Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

One hundred and five years ago, the thought of organizing a subordinate Lodge of Elks in Connellsville was born. Its beginning was humble, its purpose resolved in greatness. The thought sprung from the mother of necessity, convenience, convenience to the Connellsville men who held membership in Uniontown Lodge, McKeesport Lodge, and some even in Fairmont Lodge.

Transportation facilities one hundred years ago were at best, poor. Automobiles were still a plan upon the draftsman's board and roads were at times hazardous passages. It was, therefore, only fitting and proper that the question of organizing a Connellsville Lodge was raised.

Two former business partners, James M. Doyle and Charles Brill were, without doubt, the instigators of a Lodge of Elks in Connellsville movement. Their insistence, unselfish purpose, and hearty enthusiasm, caused the root from which grew the present lodge. With the support of interested men in the community, then members of Uniontown Lodge, a meeting was scheduled on May 7 in the office of the Daily News, at that time located in a building that stood on the present site of the Post Office.

This meeting was attended by John Duggan, W. C. McGinnis, James M Doyle, Charles A. Brill, Frank M. Brendel, Thomas V. Donegan, Dr. S. D Woods, Joseph Bryner, J. D Laughrey, Harmon M. Kephart and C. M. Vance. Although this session was not entirely fruitful in purpose, it was nevertheless the starting point for future meetings.

The second meeting was held on May 24, 1899 at the Smith House with District Deputy, George J. F. Falkenstein of McKeesport and Exalted Ruler Harry Beeson of Uniontown in an advisory rule. At that meeting, ways and means and methods were discussed pointing toward the organizing of a Lodge in Connellsville. Also at that meeting, Frank Brendel informed the participants that a charter might be secured, but not without the consent of Uniontown Lodge, the parent Lodge in Fayette County. It would be necessary for that lodge to grant dimits to the several Connellsville members.

Uniontown Elks were quick to recognize the need because of the undue hardship to their Connellsville Brothers in attending meetings. Not only did Uniontown aid the plan, but urged the Grand Lodge to encourage the organization of Connellsville Lodge.

The third meeting was held May 16, 1899 at the Smith House. A large number of men were presented for charter membership This list was submitted to Uniontown Lodge No. 370 and was approved by the parent lodge on May 17, 1899. This charter list was immediately forwarded to District Deputy Falkenstein at McKeesport.

The charter members for Connellsville Lodge were presented as approved at the fourth meeting, May 22. Dr S D. Woods, chairman, appointed a committee composed of F. M Brendel, I M. Doyle, R F Shephard, W. D. McGinms and H. M. Kephart, to arrange for a banquet in connection with the institution of the lodge.

The fifth meeting was held at Odd Fellows Hall on May 29, 1899. This was a joint meeting of Elks and proposed Elks, held for the purpose of electing officers. The following being named:

F. M. Brendel - Exalted Ruler
J. M. Doyle - Esteemed Leading Knight
H S. Stout - Esteemed Loyal Knight
J.E. Stillwagon - Esteemed Lecturing Knight
\\'. D. McGinnis  Secretary
George T. Griffin  Treasurer
Thomas V. Donegan  Tiler
C. A. Brill - Esquire
C. M. Vance - Inner Guard
H. L. Kurtz - Chaplain
Rockwell Marietta - Trustee
W. D. Anderson - Trustee
James Echard - Trustee

The sixth and final meeting previous to organization was held on June 5, 1899. It was on this date at 4:25 in the afternoon, that the Grand Lodge of Emergency met in Connellsville to institute Lodge Number 503. With the officers assuming their respective chairs, the session, which added the name of Connellsville Lodge Number 503 to the official roster of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, was held.

But its humble beginning, beset for years with financial difficulties, and without a home of its own, did not daunt the fervor of its founders in the one resolve, the acquisition of permanent headquarters.

