SUMMIT, NJ – It is a designation that was once only reserved for male leaders in the Elks, but on this night Lois Pagano was bestowed the title of Exalted Ruler of the Elks, Lodge 1246
“I am so excited,” Pagano said after her swearing-in ceremony. “This is a great group of people. I just hope I will do a good job.”
The Elks have a long tradition in Summit, spanning 100 years. On Saturday night, the organization appointed a woman as Exalted Ruler for the first time in 100 years.
Why did it take that long?
“Because it was a men’s club,” said Jenifer Hopkins, the first woman ruler of Springfield’s Lodge 2004 who has been in office just one week. Hopkins was on hand on Saturday for the Summit Elks’ “Installation of Officers” ceremony.
Pagano was one of many appointments made during the evening.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Elks. The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club -- and primarily men’s social club. It has since evolved into a major American fraternal and service order with more than a million members, both male and female, throughout the United States.
These days, the Elks are known for their charitable giving, particularly for children with special needs and scholarships for students. For example, a recent nationwide contest held by the Elks had children write an essay in response to the question, “What does it mean to be an American?”
Each Elks loge has various committees; most notable is the Children with Special Needs Committee. The Summit chapter raises money to send children to Camp Moore (a.k.a. "The Miracle on the Mountain.”) Elks lodges in the state bear the responsibility of paying for each camper that attends camp.
At its core, the Elks are a robust community organization, which boasts members from the business community and town residents.
The Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks offers various programs that benefit the community including scholarships for graduating seniors, an Americanism Essay Contest, a Hoop Shoot and Soccer Shoot Contest, drug awareness programs, veterans programs and community investment programs.
With that kind of participation in the community, it’s not much of a surprise that the Summit Elks are a rapidly growing organization. Like all Elks, the Summit lodge had to overcome its reputation as a stodgy fraternity of senior men. These days their membership base is made up of racially diverse men and women with a wide range of ages – from 35 and up.
In fact, membership has increased dramatically over the past few yeas with approximately 100 new members added per year in the run up to the 100th anniversary this year.
Much of the increase in membership, says Trustee Anthony Plesh Jr., is because of the organization's community approach and new renovations that the Summit Elks have made to their facility on Maple Street.
“I really felt that the place needed revamping,” Plesh said. “And we wanted to expand our presence in the community. We rent out the halls to sports teams and other members of the community and they ask how they can join this place.”