It’s the time of year to reflect on how the world has changed in the past year, and even the past decade.
Imagine, then, how much it has changed in the past 50 years: the Internet, cell phones, four wars, landing a man on the moon and the election of the first African American president.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in 50 years: the dedication of the Brick Elks to honor veterans and help the less fortunate.
The Brick Elks Lodge opened its doors for the first time on Nov. 28, 1959, on Brick Boulevard with 233 members.
The membership grew to over 600 members during the first decade. The lodge moved to its current home on Old Hooper Road on June 15, 1972, and the Brick Elks Lodge now has 1,065 members.
A ceremony to commemorate the lodge’s 50th anniversary was held on Nov. 28, and current Exalted Ruler Philip DiGuglielmo along with longtime members Leroy “Whitey” Wutsch and Ralph Comppen sat down this past week to reflect on all they have seen the Brick Elks accomplish over the decades. All three have served as Elks members since the mid-1960s.
“When you become an Elk, you become one of two things: you become dedicated or you become a card carrier,” Wutsch said. “The three of us here have been Elks for over 30 years. We’ve become dedicated. It’s part of our lives. We enjoy giving. We enjoy doing.”
The Brick Elks are active in both local and regional projects. One of the regional projects that the membership immediately singled out is their support for Camp Moore for special-needs children in Pompton Lakes. Local members make a trip to the camp each year to cook dinner for the children there.
The Brick Lodge has been part of a statewide Elks initiative for several patriotic projects over the past 50 years.
The projects included donating money to restore the Statue of Liberty, building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, and working to return the Battleship New Jersey to the state, where it eventually became a museum in Camden.
“We cater to veterans,” Wutsch said.
On the local level, the Brick Elks sponsor a Little League team and Boy Scout troop. Other programs they support include Vest-A-Cop, which provides bulletproof vests for local police officers, and Kids Night Out to promote anti-drug awareness among youths. This past year they gave out 142 food baskets to needy Brick families on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Brick Elks Lodge members are also proud of their ability to provide scholarships for local students. One boy and one girl from each Brick high school receive a scholarship worth a minimum of $1,000 every year. But Wutsch said they typically give out $10,000 each year in scholarship money.
For all their work on the local level, the Brick Elks received the Key to the City from Mayor Stephen Acropolis on their anniversary date, along with a proclamation that decreed Nov. 29 as Brick Elks Day throughout the township. A follow-up resolution honoring the Elks’ achievements in the community was issued by the council.
It was an honor that DiGuglielmo said he was “proud” to accept on the lodge’s behalf.
“It’s nice to be recognized, since we work with the township,” he said.
“We have a good relationship with the township,” Wutsch said. “We cooperate with them fully and they cooperate with us, and we both benefit.”
The Elks Lodge also holds a number of annual events. There is a Flag Day service held at the lodge every year.
“The Elks always honor the flag,” Wutsch said.
Wutsch also cited the history of the Elks nationally in aiding veterans. The very first veterans hospital in the nation was built and run by Elks during World War I. The hospital was turned over to the federal government at the close of the war, he said.
And the Elks continue to honor veterans at the lodge’s annual party in November, DiGuglielmo said.
“A lot of time we go to their homes and bring them gifts,” Comppen said.
Lodge members also take veterans to baseball games at the Lakewood BlueClaws’ minor league baseball stadium as well.
The Elks always honor their own with an annual event and a remembrance ceremony on the first Sunday in December for members who passed away in the preceding year.
“There’s a lot of unfortunate people out there,” Comppen said. “If we don’t do it [help them], who will? You do not have to donate a lot of time. The more people who do it, the less each person has to do.”
“This is a centralized location for people who like to volunteer and help others,” Wutsch said.
For more information about the Brick Elks, call 732-920-0750.