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Elks Lodge seeks buyer for building

November 16, 2018

Kalispell Elks Lodge 725 once boasted membership of about 1,200 people, according to David Barnes, the lodge’s current Exalted Ruler.

Those were the days when regional entertainment and dining options were few. And it was a time before parents and children were engaged in myriad time-consuming activities, he said.

“The lodge was once kind of a focal point of social activity for many people,” Barnes said.

Today, membership at the Kalispell Elks Lodge hovers around 250, he said. And the membership is aging.

Like Elks lodges nationally, and like many other civic organizations, the Kalispell Elks Lodge struggles to attract young adults whose lives tend to be full with other pursuits.

Now, the Kalispell Elks hope to sell the lodge the organization has occupied since its construction in 1969 and find quarters better suited to a smaller membership with different needs.

“The bottom line is that this building is 50 years old-plus and it’s just obsolete,” Barnes said.

Caroline Casteel, a lodge member for more than 20 years, agreed.

“The building we have is just too big, too expensive,” she said.

The Elks Lodge in Kalispell is not alone in its struggles to persevere in the face of declining membership and buildings with challenges.

James Nichelson, former national president of the Elks, said the organization’s national membership has been declining for about 30 years. Membership in 1988 was more than 1 million, he said, and current membership is about 780,000.

He said some lodges nationwide have closed outright. Others are downsizing, partly because occupation of large and often drafty old buildings can be expensive.

Both Nichelson and Bryan Klatt, Grand Secretary of the national organization, believe the membership slide is about to stop and turn.

Nichelson said the national organization is stressing that local lodges need to demonstrate their relevance and provide ongoing evidence that they are not staid men’s fraternal groups.

“We’re probably one of the best co-ed service organizations,” he said.

The Kalispell Elks Lodge building at 1820 U.S. 93 south is fronted by a sign announcing its sale. Barnes said Wednesday there have been no serious inquiries yet. And he said the lodge does not have a replacement site in mind.

“Whatever we do, we have to be able to sustain it with our membership,” Barnes said.

The Kalispell Elks Lodge draws people from the region, he said - from communities such as Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Lakeside. That reality complicates choosing a new site because it might require more travel for some members.

“This is going to be a difficult move. We’ve got to do it right, so we don’t lose any members,” Barnes said.

Kalispell Elks Lodge 725 traces its roots to September 1901. The lodge occupied space in a variety of downtown buildings before buying the former YMCA building downtown and moving there in January 1922.

A history of the lodge notes, “The Kalispell Elks Lodge has been an integral part of Kalispell since [the lodge’s] inception, providing a meeting place for numerous organizations; support to the youth and veterans of the community; and charity to many of the needy of the area.”

Tax records report that the new lodge was built in 1969, the same date cited in the lodge’s history.

Marilynn Aasheim, a member of the Kalispell Elks Lodge for 22 years and a former Exalted Ruler, said a December 2017 appraisal of the lodge property, land and building, proposed an estimated total value of about $2.27 million.

Like Barnes and Casteel, Aasheim, whose son, Les, is a member, hopes the lodge can find a new home more suited to the club’s modern realities.

All three emphasized they hope the lodge will survive, both for the sake of its members and the larger community, which benefits from the lodge’s charitable work and scholarship programs, they said.

“We’re hoping we can keep things afloat, strengthen the lodge and attract a few new members,” Barnes said.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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