Standing at left, Kyle Elenkiwich, exalted ruler of Brookings Elks Lodge No. 1490, and fellow Elk Phil Baker were at the lodge Thursday to honor Jerry Bergum, past exalted ruler, who is stepping down after 10 years of leadership. John Kubal/Register
• Bergum serves as local Elks’ ‘past exalted ruler’
BROOKINGS – He was the longest-serving exalted ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 1490, in Brookings. Now Gerald "Jerry" Bergum, 80, is the past exalted ruler.
But after 39 years as an Elk and 10 years as exalted ruler, he'll continue to be active as a valuable resource in an advisory capacity.
"The change of command took place on April 1," said Kyle Elenkiwich, now exalted ruler. "By Grand Lodge statutes, that's when it has to be done."
The Brookings Elks lodge was founded in 1924. During his nearly four decades as a member, Bergum has seen both high points and low points in the lodge's history. Membership today is about 240; peak membership was about 1,200 in 1991, "When we built the new buillding."
"A lot of people joined because they loved to come to dinner," Elenkiwich said."There's basically two sides to the Elks: There's an Elks lodge and an Elks club. You can have an Elks lodge without an Elks club; you can't have a club without a lodge." The lodge remains; the club aspect is pretty well gone.
Elk Phil Baker said, "But now we don't have a luncheon like the Rotary does or a breakfast like the Lions Club." And while there are Elks lodges in Canada, Elks is not international. An Elk must be a United States citizen, at least 21 years old, and believe in God. There are about 2,000 Elks lodges nationwide with a total of about 850,000 members.
Several years ago the local Elks sold the lodge building to the City of Brookings; now they rent the building from the city for use on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings.
Additionally, they meet there once a month.
They do own the furnishings they use for their functions; and the Elks do own a liquor license: the first one issued in Brookings.
The BPOE at large is just one of many fraternal, service and veterans organizations that have seen dramatic drops in their membership rolls. For a variety of reasons, younger Americans are simply not organization-joiners.
Baker said, "There's two people working in a family, and we've got all the technologies around us that people are using. So therefore there's very little time to be a volunteer for anything."
Continuing the tradition
Despite its drop in numbers, BPOE Lodge No. 1490 continues to the best of its ability the traditions of service that have been in place since its founding in 1924.
Bergum is modest about the lodge's achievements during his tenure as exalted leader.
"I didn't do much for it, except keep it alive," he said. However, he added, "If there were any complaints, I was the guy to fix them."
He was also the guy who appointed members to the various committees that were key to getting the lodge's benevolent work done, and that included: representation at the annual Elks National Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest; scholarships; Brookings High School; Americanism; Brookings County Food Pantry; Brookings Boys & Girls Club; veterans support; and assisting Elks with financial challenges.
Bergum said what he found most rewarding as an Elk was "the satisfaction I get out of it is what it does for kids."
Funding scholarships has always been a very high-priority effort for the Brookings lodge.
It funded eight scholarships in the past year: three to girls for college; three to boys for college; and two for students attending technical schools.
"They don't have to be children of Elks," Jerry said. "They submit an application and they're judged by a committee of Elks." And the applicants don't have to be Brookings residents.
A team effort
In many of his efforts Jerry has been assisted by his wife, Shirley, who during her years as an Elk served as lodge chaplain for eight years.
The Bergums have attended several national BPOE conventions, most memorably one in New Orleans.
"It's quite an experience to go to a national convention, especially when they recognize you," Jerry said. And they'll continue their Elks activities and support by attending the state convention in October in Rapid City.
On Thursday, June 21, at the monthly meeting, Harlan Huetson, grand esteemed loyal knight, lauded Jerry Bergum for his service to the Elks and to the Brookings lodge and presented him with a gold watch.
Contact John Kubal at jkubal@-brookingsregister.com.