Clubs to leave Elks Sept. 1

Published 2:55 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

The future of the Albert Lea Elks Lodge remains uncertain, but Elks officials have told service clubs and other groups to find a new meeting place.

Elks officials told these groups the building will be closed to them starting Sept. 1. Negotiations for a possible sale of the building are happening, leaving everyone from employees to the regional leaders waiting to see what happens.

Elks Lodge 813 Secretary Judy Verdoorn said clubs were let go because it’s not fair to leave them in uncertainty. However, Verdoorn said whether to close all the way is a decision that depends on many factors.

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“No one’s coming forward and saying, ‘Yes, we’ve made a decision to do this,’” Verdoorn said.

The Noon Kiwanis Club, which meets every Monday, was already seeking bids for a new meeting place before the announcement because of persistent rumors about the lodge’s future.

“The word was passed to us that it was very likely going to close at the end of August. So our board met last week and we decided to go to the American Legion,” said Noon Kiwanis Club President Marge Hamersly.

A “Property for Sale” advertisement ran in the Tribune Classifieds and stated the building and property being for sale. The advertisement can be found on Page 5 of the Aug. 19 edition of the Tribune and Page 8 of the Aug. 20 edition.

Verdoorn said there has been interest from potential buyers, and talks are continuing.

It’s possible a potential buyer could lease the building back to the Elks Club, but nothing is certain, she added.

The Tribune contacted State President Herman Wisneski, and he referred the Tribune to Dwayne Rumney, a former Elks grand exalted ruler with the Grand Elks Lodge, the national organization. The Tribune was unable to reach Rumney for this story.

Verdoorn said a number of things have led to the current situation: Diamond Jo Casino, the statewide indoor smoking ban, the economic recession, a decrease in gambling and a decrease in lodge membership.

The Albert Lea Elks Lodge was the largest in the state and 12th largest in the nation in 2006 with 2,064 members. The Tribune printed a Sunday feature in April that year about the club’s stature. At the time, the club membership had grown for 28 consecutive years.

Verdoorn said the club currently has 867 members, and it remains the largest Elks club in Minnesota.

Many kitchen and dining room employees at the Elks were laid off in June, when the Grand Elks Lodge took over control of the local Albert Lea lodge.

The Lakeview Lions Club has met at the Elks since the 1980s, but the group is choosing from three new meeting places. It meets at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

“We’re kind of in limbo at this point,” said Mary Ferleman, a charter member of the Lakeview Lions.

Dr. Della Simmons, president of the Lakeview Lions, said the club would be open to staying if the Elks would remain open. She compared the move to buying a new house: sad to leave, but excited for a new location.

“It’s a little sad to be leaving, but they’re having their financial difficulties as well,” Simmons said.

The Noon Kiwanis Club has met at the Elks since the early 1990s, and Hamersly said the 75-member group preferred to stay at the Elks.

“I know we’ll have excellent service where we’re going, and it’s been great where we’ve been,” she said.