By Marilyn Busch
Smithfield Elks Lodge #2359 has made an impact on this area in the half-century since it was first chartered on October 28, 1966. While the Lodge has seen much change over the years, one thing has remained constant – the Smithfield Elks’ unwavering devotion and service to their local community.
The Elks Lodge membership is well known for a wide variety of area-based charitable programs that benefit local youth, veterans and individuals with special needs. As the Smithfield Lodge’s Exalted Ruler Timothy S. Chilinski said, “There are many needs that the Lodge fulfills in its position as a charitable partner for the community. We have many committees staffed by dedicated Elks volunteers in order to meet the needs of the people of Smithfield and surrounding communities.”
The Lodge just recently generously donated $2,500 to five different recipients: Greenville Boy Scouts, Georgiaville Boy Scouts, Providence Canteen, the Military Lounge at T.F. Green Airport and the North Providence Fire Department.
You would be hard-pressed to find a Smithfield family who has not in some way benefitted from the Elks’ local efforts. From financially supporting deserving students through scholarships and educating them on drug awareness, the Smithfield Elks have had a lasting impact on local youth. Their sports programs give school age boys and girls an opportunity to learn the values of healthy competition and good sportsmanship.
Exalted Ruler Chilinski sums up his feelings on the organization’s mission, saying “When I am asked why I became an Elk, I tell people that I feel fortunate and it is time to give back to those that need help.” He adds, “You only know the full meaning of being an Elk by seeing what we do in the community. You get a warm feeling in your heart when you see our children participate in the hoop shoot or soccer shoot, when one of Smithfield’s students receives a scholarship, or you see the delight on the faces of the veterans from the Bristol Home at our Veterans Day dinner.”
The group thrives on a strong sense of patriotism, seen annually through their commemoration of Flag Day and honoring retired U.S. military for their service. The Smithfield Lodge also accepts grant requests on behalf of disabled individuals in financial need. The Elks are committed to assisting the local special needs population and the 10 statewide lodges recently joined together to host a summer outing for 1,250 Rhode Islanders with special needs.
With all they have accomplished at golden age of 50, the Smithfield Lodge is a relative youngster within the national Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks organization, which traces its roots back to 1868. Originally chartered as a New York based social group, the organization soon solidified its mission to be a social group devoted to providing charitable services. After some debate, the national founders soon adopted the elk as the symbol for the community-centered fraternity. The stately elk seems a fitting representation of the group’s mission and patriotic nature – a distinctively American creature seen as a representation of strength, courage and wisdom. Today the Smithfield Elks are among 10 lodges in Rhode Island, its membership contributing to the group’s more than 850,000 national members.
The Smithfield Lodge #2359 is located on a 2.75-acre lake-view property at 326 Farnum Pike originally purchased in 1966. Over the years the group has seen their membership grow from the original 170 charter members to the more than 500 that belong to the Smithfield Lodge today. The leadership expects to see that number reach over 600 by next spring.
Of the original Smithfield Lodge founders, only five survive today to celebrate the Lodge’s landmark 50th Anniversary. John Cunningham, one of the remaining founding members is Chairman of the #2359 Lodge’s 50th Anniversary Committee. A second generation Elk, Cunningham has been with the Smithfield group from the very beginning, starting with group’s early search for a building to call their own.
Over the next 50 years the group accommodated their growing membership by expanding the original structure into a relaxed lounge with a bank of sunny windows that wrap around the side of the building. Open daily, the lounge offers much in the way of fellowship, with weekly karaoke and live music every Saturday night featuring such local names as Vini Ames Band, Cool Change and Calamari Brothers.
In recent years, the Elks have constructed an open-air pavilion that overlooks Stump Pond. The spacious open-air covered picnic area comfortably accommodates 100, with a full bar, BBQ and horseshoe pits. The Elks largest venue available for rent is a function room seating 300. Under rustic chandelier lighting and expansive wood-beamed ceilings, the Elks Lodge ballroom will be the setting for the group’s 50th Anniversary event on October 15. Cunningham’s committee has much planned for the landmark celebration, including cocktails, a banquet dinner, dancing and a look through the Lodge’s storied history.
For more information on the Smithfield Elks Lodge 50th Celebration, their many charitable efforts or how to become a member, call the Lodge at (401) 231-9820.