Since my last article, Allie and I have had the pleasure of visiting a few more of our Florida districts and joining many of our members for the Florida Elks midyear convention in St. Petersburg.
Our first district visit was to the South Southwest District. It began with a stop at Punta Gorda Lodge #2606, where we were able to see the results of the damage caused by Hurricane Ian. We also saw the resilience on display that we saw at all the lodges in this district as well. Punta Gorda was operating out of tents as they made plans to initiate the rebuilding process, starting with a large tiki hut, followed by a full lodge building. We then traveled to Deep Creek Lodge #2763 for dinner and some time with the Elks members in attendance. On Saturday, we drove to Greater Pine Island Lodge #2781, where all that is left of their lodge is a slab. We heard about their plans for a rebuild. In the evening, we visited Rotonda Lodge #2710, enjoyed a nice dinner and saw all the repairs they undertook as part of their recovery. It was so good to see the positive “can-do” Elks attitude in the face of the adversity this district saw and the progress they have made and intend to continue to make.
Next, we were off to our farthest visit, the Northwest District. Since I had not been able to travel to this district in the last two years due to scheduling challenges, it was great to finally be able to see the district and meet their members. On Friday, we went to Warrington Lodge #2108 for some delicious barbecue and fellowship. On Saturday morning, we attended a veterans roundtable at Pensacola Beach Lodge #497, where we heard about the lodge’s Forgotten Warriors program and some priceless stories from the veterans who were in attendance. This trip concluded that evening at Pensacola Beach Lodge with a fantastic dinner. We were also in attendance for their official mortgage-burning ceremony. I again congratulate them on their achievement.
Between the Northwest District and our final visit of 2023, we stayed closer to home, as the midyear convention rolled around in St. Petersburg. Some of you may remember that last year’s midyear convention saw our then-State President, Danny Tabor, fall ill, so it was very special after a full year to have him back and healthy with us at his first Florida State Elks Association event. Some highlights of the convention were the endorsement of Russ Smith as President of the FSEA and Michael Chandler as Vice President at Large of the FSEA; some great updates on the Florida Elks Youth Camp and Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services; numerous updates on the good works being done by our statewide committees; a message from our Grand Secretary, Bryan Klatt, as he and his wife, Susan, were able to join us; and all the heartwarming time we were able to spend with the members in attendance catching up, making new friends, and sharing common goals.
Following the midyear, we made our way to the Southwest Central District, which was hosted at Arcadia Lodge #1524. This was convenient for us, as we only live about 30 minutes away. On Friday evening, we had our formal dinner at Arcadia Lodge and saw all the hard work they have put in over the last year, as they were also hit hard by Hurricane Ian and had to renovate most of the lodge building. I think it was worth it, as the lodge looked great and their membership is happy to be back. On Saturday, we visited a local cattle ranch and then toured the Arcadia Stockyard. It was very educational and a lot of fun. That evening, Allie and I had the pleasure of riding in the Arcadia Christmas parade aboard the lodge’s float. It was so much fun seeing all the local residents come out and to see the smiles on all the children’s faces. It is an easy reminder of why we are Elks and why we, as an organization, stay so involved with our local communities. We need them and they need us and together we make the world a little better.
I would ask all our lodges to stay focused on membership. Initiate our new candidates and retain our valuable members by getting them in our lodges and involved in our lodges. Let’s support our FSEA major projects through our Harry-Anna Trust Fund and let’s support our Elks programs nationally through the Elks National Foundation. Now is the time to stay focused on our goals for the 2023-2024 Elks year by growing our organization, helping our communities through our programs and having fun while we do it!
Allie and I are truly enjoying traveling the state, meeting all our members and seeing all the things they are doing to shine bright! Remember, we are the Elks and we need to all work together for Florida Elks to Shine Bright!
Looking forward, the first couple of months of 2024 will see us very busy again. We attended the state Soccer Shoot in January and will have more district visits. We will be attending our February quarterly, where our Grand Exalted Ruler, Randy Shook, and his wife, Wanda, will also be in attendance. I pray everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and we hope to see many of you in 2024.
Joseph C. "Joe" Cooper
State President, 2023-2024
Florida State Elks Association