History of Lodge #1019
Pontiac Elks Lodge #1019 was organized on March 1, 1906. Most of the charter members belonged to the Vermilion Club, which was a young men’s “social” club that was organized and incorporated in Pontiac on March 29, 1892. It derived its name from the Vermilion River. The club prohibited gambling in every form as well as intoxicating liquors.
About 1904, several members of the Vermilion Club desired to form a lodge of Elks and thought it advisable to have their members serve as its nucleus. It was some time later, however, before the entire club membership agreed.
Meanwhile, some other citizens of Pontiac applied for a lodge charter. The matter was left to District Deputy Dr. I.A. Lumpkin of Mattoon, IL for his decision. He came to Pontiac and addressed a meeting of both groups on the forms of the Order. After due deliberation, he recommended that the charter be granted to the members of the Vermilion Club.
On March 2, 1906, he returned to Pontiac and, assisted members of Streator Lodge #591, proceeded to “obligate all who had signed the petition for that purpose”. Elk members from Joliet, Bloomington, and other parts of the state were present at a banquet that was served to about 150 persons.
The first lodge rooms were located in the Rathbun Building (the same as those occupied by the Vermilion Club previously). These rooms continued to be our quarters until the Water Street lodge building was purchased in 1924.
In November of 1923, a proposition for the Elks Lodge to purchase a home was discussed. On December 12th, the committee on purchase reported and unanimously recommended the purchase of the Frank Carothers home on East Water Street for $20,000. In order to raise the funds needed to make the purchase, it was suggested that a holding company be formed. Two hundred shares of stock in the corporation were issued at $100 per share payable on or before March 1, 1924.
On January 23rd, 1924, Dr. F.C.Bawden, chairman of the soliciting committee reported that $14,000 had been raised. The sum of $5,000 was paid as the first payment and we moved into our new home on February 1, 1924. A total of $18,000 had been raised in cash and pledges.
From the beginning, our lodge has always been very active in local charity work which is one of the cardinal principles of our Order. In the early 1900’s, Pontiac Associated Charities held an annual drive to which we generously donated. Later we sometimes led the Salvation Army drive for funds. At other times, minstrels and home talent plays were produced to raise money for charitable purposes.
Perhaps the civic achievement of which Pontiac Elks Lodge #1019 is most proud is the lodge’s part in raising funds for the addition to St. James Hospital (the Water Street location) which was dedicated May 29, 1953.
Not only did the lodge donate $30,000, but it took responsibility for staging the drive to raise additional funds needed. Edward G. Zorn, operator of a theater in Pontiac, was asked to serve as chairman of the campaign by Exalted Ruler Raleigh J. Harris, Jr. He accepted this task which spanned more than 6 months and reached its goal in early 1952.
The original goal was set at $150,000 through local subscription; the final total reached was nearly $230,000. by securing the additional funds, it was possible to build the outer walls for the 3rd and 4th floors. The lodge also funded all expenses of the campaign to “assure contributors that every cent given will go into brick and mortar”. During both World Wars and the conflicts that have occurred over the 100 years of Pontiac Elks, we have donated generously to various national defense projects.
Like many other lodges, we lost a good many members during the depression years in the early 1930’s. However, our country overcame those years and we decided to purchase the Pontiac Golf and Country Club in December of 1946. In February of 1947, the trustees and committee were directed to remodel the club. Later, in 1950, the first floor bar to our downtown club was remodeled and the “ladies bar” was installed on the second floor.
In 1952, the lodge voted to spend about $20,000 on improvements at the “country club” so that we could handle the membership of 600 in a more satisfactory and enjoyable manner.
The mid-1950’s found and increased interest in ritualistic work by our lodge. In the years of 1951, 1952, and 1956, Pontiac won first place in District Ritual Contests, and each time several of the officers were selected as the best of all contestants in their respected positions. During this time, J. Paul Yost served as their coach.
On February 19, 1967, the country club building was almost completely destroyed by fire. The arson fire cause the membership to make a decision concerning the future of the lodge. They voted at the time to rebuild the country club and pursue the sale of the downtown club.
The newly rebuilt (then) quarter million dollar structure was used for the first time on August 11, 1968 and was dedicated on March 6, 1969, which was highlighted by a visit from then-Grand Exalted Ruler Edward McCabe. A successful vote was taken on November 13th, 1968, to sell the downtown lodge for $25,000.
Soon after, the expense of rebuilding the lodge, the economy, and a declined interest in lodge activities caused us to enter into financial problems. In 1978, membership dues were raised to $200 per year. Through careful management by the officers and trustees and with the support of the members, the lodge overcame these financial troubles to the point where the mortgage on the current property was burnt in 1986. An extravagant party was held to celebrate the event.
Pontiac Lodge has had outstanding leadership through the year. A list of Past Exalted Rulers can be found on our website. There have been 2 Past Presidents on the Illinois Elks Association. There are J.F. Mohan, who was president in 1932-1933, and William S. Wolf, who served as president from 1951-1952.
Past District Deputy Grand Exalted Rulers from Pontiac Lodge #1019 include John Ross, J.F. Mohan, Ray Sesler, Hubert H. Edwards, M.A. Nolan, William S. Wolf, Paul Bolen, John Heenan, Charles Pearson, Robert Eckhoff, and Greg Verdun.
Pontiac Lodge is currently a member of the East District of the Illinois Elks Association and is the largest lodge in the district. We are recognized regularly for our support of the activities of the Order, state association, and the district. In addition, we have many members who are members of district and state association committees.
Over the years the youth of the community have been recipients of our support. We have sponsored the high school sports banquets for many years, donated the use of our club rooms for prom activities, sponsored youth sports teams in the area, participated in the Elks Hoop Shoot contest and the Elks Most Valuable Student scholarship programs. Our golf course is used each year by the golf team from the high school at no cost to the school.
Following the tragic death of Past Exalted Ruler Roger Edwards, a local scholarship program was instituted in his memory. The membership has generously supported this scholarship program which to date has benefited over 250 children or stepchildren of members receiving college scholarships totaling over $135,000.
The facilities of the lodge have been maintained and updated over the years; making ours one of the finest in the state. The golf course has been called a “hidden jewel in central Illinois”. Exquisitely maintained, the course has seen many tournaments and outings that regularly impress our visitors. Pontiac is also on a rotating basis of lodges in the state of Illinois that host the annual State Elks Golf Tournament with Elks coming in from all over the state.
We at Pontiac Elks Lodge #1019 have always tried to practice the principles of our Order: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, and Fidelity. We are very proud of our accomplishments of the first 100+ years and look forward to the next 100 years of success, growth, and community participation signifying Pontiac Elks as one of the premier lodges in the Order.