Minnesota's Elks come to town
WORTHINGTON -- For the first time, the annual convention of the Minnesota Elks Association is taking place in Worthington.
Hosted by the Worthington Elks Lodge #2287, the convention began Thursday and is continuing through Sunday. The event is welcoming members from the 26 Elks lodges in Minnesota and coincides with the Worthington club's 50th anniversary.
The bid to host the state convention in Worthington was submitted six years ago, and it was announced three years ago that the community received the bid, said Karen Molitor, who is co-chairing the convention with Paula Ausham. The number of registered attendees exceeds 325, many more than Molitor was expecting.
"We were thinking the most would be 275," she said. "All the hotels in town are filled, some are staying at Olson Campground, plus they opened the new hotel at the Events Center."
In fact, the Worthington convention is the largest statewide event for the Elks in recent years.
"From what I've heard from people higher up, they have not had a convention this big in a number of years," Molitor said.
So why did so many Elks members make the trip to Worthington?
"Well, they've never been to southwest Minnesota. They've never seen the corn grow," Molitor said with a laugh.
The convention has been previously hosted in southeast Minnesota, but this is the first time it has come to this corner of the state. Molitor said it took a bit of convincing to bring the event to Worthington.
"I had to really promote the city and what we have in Worthington -- we can host the National Windsurfing Competition, we have Turkey Day, we have the International Festival," she said.
The agenda for the convention is a combination of business and pleasure. Meetings were scheduled in Memorial Auditorium Performing Center on Friday and today. Participants had the option Friday afternoon of golfing at Worthington Country Club or touring Spomer Classics Museum. Today's afternoon activities include socializing at the Elks' Lodge or exploring downtown Worthington.
A memorial service is an annual tradition for the Elks and will once again be a feature of the convention.
"We have a memorial service at our lodge every year and now they have the state one tomorrow," Molitor said. "Everyone's name (who has died) will be up. Widows can come see the names. It's very impressive when they do it."
Tom Brazier, national Elks president -- or the grand exalted ruler, as he is known among Elks members -- and a California native who grew up in a town of about 6,000, called Worthington a "delightful place."
"I read about it a little bit coming in," he said of Worthington. "The beautiful lake and the transition from heavy agriculture and poultry producing going slowly to the biotechnology centers -- that's a wonderful place to be."
State conventions, like the one in Worthington this weekend, are a way for Brazier to connect with the state association and get a feel for what the Minnesota Elks are doing.
"In this state, they are really walking the walk and talking the talk," he said.
Brazier praised the efforts and work of the Minnesota Elks and added that his role is to assist them in any way that he can.
"What I'm looking for is any contributions I can make. If I have a better way to do something, or if I've seen it a different way in another state or a better method of fundraising and stuff, I try to bring it here and bring it to these folks," he said.
This year, the Elks will be giving $23.6 million to various programs and make $6,000 available to each Elks Lodge.
Moving forward, Brazier said he hopes the Elks will become more family focused and that new members will see "this ain't your daddy's lodge."
"We're pushing that as hard as we can," he added.
Since its founding in 1868, the Elks have striven to uphold their four core principles -- charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity.
"(The Elks) is a philanthropic organization dedicated to charity and a fraternal organization dedicated to providing comfort and solace to our members," Brazier said.
After only a short time in Worthington, Brazier said on Friday that he was glad to visit southwest Minnesota for the state convention.
"I'm from central California. Coming to some place like this, the values that are inherent to some of the people I've met -- hard work, dedication to what they're doing here in the Elks -- they are the salt-of-the-earth kind of people, and it makes me very proud to be an Elk," he said.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.