By Robert Lucke
Recently a group of old-time Havre Elks members got together at the Eagles Manor to share stories about the colorful history of the Elks in Havre.
That group included Dwayne Kretchmer, Ken Hafdahl, Jim Flynn, Clarence Ratchye, Mike Farley, Nick LaFrantz, Cy Morrison, Louis Clack, Jim Dowen, Clark Streeper, Jose Guevara, Louis Lucke and Leonard Wavrick, present Havre Elks exalted ruler.
The group shared when they became Elks and their favorite memories of Elkdom in their lives.
Jim Flynn became an Elk in 1948.
"I was afraid that I would have to ride a goat to be initiated and didn't, but I found that was one of the most solemn ceremonies I had ever seen," Flynn said.
Clarence Ratchye was initiated in 1947 and talked about his most memorable memory as being in the fire in 1972 that burned down the original Elks building on Second Street.
Dwayne Kretchmer joined the Elks in 1959.
"I started through the chairs and was exalted ruler in 1965. When I was installed by my Uncle Leo Cota, who was a past exulted ruler from Valley City, N.D. That I will never forget. That, and later bringing my son into the Elks," Kretchmer said.
Louis Lucke joined the Havre Elks in 1952 and shared a story about his father and him riding a special Elks train to Wolf Point in the winter of 1948 in the middle of a good old Montana blizzard.
Mike Farley was initiated into the Elks in 1937 and, being a musician, will never forget the Elks' bands.
"There were the Elks German Band, the Elks Big Band and a smaller Elks band all through the 40s and 50s," Farley said with a smile. "And they were pretty good too!"
Ken Hafdahl joined in 1942 just after he had turned 21.
"I ended up in World War II in Manila in the Philippines. There was even an Elks Club there, mostly made up of service men. We all spent a lot of time there. It was great," said Hofdahl.
"You were in the Elks Club in Manila at the end of the war?" Cy Morrison asked. "I can't believe it," he continued. "So was I, and at that same time. Think of it! We never saw each other and now we are hearing about it for the first time!"
Morrison said that he never did know for sure when he joined the Elks because he was going to join and then went off to war. Tom Troy, longtime Elks manager, sent him a paid-up Elks card so he could go to Elks clubs all over the world.
Nick LaFrantz joined the Elks in 1945 and fondly remembers his six years as trustee and still is getting compliments about the wonderful dinners he cooked for Elks members through the years.
Leonard Wavrick, present exalted ruler, joined in 1991.
"My biggest impression is going to conventions all over the state and seeing now an era that people don't have time for lodges. I hope that will turn around some day," Wavrick said.
Louis Clack joined in 1941.
"I remember being in the service and from the east coast to the west coast, wherever there was an Elks Club, I was treated just wonderful. All except for Norfolk, Va. There they didn't seem to like people in uniforms," Clack said. "And in most of the clubs, your money was no good. You just couldn't pay for anything."
James Dowen joined in 1961.
"I remember the years that I played music in the Elks. That, and that whenever I went on a trip, I would stop at an Elks Club and I was just treated like a king," Dowen said.
Clack Streeper was initiated in 1961.
"I can remember the big classes of people coming into the Elks. They filled the place up, there were so many," Streeper said. "And I will never forget when we had a state convention here, and the Great Falls drum and bugle corps got up on the roof of the Hotel Havre and couldn't get down. We had to call the fire department."
Jose Guevara was initiated into the Elks in 1971 and his memorable recollections were the seriousness of the rituals that in his words were really something to watch. Nothing was read. It was all memorized.
Amazing was that the memories of those old-time Elk members were as clear and bright as if they had just happened yesterday.
Havre Elks BPOE 1201 FYI
BPOE stands for Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
All Elks clocks say 11:00 because each time their clocks strike eleven, morning and night, Elks meetings stop and the ranking officer offers a toast to all the absent brothers.
The original Elks band was started in 1947. And the Elks Big Band started in 1940. The Big Band had around 40 members and the German Band around 10.
The largest membership in the Havre Elks was around 1,700 and the largest class to join at once was 128.
Havre native Ritz Sloan brought bags of elk teeth back from hunting which he would sell to members.
The Havre Elks Club served the general public for years with a large public dining room. Cooks through the years were Gram Thompson, Mrs. Ellis and Betty Holland.
The most secret recipe from the Elks kitchen was Betty Holland's Roquefort dressing. No one ever got that recipe although it could be purchased by the pint for home consumption.
The Havre Elks Club served as a focal point for many community meeting and events in its original Second Street building.
The first Elks Club rooms were in Chestnut Hall on the second floor of the building on the corner of Third Avenue and Second Street, just across from the Atrium. It is still standing to this day.
The Elks was started nationally in New York City by a theatrical group. That is why a lot of Elks rituals and the like have a theatrical flavor to them.
Old time members almost wax poetic when describing the love and affection they hold for their longtime manager, Tom Troy, and his longtime assistant, Cliff Matthews.
To this day, the Elks share in giving money to Havre's youth and poor from the will of Havre pioneer businessman, C.W. Young.
The Havre Country Club (now the Beaver Creek Golf Course) was owned and managed by the Havre Elks Club for many years.
The most famous person to perform at the country club was none other than Louis Armstrong.
No story about the Havre Elks Club would be complete without mentioning the "one armed bandits," also known as slot machines. They were a staple in the club for many years and were the source of much income.
The first Elks Mother's Day breakfast was held in 1950 and was put on by Tom Troy and Joe Klabunde. Those breakfasts' are a tradition yet.
The Havre Elks Club developed many areas of Camp Kiwanis in Beaver Creek Park through the years as well as their own campground just north of Camp Kiwanis.
Jan. 2, 1972 was the date of the fire that burned down the first Elks Club in Havre.
The Elks first started in Chestnut Hall. Then they moved to their own building, then to the country club in 1972, to the Atrium in 1978, and to their present building in 1980.
A brief history of the Havre Elks Club from Grit, Guts and Gusto.
The lodge was granted its charter on July 15, 1910. The first officers were A.J. Broderick, exalted ruler; Victor R. Griggs, esteemed leading knight; Daniel R. Boone, secretary; John C. Koerner, treasurer; and Frank Chestnut, tyler. Trustees included Louis Mack, Claude Morris, Frank McCarthy and Peter Barrett. Other charter members were James Holland Sr., A.E. Wilkie, Henry W. Stringfellow, Robert Lewis, Joseph Padden, Lou Lucke, Joseph Almas, Louis Newman, Elton Williams, Thomas McKenzie, Frank Buttrey, Harry Wood, James Duffy, Samuel Hanley, William McKinnon, Frank Cosgrove, Michael Tierney and Edward T. Broadwater.