It was not until seventeen years after its institution early in 1900, that the present building was purchased and remodeled into suitable clubrooms. In 1916 the Lodge Hall was added. And so each year, each administration forged ahead the plan to progress and prosper.

In 1937, under the direction of C. Herbert Ellis, Sr. then Exalted Ruler, plans were formulated to remodel the club quarters. The bowling alleys were sold and new Grill Rooms for Elks and their ladies were installed. (The bowling alleys being located at what is now our present Bar and Grill Room.)

Brother Abe I. Daniels who had previously been Exalted Ruler, was again elected to serve the Lodge in that capacity. He served two terms, 1937-38 and 1938-39, making him a three time Exalted Ruler. During his term of office the remodeling and the new Club facilities were completed.

In 1954 it was again decided to modernize our home. Through the efforts of Exalted Ruler H. Melvin DeBolt definite plans were made to proceed with the rebuilding and renovating program. He appointed a Building Committee, which continued to function during the term of Exalted Ruler James E. Goddard, who appointed additional members to the committee. During his term of office much work was done. A resolution to rebuild was approved unanimously by the membership in September 1955 and actual demolition and reconstruction was started early in 1956.

This modernization was completed and the building rededicated under the leadership of the Exalted Ruler, Harvey Hild in February 1957. Since 1957, numerous minor improvements, changes and redecorating have been completed.

In 1973 under Exalted Ruler, Ronald Hawkins, a significant change took place in our ballroom with the installation of complete air-conditioning, an up to date fully equipped service bar, redecoration of the walls and new stage draperies. Renovations continue to the present day. Major renovations to the Lodge hall and barrooms were completed in April and May of 1999.

Connellsville Lodge was born in a decade when, throughout the nation, hundreds of fraternal organizations were founded. Only a few of these organizations exist today. Number 503 is one of the survivors. it has lived through two great wars, it has contributed heavily from its membership to further the cause of this nation's freedom. It has survived economic depressions and financial panics, the cultural and social development of the early eighteen-nineties, years of great national prosperity, the reckless age of jazz and even the era of prohibition.

Throughout its one hundred and five years of existence, Connellsville Lodge No. 503 has, without fail, participated actively in civic and community affairs. It has taken a positive stand in all drives for funds of a community nature. Its contribution to the Community Fund: its drives in the selling of war bonds during the two world wars, its raising of funds for the Connellsville State Hospital, and its share of works of Charity are well known to the community. It has taken a warm interest in the Boys and Girl Scout movement. The granting of scholarships to deserving students, is a project nearest the hearts of Connellsville Elks. Its cooperation with other fraternal and patriotic organizations is a bond of unity of purpose.

In National Foundation our Lodge has been among the leaders statewide in the last 10 years, winning numerous awards. In 2010-2011 our Lodge was the #1 Lodge in the nation for per capita in our membership group. In the 1998-99 Lodge year we were awarded the Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award as well as the Golden Triangle Award from the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania. In 2002-2003 our Lodge finished first in the State All American Lodge contest in our division.

The Lodge seldom fails to have representatives present at all Grand Lodge, State Association and Southwest District gatherings. Lodge No. 503 has been honored by the Grand Exalted Ruler in his selection of four of our members to serve as District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler.

The first member of Number 503 to be so honored was Andrew J. Rottler, three times Past Exalted Ruler of the Connellsville Lodge. C. Herbert Ellis, Sr. Edward Brady and Ronald A Hawkins (who also served three terms as Exalted Ruler) have likewise been so honored. Additionally, Andrew B Constantine and David A Pular have served as District State Vice Presidents. Joseph G VillaNeuva Jr was elected as District State Vice President in April of 2012.

Ronald Hawkins was elected to the office of President of the Pennsylvania Elks State Association in May of 2005 and was the first member of Connellsville Lodge #503 to serve as President of the Pennsylvania Elks State Association.

Like the phenomenon of the seasons, which comes and goes, Connellsville Lodge Number 503 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America, will go on forever To this end we pledge our whole being.