Old order making a comeback

Thomas Rudzewick has a goal in life – to re-introduce Elks into Queens.

He isn’t an eccentric naturalist; he’s the youth committee chair and trustee of Queens Elks Lodge No. 878 in Elmhurst.

From the 1868 founding of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) Lodge No. 1 in New York City, the Elks spread nationwide. From historic highs, membership has declined especially in urban areas – but Rudzewick thinks he has the formula to turn that around.

His secret, with the help of his dad and a handful of other trustees, was to attract younger members and to sell off their iconic building on Queens Boulevard – once the largest Elks Lodge on the east coast.

“In 1955 we had 7,000 members. We were down to about 350 in 2008,” Rudzewick said. “We were land poor and couldn’t do the charitable works and outreach we existed to do,” he explained. “Now we’re up over 510.”

Rudzewick might have failed to convince the older trustees and members – except as Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, he knew exactly what he was doing. “We sold the old building to a church, but we got it declared a landmark first, because it absolutely is one,” he said.

With coffers overflowing, the Lodge moved into the building on the remainder of their property and embarked on a comeback. Today, the Lodge Hall can accommodate up to 300, for indoor sports or parties. It has a well-equipped exercise room, locker rooms and a club room with a kitchen and bar – and supports charity, including the Elks extensive work for children with Cerebral Palsy.

The Lodge regularly hosts 30 local kids for handball and sponsors junior division tournaments with the U.S. Handball Association. In addition, Rudzewick got a youth group going.

The Antlers, for boys and girls from 12 to 21 years, can come to the lodge to do schoolwork, get an inexpensive meal and play. “We have over 55 Antlers now. One day, they’ll be Elks,” he said.

The facility will be adding space for more gym equipment and, he hopes, rentable commercial space. In the meantime, the hall is available for events.

“We want people to see what we have here – it’s pretty appealing,” he said.

For more information about the Elks Lodge in Elmhurst, call 718-639-4000 or email queensboroelks@mindspring.com.