The Newport Beach Elks

Elks Care and Elks Share

Newport Beach

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These write-ups are the fine work of Frank Mickadeit of the OC Register who published a series of articles on the Elks Lodges.  There are repeated onto this site to make it easy for our friends to find.

From Newport Beach – When the day began, this venerable waterfront Elks Lodge had 990 members. By the end of the night Thursday, it had at least three new members (some of my buds) and one guy who, after evoking a public meltdown by an Elk in front of a packed house, will now never get in. (Me.) Let's go to the action.

Stan and I pulled out of the San Clemente lodge parking lot shortly after 11:30 Thursday morning and arrived at the Newport Beach lodge shortly before noon, docking his 40-foot RV across seven metered spaces in front of the lodge. (Special one-day permit secured with the help of the efficient and personable Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff, who would show up later to pace off the area and make sure I wasn't illegally encroaching on public property. Only fair, since it was Kiff I went to a few years ago when I discovered the city was letting some beachfront residents encroach on the public's sand.)

Anyway, we pulled out the lawn chairs and were soon visited by Bill Rothwall and his friend Dale, who'd driven down from Seal Beach. Bill is the past commodore of the Newport Elks Yacht Club – which turns out to be one of the things that makes the Newport lodge unique. Not only does it have bay frontage and a handful of slips, it is the only lodge in Elkdom that's also a yacht club. That makes it eligible for the highly desirable reciprocity agreements with all the other yacht clubs in Newport and elsewhere, all for the amazing cost of about a hundred bucks a year in Elk dues.

"The California-Hawaii Elks considers this the 'party lodge,'" Rothwall told me.

We did a soundcheck and then I toured the lodge and met various members and workers, among them chef Karl M. Grethe. He was once the chef in the Reagan White House and Playboy International, cooking for world leaders and cads and some, I suppose, who were both. Karl showed me a photo of himself with former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. ("Vice president? When was he vice president?" asked Adam Probolsky, who'd come down to hang out. A question only a Republican could ask.) I was going to advise Karl not to flash the photo around the Elks club too much, but I realized it was probably too late.

Probolsky, Patrick Strader and Jeff Corless, GOP political types all, had come down to schmooze. When they saw the location, the wholesome Americanness that the best of Elks embody, it got them thinking.

"My grandfather was an Elk," Strader declared, calling some family member on his cell to confirm that it was in the Warren, Ohio, lodge." Well, Probolsky countered, "I'm legacy. My grandfather was an Elk, and walked every day from his home to the lodge in Port Jervis, New York. Probolsky's grandfather lived to be 108, so he could easily have been an Elk for 75 years or so.

Then Corless did some quick family research and found out that both of his grandfathers were Elks, one in Moscow, Idaho, the other in Bullhead City, Ariz.

See that's the problem the Elks have. Everybody's grandfather was an Elk. The grandsons not so much. But Probolsky, Strader and Corless signed up on the spot, getting the sponsorship of none other than Newport Beach Exalted Ruler David Leonard, who'd come out to say hello. And this is where the trouble began. I asked Leonard to fill out some paperwork of my own.

The night before, at the San Clemente lodge, I found out that a fair number of people there wanted to return to the Orange County Elks district, from which they'd been split off years ago because of an enrollment imbalance. It was not clear whether this imbalance even existed any longer, and it wasn't clear to the San Clemente officers I talked with how they'd even go about getting back into the Orange County district.

So, I offered to take a petition around to the other lodges on my trips, see if those exalted rulers would sign it, and then send it up the Elks chain of command. The petition clearly stated that it was merely a request for a feasibility study and that the signature represented only the endorsement of the individual, not of the entire lodge. I figured it would, if nothing else, get the ball rolling for a simple look at reunification.

Leonard read the language carefully and signed it.

I spent the next hour or two meeting some Elks who couldn't have been nicer. Jerry and Dianne French, who own a bakery, presented me with a cake bearing the likeness of me in an R.V. Mike White, a car-restorer by trade, showed me a special veterans memorial display he's building that when completed will bear the names of members' relatives who are MIA, KIA and active duty. A three-dimensional work, it includes a full table setting and empty chair waiting for the missing-in-action.

At dinner, I sat at Leonard's table, with some non-Elk friends who'd come by, including Dan McNerney, who brought me the published diary of a WW II P.O.W. that he said was required reading if I wanted to understand what my father went through – but never talked about. My first assistant, Erika, showed up, along with her new beau, and there were at least a couple dozen non-Elks who are regular readers.

Mr. Ed was behind the grill and, with the help of Jack Fettig – the guy who really helped me the most throughout the day – was serving up those amazing $8 filet mignons. Ed said he cooked 156 filets and probably half that many chicken plates. It was a good crowd for a Thursday night.

I went on shortly after 7, coming out in the very special outfit Kathleen made for this tour and opening with an upbeat song I learned especially for this tour – a vaudeville number about the Elks recorded in 1908. Then I did some readings and gave away some T-shirts. Maybe 20 people were around the bar paying no attention to me, either watching the baseball game on T.V. or talking. It was distracting, but what the heck. It's their lodge.

At some point in my patter, I started talking about the San Clemente reunification petition. I was in the middle of explaining it, when some guy, around 60 years old I'd guess, comes over from the bar area and literally brings the show to a halt.

"Stop! Stop it!" he thundered. I was so stunned, I can't remember exactly what he said next, but the gist of it was that petitioning is against Elk rules and I had to stop right now.

Gee, I said, that's going to be news to the leader of your lodge, because he signed it. Didn't matter, the guy said, and started going off some more. I just put my hands up to my face and cringed. I couldn't believe he was doing this – when there were so many other ways to handle it, like maybe passing a note up through Stan or something.

I made some remark alluding to the notion that the right to speak (and to petition government, for that matter) is a right you'd think an Elk of all people would understand. But nobody came to my defense (maybe they were just all too stunned) and, hey, again, it's their lodge and they make the rules.

So I shut up. I was shaken and embarrassed – especially because Dan and Erika and other non-Elks had come to see me – and the buzz-kill was palpable. I cut the show from 60 minutes to 45, didn't take questions and left out the side door. As I was packing, a couple of Elks came up to me and apologized, saying my tormentor was really a nice guy but had one too many.

Leonard, the exalted ruler, came up and said the guy was probably correct about the rules, and asked me to cross his name off the petition. The guy himself came up, not to talk about the incident but to try and make small talk. I ignored him.

"Come in and sing some karaoke," Leonard offered. I could tell he felt bad.

He and everyone else had been so damn nice, it pained me to leave, but I didn't want to be in the same room with that other guy. Stan fired up the diesel and we headed for Mission Viejo, driving in silence most of the way.

Newport Beach Lodge Profile: Founded: 1950. Members: 993. Combined length of its (2) bars: 53 feet. Good works: In addition to supporting the major projects of the national organization, the Newport lodge sponsors several scout troops, the boys and girls club, and last year gave out 15 scholarships. It pays to bring in the snow for the city's annual "Snow in July" event, and it recently bought the city a new police dog.