We are approaching the midyear convention and looking forward to seeing many of you at the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore. Joyce and I are really enjoying our visitations along with VPAL Rudy and Dolly Masi. As you will see, we’ve been busy!
We attended the Grand Lodge convention in St. Louis and it was a pleasure to represent Florida as your State President and to carry our state flag across the stage during the opening ceremony on Sunday evening. Our room at the Hyatt Hotel had a great view of the Arch and we were entertained July 4 with an unbelievable air show over the Mississippi River and then by a team of extremely experienced sky divers parachuting through the Arch and landing with extreme precision. The fireworks over the Gateway Arch were breathtaking.
After returning from the Grand Lodge convention, we traveled to the Central District for the visitation. On Friday evening, we were welcomed at the hotel by District Vice President, John Gudavich; his wife, Donna; and a large group of wonderful district Elks all dressed up in their lodge jackets. That evening we celebrated my birthday at Argento’s Italian Bistro which just happened to also be a bakery. They presented me with a very large and delicious birthday cake. The next day we went on a river boat cruise up the Cottee River and stopped in New Port Richey for ice cream. It was a beautiful day to be on the river. That night we had an awesome dinner at Aripeka Lodge and were accompanied by our new Elks Children’s Therapy Services Champ of the Year, JJ D’Angelo, and his family. The members gave JJ and his family a much appreciated warm reception.
Our next visitation was to the Southeast District. Friday night dinner was at West Palm Beach Lodge. Exalted Ruler, Ed Morey, took a cake in the face which was originally meant for me to raise money for the Harry-Anna Trust Fund. It worked; he raised over $1,000. On Saturday, we traveled to the Loggerhead Marine Life Center to watch some extremely large turtles being nursed to health. Jupiter Boy Scout Troop #108 and their lodge sponsors served us a picnic lunch at the beautiful Jupiter Inlet where we watched the boys perform the flag ceremony. Then we went on to the Busch Wildlife Center where we fed a seven-foot black bear frozen grapes and Joyce and Dolly held a live alligator which was nearly three feet long. Dinner that night was at the beautifully decorated Jupiter Lodge. Again, Exalted Ruler, Cindy Eldred, took a cake in the face for the Harry-Anna Trust Fund, raising another $500 for the district. It was a great weekend and we thank District Vice President, Larry Littell, and the district volunteers for hosting us.
Then we visited the South Southeast District where District Vice President, Donna Powers, and her husband, Charlie, made us feel very welcome. On Friday, we had a great dinner at Hollywood West Lodge and we had breakfast Saturday at Oakland Park Lodge. On our way to the Fort Lauderdale Museum, which was extremely informative, we stopped at the new Pompano Beach Lodge. What an impressive building and exciting time it is for the members and leaders of Pompano Beach Lodge. We had a great homemade gumbo lunch at Delray Beach Lodge. On Saturday evening, we had a reception and incredible dinner at Boca Raton Lodge. We enjoyed the opportunity to visit all the lodges in the district and appreciate their hospitality.
Our next visitation was to the West Central District where District Vice President, Tom Mortka, and his wife, Debbie, arranged a wonderful weekend for us. We had dinner at Tarpon Springs Lodge where they decided to vote on who would get the pie in the face for the Harry-Anna Trust Fund – Exalted Ruler, Bob Gorby, or me. Well Past National President, Mike Smith, executed a perfect delivery of the pie to my face. The Harry-Anna Trust Fund earned nearly $800 that evening. On Saturday, we visited Clearwater Marine Aquarium where we met Winter, the famous dolphin. That evening we had dinner at Dunedin/Clearwater Lodge where we were welcomed by the Dunedin High School Scottish Highlander band. We were honored by a large group of Elks and local dignitaries. After dessert, Exalted Ruler, Janice Brautigam, took the pie in the face to raise more than $600 for the trust fund. The trust fund faired very well that weekend with other donations presented to me at the dinner. Sunday morning started with breakfast at St. Petersburg Lodge. This was the beginning of the grand finale of a once-in-a-lifetime experience of throwing out the first pitch at a Rays baseball game and being on the ballfield with our Therapy Services CHAMP, JJ, and his family. JJ started the game by announcing, “Play Ball.” The Rays won which was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend. Thank you, PDD Steve Harmon, FSEA IT Manager, for making this happen for us.
We had a wonderful time at the Florida Ladies of Elks (FLOE) conference at Hilton Daytona Beach. We saw Adella Ashton installed as President and Felicia Vuletich become a Past State President. It was a beautiful ceremony. The members of FLOE have been great supporters of our Elks lodges and FSEA. During this year’s conference, they collected over $15,000 in donations from Ladies of the Elks all over the state for our major projects with their donations going to Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services and our Florida Elks Youth Camp. Over the last 11 years, FLOE has donated over $1 million. Way to go, ladies!
We are well on our way to meeting our Harry-Anna Trust Fund goal. We are halfway through the year and over halfway to our goal of $750,000. Keep up the good work. Last year we had a gain in membership, but this year we are falling behind. We need to work with our membership committees to have another successful membership growth year. Let’s make it happen!
These visits have made Joyce and me feel so welcome in your districts and we can’t thank you enough for your kindness to us and our travel team. When we meet you at your lodges and learn about your accomplishments and involvement in the community, it is easy to understand why you are “Proud to be an Elk.” Thank you for all that you do!
We hope to see you at the midyear convention in Tampa in November. Make your reservations early.
God bless you and your families. God bless our troops and all those in harm’s way. God bless our state association and God bless America.
Florida State Elks Association