By the end of last weekend, 252 elk had been counted at the Bonner, Anaconda and Darby check stations—and 61 had been either initiated or reinstated at the Missoula B.P.O.E. Hell Gate Lodge #383’s initiation ceremony. While Regional Wildlife Manager for Fish, Wildlife & Parks John Firebaugh says the number of elk checked is down from last year, Hell Gate Lodge’s Chairman of Trustees Clayton DeVoe says lodge membership is on the rise.
In recent years, Lodge #383 has set first, second and third place records for the largest initiations in Montana, says DeVoe in a phone call from his ranch where he was hunting, umm, antelope. At last Friday’s ceremony, DeVoe was awarded a plaque for his efforts recruiting a total of 147 new members and 41 reinstatements in the past several years. Along with Exalted Ruler Dean Simon, Office Manager Linda Stamos and Scholarship Chairwoman Debbie Thrailkill, DeVoe has added other new touches to the lodge this fall, including the red “Lounge” sign illuminated in the front window and three open mic Wednesday nights (with dollar beers) this November.
But back to Friday’s initiation: Were there secret handshakes? Funny hats? Goats? Sorry to disappoint, but the initiation, which took place behind closed doors in the upstairs Lodge Room, lacked live animals and wizardry. Instead, the ceremony was a blend of church service, wedding, theater in the round and town hall meeting, with Elk officers reciting memorized lines from the Elks’ ritual book, and each wearing their dignitary jewels.
State Chairman Jack Crumb, from Anaconda, led the ceremony with help from Polson Secretary Svend Larsen, Missoula trustee Hal Gillet and other Elk officers from Missoula, Hamilton and Butte. New members stood to give their reasons for becoming an Elk—ranging from Elk legacies in their families to wanting to support the Elks’ building downtown.
The ceremony was preceded by a free prime rib dinner (at the start of which more than 100 diners sang “America the Beautiful”) and followed by dancing to the music of live duo Heart to Heart. Add two-dollar bourbons to the evening and the question you’re asking right now changes from why would I become an Elk to where do I sign up? Easy: Membership applications are available at the bar.