By Kris Leonhardt
The beginnings of the Stevens Point Elks Lodge date back to the early days of New York City, when two entertainers stopped at an establishment following a musical performance.
When Charles Vivian and Dick Steirly met up with Hughey Doughterty, Cool Burgess and Henry Vandemark, Steirly suggested that the gentlemen shake dice.
“Vivian replied that he never handled the cubes, but would show them a new game,” said James Nicholson in his History of the Order of Elks.
Calling for three corks, he gave one each to Steirly and Vandemark, keeping the other for himself. He asked Cool Burgess to be the judge, and Dougherty to count ‘1-2-3.’ They rehearsed the trick of each dropping his cork on the bar and picking it up as rapidly as possible, several times, the idea conveyed to the initiated being that the last man to lift his cork was to buy.
Vivian then gave the word of command, Dougherty counted. He and Steirly passed their hands over their corks while Vandemark, eager to lift his cork from the bar, was both first and last to pick it up, and consequently was ‘stuck’ for the round.”
The group continued the ruse, gaining drinks from unsuspecting targets and initiating members into their “Jolly Corks” club. Upon meeting other members, the “Corks” were required to show their cork (which they were required to carry at all times) or be forced to purchase a drink.
As membership grew, the club became active in the community and soon conflicts arose. The organization, not being able to resolve their differences, split in two.
One of the groups would put their ideas into action and in 1868 formed the charter lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
In December of 1900, 34 Stevens Point men gathered to organize a local Elks club, and in July of the following year, Stevens Point Elks Lodge No.641 was granted a charter.
The club met at various locations until 1907, when after being vacated by the Stevens Point City Council, a suite of apartments on the second floor of the “Kingsbury Building” became available.
The club worked feverishly to prepare the ten rooms that constituted the suite. From gilt borders to oiled and polished hardwood floors, members gave their new clubhouse on the 400 block of Main Street the courtly air due to an esteemed society of its kind.
Upon its opening in April of 1907, Point residents filed into the Kingsbury building to get their first look at the clubhouse, which now included a dance and lodge hall, reception room, office and waiting room, parlor, card room, billiard and pool hall, kitchen, property room, anteroom (or lobby), as well as ladies’ and men’s restrooms.
The club resided at this location until it outgrew the confines of its rental property.
Today, the Elks Club continues a century-old history of benevolence in the city of Stevens Point, now operating from their clubhouse at 1132 Clark Street.