Joyce and I have really enjoyed our visitations to the various districts this winter. It has been fun traveling with Rudy and Dolly Masi and our endorsed VPAL, Suzi Simonelli, and her husband, Joey. We celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Florida Elks Youth Camp with a great group of Elks. Our first visitation of the new year was to the North Central District where we were greeted by District Vice President, Russ Smith; his wife, Denise; and a group of wonderful Elks. Friday night we enjoyed a great dinner at South Lake Lodge and some fancy dancing. Saturday we visited Matthew’s Hope where they rehabilitate people who are homeless by training them in new skills and finding them jobs. It was an amazing experience to see all the good they do. That evening we had dinner at Winter Garden Lodge where the award-winning Mount Dora ROTC cadets did an amazing job performing the POW/MIA Table of Honor presentation.
Next we had a great time attending the Alabama Elks Association midwinter meeting in Perdido Beach where they welcomed Grand Exalted Ruler, Bob Duitsman, and First Lady, Beth Duitsman. Alabama Elks are dedicated to helping others, especially kids and veterans, and are very friendly and treated Joyce and me as if we were one of them.
At the end of January, we visited the Northeast District where we were entertained by District Vice President, Gene Rittenhouse, and his wife, Linda. We had dinner with many district Elks at the hotel Friday night followed by a busy Saturday. Following lunch at the Caddy Shack, we toured the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum. Rudy and I tried to make a hole in one over a 140-yard lake, which we did not! That night, a 1943 Chevy police car delivered us to Green Cove Springs Lodge with the sirens screaming for another great evening of food and fellowship. After dinner and the meeting, Mayor Kelley presented me with a certificate of honor and a key to the city.
Our next visitation was to the North District where we were greeted by District Vice President, Chris Lydick; his wife, Dawn; and a large group of Elks. Friday evening included a wonderful hospitality room on the second floor of the famous 118-year-old newly-restored Hotel Blanche and dinner at Lake City Lodge. On Saturday morning, we had breakfast across the street from the hotel at Halpatter Brewing Company. That afternoon, Chris took us to the Olustee Battlefield where they have a reenactment every year of a famous Civil War battle. We fired 1850 and 1860 Springfield and Enfield black powder rifles in a straight military firing line. Dinner Saturday evening was served in the Hotel Blanche. Mayor Stephen Witt presented me with a key to the city. Next on our schedule, we greeted Grand Exalted Ruler, Bob Duitsman, and First Lady, Beth Duitsman, with a welcoming committee at Jacksonville Airport. We had a nice lunch and toured some shops in St. Augustine. Later we took off for the Elks quarterly meetings where the Grand Exalted Ruler traveling party was greeted at the Florida Elks Youth Camp front gates by a very large group of excited Elks. On Friday evening we were entertained with a wonderful patriotic performance by Re-Creation. GER Duitsman gave an inspiring speech to finish the meeting Saturday.
The next weekend, Joyce and I had the privilege of attending the state Hoop Shoot at the Florida Elks Youth Camp. We saw some outstanding foul shooting from the boys and girls. After lunch, our State Hoop Shoot Chair, Eric Johnson, and I gave out ribbons and trophies. This was a very rewarding experience for us.
Our final visitation of the year was in Arcadia for our homecoming to the Southwest Central District. District Vice President, Nancy Higginbotham, and her husband, Alfred, hosted a phenomenal weekend for us. We started the weekend by checking in to the newly remodeled Oakpark Inn in downtown Arcadia; our room was awesome. We had a huge bed shaped like a boat and a beautiful suite with a balcony overlooking downtown. To welcome us back to the district, Brian and Mary Kay Burns hosted a great barbecue and bonfire in their barn and backyard. On Saturday morning we ate breakfast in the grand living room outside our rooms. Everyone loved the hotel and being able to sit and visit in the evening. Saturday morning we attended the Arcadia Youth Rodeo. After a warm welcome and introduction over the loud speaker, we watched the little kids do some mutton busting. We really enjoyed watching the young cowboys and cowgirls compete in the various events. The taco bar lunch at the lodge was perfect and enjoyed by everyone. After lunch, Alfred took the guys to the Arcadia Stockyard. We learned how to buy and sell cows and steers; it was a good time. Mary Kay took the ladies on a fun shopping trip. Saturday evening started with a warm welcome to Arcadia Lodge with a beautifully decorated dining room and incredible appetizer table. The evening and the dinner was unbelievable. Thank you, Southwest Central District and all the Elks and guests, for being there for us. We can’t thank the Arcadia Elks enough for all they did to make our homecoming so special for everyone.
The next week we traveled to Valdosta for the Georgia Elks Association spring meeting. Friday we had lunch at the Georgia Elks special project, Elks Aidmore. They help children and their families in times of crisis by providing them with resources to rebuild their lives. On Saturday, Valdosta Lodge hosted a dinner for guests and GER Duitsman and First Lady Beth.
As of March 31, our preliminary end-of-year membership results are in. Congratulations! We had a gain! We still have work to do. We have until the end of May to reinstate members who were dropped in March.
As I write this message, our nation and our Elks members are facing the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 virus. As the saying goes, “Let our faith be bigger than our fear.” We will get through this! God bless you and your families, God bless our troops and those in harm’s way, God bless our Florida State Elks Association, and God bless America!
Thank you, Elks, for all you do to make our association so great. You make us “Proud to be an Elk!”
Stay healthy and safe.
Florida State Elks Association