What a great time it is to be a Florida Elk! Allie and I have been busy over the last few months visiting several Florida districts and representing all our Florida members across our great state. As you should know by now, my motto is “Florida Elks Shine Bright” and we are seeing all the ways our lodges are.
After our return from the Grand Lodge convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we hit the road and traveled to the Southeast District where District Vice President Erminia Cain and the entire district rolled out the red carpet for us. Our first stop was Jupiter Lodge, where they had just cleaned up from a flood due to a broken water pipe, which we would have never known by how well things looked and the positive vibe from everyone there. Saturday, we took a field trip over to Clewiston Lodge and were treated to an airboat ride on Lake Okeechobee, where we learned a few things about the lake from our captains. Many thanks go to PDD Greg Westberry and the other volunteer captains for showing us a part of our beautiful state. We wrapped up the weekend at West Palm Beach Lodge for a great dinner. We were blessed to be able to visit each of the lodges in this district, talk with all the members and hear about the good works they are doing.
Our next visit was to the South District, hosted by District Vice President Debbie Gelabert and her district team. Friday evening, we were treated to a wonderful Latin meal and music at the beautiful Miami Lodge. This was followed up Saturday with another airboat ride but this time at the Miccosukee Village in the Everglades. We did see alligators in the wild and even got to take in an alligator show at the village. Saturday evening was spent at South Miami/Coral Gables Lodge, where we had a full orchestra playing during our meal and a ventriloquist show. VPAL Russ Smith even guest performed with the ventriloquist. You had to be there! One of the best parts of the evening was hearing from the mayor of South Miami about the positive impact the lodge there is having on the local community, showing how Florida Elks are Shining Bright!
The next stop on our tour of Florida was to the South Southeast District, where District Vice President Donna Powers and their members hosted us. We started our Friday evening at Delray Beach Lodge, where we enjoyed a great meal. Saturday started early with a visit to Hollywood West Lodge for breakfast and an opportunity to hear about a few of the good works that lodge is doing. We then took a boat tour, seeing Fort Lauderdale homes and landmarks. That ended with a pretty heavy rain, but this is Florida! We dried off and made a stop at Oakland Park Lodge for lunch and got to spend some time with their members. We capped the trip off back at Delray Beach Lodge, but this time we were hosted by Boca Raton members who are currently sharing space with Delray Beach Lodge. It was great to see the brotherhood and sisterhood on display as the lodges supported each other.
The following weekend, we traveled back to the east coast to the East Central District and were hosted by District Vice President Gary VanOpdorp and a lot of great volunteers. The weekend started Friday evening with a luau at DeLand Lodge with a delicious meal and some live music. Saturday morning, we visited Ormond Beach Lodge for breakfast and were able to hear from representatives from the Barracks of Hope about their programs and how Ormond Beach Elks partner with them. From there we visited the First Step Shelter, where we not only got to learn about what they do but we were able to cook and serve lunch to the residents, eat with them and hear some of their stories. We wrapped up the weekend with a wonderful dinner at Port Orange Lodge.
After these four visits, we got to participate in a couple of special events. There was a very special event Aug. 26 in the mighty Southwest District, the institution of a new Florida lodge. Parrish Lodge #2889 was officially instituted, along with the initiation of their charter members and officers. I was honored to play the part of the Loyal Knight with a great team of officers. We wish Parrish #2889 all the best luck going forward. We know you will Shine Bright for Florida Elkdom! The other special event was the Elks Day at the Rays, where I got to throw out the first pitch with 1,300 Elks in attendance at a sold-out game between the Rays and Yankees. What a cool moment it was, even though I had to tone down my pitch so I didn’t injure the catcher for the game!
Next, we resumed visiting our Florida districts with a stop in the Southeast Central District, where we were hosted by District Vice President Wendy Carns and team. On Friday evening, we enjoyed a luau at the historic Cocoa Lodge. On Saturday, we traveled to Sebastian Lodge, where we heard presentations on all the ways Sebastian Elks are Shining Bright in their community. It was interesting to hear the cooperative manner in which they partner with other organizations in the community to make an impact. We closed out our visit with an evening at Viera Lodge, where we got to visit with the members of the district.
Our last district visit before I wrote this article was to the West Central District. Here we were hosted by District Vice President Rhonda Smith and a number of Elk volunteers. Friday we visited St. Petersburg Lodge for a western-themed dinner, where I won a horse race and a donation for the Elks National Foundation. Saturday we visited the Bay Pines VA center and received a tour of the Fisher House there, as well as a tour of the Bay Pines food pantry and clothing store. It was so good to hear all the things the West Central District does to help our veterans who have given so much for us. We also got to stop by Seminole Lodge for a refreshing lunch and were able to meet their members. Saturday evening was spent at Holiday Isles Lodge for a meal and fellowship. It was hard to believe that the lodge was flooded by Hurricane Idalia only three weeks earlier. There was great teamwork from the district to get it all cleaned up and repaired in such a short time.
Our last function was attending the Florida Ladies of Elks conference in Daytona Beach. This was the first time I attended a FLOE conference. What a great group of ladies they are. We were not only able to spend time with all the Elks and Ladies of Elks in attendance but we were able to hear and see the great things FLOE does to support the FSEA and our major projects. Thank you for all your efforts and support and keep Shining Bright for Florida Elkdom!
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, we will be visiting the South Southwest District and the Northwest District. Then we hope to see many of you at the midyear convention in St. Petersburg. Then there is a visit to the Southwest Central District and we will wrap up 2023 at our Florida Elks Youth Camp for New Year’s Eve. Allie and I hope to see and speak to many of you along the way, as we continue to help Florida Elks Shine Bright!
Joseph C. "Joe" Cooper
State President, 2023-2024
Florida State Elks Association