First women join Pa. Elks lodge

April 27, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Four women have joined the Waynesboro Elks Lodge, ending a 95-year tradition of exclusively male membership.

Waynesboro residents Kay Hershberger and Bonnie Bricker-Moats, Norrie Bakner of Mont Alto, Pa., and Ilona Nye of Chambersburg, Pa., last month become the first women to be inducted into the Elks Lodge on Main Street.

"It's a good feeling being one of the first women," said Bakner, who now can come and go without being accompanied by her boyfriend. "It's a feeling of accomplishment."

Started in 1902 as a fraternal organization for men, Waynesboro's Benevolent Protective Order of Elks Lodge 731 has historically allowed women inside the dark brown exterior if they were with male members, or were widows of members.


But those rules changed two years ago at the Elks' national convention when the Grand Lodge set the precedent of including women as members. The decision was ratified last year after Elks Lodges across the nation approved.

"I think it will better the lodge, to be honest with you," said Benny Grove, an Elks member and past exalted ruler of the 1,096-member organization.

Some of the older members criticized the idea at first, but Grove said most have gotten used to the idea now and have accepted their female counterparts. The Elks have had an active ladies auxiliary for years.

"Women have saved a lot of lodges like this across the United States," Grove said. "Ladies do more work than the men. They're more active. A lot of lodges have members but can't get people involved."

Since the ruling, Elks Lodges throughout the Tri-State area have welcomed women.

Chambersburg BPOE 600 has between 25 and 30 female members. Elks Lodge 778 in Martinsburg, W.Va., inducted its first two female members last year.

In Waynesboro, the only thing that really has to change, which has been an ongoing joke among the new female members, is the wording in the organization's literature to include "sisters" among references to the "brothers."

The women agreed that their intent of applying for membership, though liberating in a sense, was because the Elks Lodge is known for its good food, clean and rather upscale surroundings, and is considered a safe place to congregate in a club where members have the community's best interests in mind.

"I just felt that it's a really good organization to belong to," said Bricker-Moats. She said she didn't want to make waves when she joined and has no intention of competing with the male members.

"The Elks work with the community, they do fund raising, they work with handicapped children," she said.

"I'm happy with the fact that I have my own card," Bakner added. "I sort of look at it as a freedom thing."

A longstanding member of the ladies auxiliary, Hershberger said she wasn't ready to give up the benefits of the Elks Lodge after she and her member husband decided to get a divorce two years ago.

"My options of going into the Elks Club and being there with my children was no longer available to me unless I joined," said Hershberger said, who said she sees her membership in the male-dominated Lodge as progress in a still unequal society.

As members, the women have the same privileges as the men, and can use their Elks membership in lodges throughout the country. Women are also allowed to hold leadership positions, they can vote, and serve on committees.

"I think it's important, since we are the first ladies, that we do right by it and make some positive contributions," Hershberger said.

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