian organization, and are open to all religions, there are prayers.
Ammon and Renfroe both describe the organization as a family.
”The most rewarding aspect is the friendships we’ve made here,” Renfroe said. ”(Ammon is) my big sister. If it wasn’t for her and a few others, I wouldn’t be sitting here. They believed in me.”
The biggest challenge facing all of the Elks Lodges is membership. The average member age is 65, and Ammon said the younger generation is more into electronics than organizations.
”It’s a challenge to get people under 21 to join,” she said. ”That generation has their tech, and their not as likely to step up and join an organization they’d be volunteering at.”
While the feedback from the community has been positive, Ammon said that a lot of it is surprise of what all the Elks do, especially now that women are allowed as officers.
”They think of fraternal organizations not as a charitable based organization, but as drinking, smoking and gambling,” she said. ”We’re not. Our foundation base is charity. We reach out and do what we can. I think our lodge goal is to continue to serve our community best we can; just to be there and support, and do what we do.”