Grand Exalted Ruler Michael F. Zellen said on the annual GER visit to Illinois in January that IEA members should be proud of the programs they provide in their communities.
“As you participate in the worthy community activities of your lodge, remember it is important that your lodge gets credit in the eyes of the community for the good that you do,” Zellen told the estimated 200 members and guests attending the dinner highlighting the IEA Mid-Winter Meeting in Springfield.
“We need to get the word out,” he said. “Use social media such as Facebook and provide your local newspapers and radio stations with information and press releases of community events being sponsored by your lodge.
“Be loud and be proud.”
Zellen summarized the impact that Illinois Elks had in their respective communities in 2015-16, citing the 25,618 Elks workers and helpers who devoted 69,957 hours of service and had driven 129,818 miles in providing programs to 443,590 participants in those communities.
“The dollar value of the hours, mileage, cash and non-cash contributions totaled $3,293,174.93, thus, demonstrating “Elks ~ Leading the Way,” Zellen said, citing the IEA youth and athletic programs, needy and handicapped programs, patriotic programs, Drug Awareness, veterans services, community service projects and the State Major Project, the Illinois Elks Children’s Care Corporation.
“It is the local community service programs that will stimulate a return to increasing membership,” he said. “The successful Lodges of the future will adopt one or more continuing beneficial community projects that, through repeated service year after year, will become signature accomplishments in the eyes of the community.
“Consistency and letting people know of our service – that is the key!”
In addition, Illinois Elks reaped more than they sowed, thanks to the grants and awards they received from the Elks National Foundation in 2015-16, totaling $470,180 or $2.28 for every dollar the foundation received from the IEA, not including the 94 grants that 54 Illinois lodges received through the Community Investments Program, which totaled another $211,396 or another $1.03 for a total ratio of $3.32 for every dollar.
“That’s a “232 percent return on your investment,” the banker by trade said.
Zellen urged all good Elks to support the ENF by donating and volunteering with the ENF programs. The per-member goal for 2016-17 is $4.65 per member.
“I hope that I can count on your support in reaching our goal,” he said, adding that the state had a per capita of $4.10 as of January.
In 2015-16, Illinois Elks donated $205,658 to the ENF – or $7.47 per member, surpassing then-GER Ronald L. Hicks’ of $4.65.
Zellen also addressed the declining membership nationwide. The high-water mark of 1.649 million members ending in 1979-80, ebbed to just over 781,000 ending in 2015-16.
“A primary factor contributing to loss in membership was and continues to be, age,” he said. “Many lodges are losing a large percentage of members due to death each year.”
Many other elderly members are in nursing homes, or don’t leave the house except to go to church or visit the doctor.
“The lodge bulletin is the primary source of communication with those members, and it is important to include something in each edition that would keep these members satisfied and not feel disenfranchised from your lodge,” Zellen said.
“Remember, the forgotten member is a lost member.”
Despite the declining membership, the rate of loss has slowed, to 1.1 percent in 2015-16, after more than twice the average annual rate in the years leading up to 2015-16.
“I truly hope that this year, with your help, we can make history and achieve a gain in membership,” he said.
Zellen also urged Illinois Elks to focus on decreasing the number of members who let their memberships lapse and increasing the number of member reinstatements.
“After all, it’s easier to retain your current membership than it is to create new members,” he said. “Lapsation can best be controlled by making sure that each new member as well as existing members are made to feel welcome, and are offered and given an opportunity to participate and become involved in the lodge programs.”
For the dropped members who “once upon a time had at least one good reason to join our Order” – they should not be forgotten.
“Personal contact with them will often produce positive results,” Zellen said. “Be sure to inform them of the many worthwhile programs the lodge sponsors for the good of the community and encourage them to rejoin our efforts.”
Zellen asked Illinois Elks to reach out to members and constantly reinforce the programs that their lodges and the Order accomplish every day.
“Let’s rekindle the pride we had when we joined, and perpetuate that same fervor in each new member when he or she joins,” he said. “That pride and knowledge we embrace, properly cultivated in the hearts of our new members and keeping the membership informed and involved are the solutions to our problems.”
About Michael Zellen
Grand Exalted Ruler Michael F. Zellen continues to repay the debt of gratitude he says he has owed since joining the Elks 49 years ago.
Just as he did at the Grand Lodge Session in Houston in July, Zellen recounted the circumstances of that debt, on his visit to the Illinois Elks Association Mid-Winter Meeting in January in Springfield.
Zellen said he became an Elk because his dad, the late Charles M. Zellen, was a very active member of the Order for many years.
“I was 8 years old when he was exalted ruler,” Zellen told the more than 200 people attending the Saturday evening IEA dinner. His dad went on to become a district deputy and a vice president of the Massachusetts Elks Association.
“Becoming an Elk was tradition in my family. My three older brothers became Elks members when they reached the age of 21,” he said. “Like them, when I became 21, my dad sponsored me into Elkdom.
“Tragically, two weeks before my initiation my dad passed away. Although I was still grieving, I felt I had to go forward with my initiation in his honor.”
At that time, Zellen was a junior at Suffolk University in Boston. Having just lost his father and coming to the realization that his mother was not going to be financially able to support his education, he decided not to return to college for the spring semester, so he informed the registrar’s office that he was going to have to take a leave for a semester or two.
Two weeks later, Zellen said he received a telephone call from the president of Suffolk University, John E. Fenton, who also happened to be a Past Grand Exalted Ruler, having served in 1960-61.
“I had known Judge Fenton since I was a young boy, as he was a close friend of my father,” Zellen said. “He called to find out the reason why I was taking a leave from my education. I explained to him that due to my father’s recent passing and the uncertainty of finances that I would have to take some time off from college.”
Fenton asked if Zellen would be attending classes the next day, and Zellen told him his first class started at 10 a.m. Fenton requested that Zellen come in early and meet with him in his office.
“When I arrived, he had several papers on his desk and asked me to sign them,” Zellen said. “He then informed me that I had just been awarded an Emergency Grant through the Elks National Foundation and that I would be receiving a full scholarship, tuition and books for the next year and a half to complete my degree.”
After graduating from college, Zellen said he felt he owed the Elks a debt of gratitude for their generosity.
“I became very passionate about the Order’s programs, its mission statement, its tradition of giving and providing aid and relief to those less fortunate and those who were in need, just as I was.”
Forty-nine years later, the passion still burns.