With member participation waning, the Swanton Elks Lodge will close permanently, likely by year’s end, and has asked to merge with the Maumee chapter.
Exalted Ruler Eva Waldron said the Swanton location has lost money the past couple of years due to an aging membership and a failure to attract younger people. “Quite frankly, older people just aren’t going out in the evenings and, quite frankly, we’re feeling the financial pinch,” she said.
The lodge at 116 N. Main St. has 133 members, most between the ages of 65-80 and only about 30 of whom remain active. Waldron said attendance has dropped off, leaving activity to Saturday night dinners and the bar portion of the lodge open three days per week.
After six months of contemplation, members voted a month ago to permanently close the Swanton chapter and request a merger with the Maumee Elks chapter. That chapter, which absorbed the Bowling Green Elks membership seven years ago, will meet Oct. 25 to vote on the proposal.
“As a whole, we decided we wanted to go to a more prosperous lodge,” Waldron said. “I feel they’ll have more to offer our members.”
She said the Swanton chapter will fold regardless of whether the Maumee chapter accepts it members. However, the Maumee Elks have expressed interest, and would continue Swanton traditions such as a hoop shoot and the little people’s golf outing.
Maumee Exalted Ruler Jim Ward said, “I would not see a reason why the members of the Maumee lodge would not merge with Swanton.” He said the lodge is open to all Swanton members prior to the vote.
Ward said paperwork regarding a merger must be sent to the Chicago headquarters, and could be approved by Thanksgiving. Maumee’s membership stands at 1,300, most age 60-85, with about 20 percent active.
The Swanton lodge membership could have voted to relinquish its possessions to the Elks headquarters in Chicago, “but we still want to be involved with an Elks lodge,” Waldron said. “We have a feeling of relief that we made a decision what direction we’re going in.”
The building and its furnishings will be sold, and the membership will determine who will benefit from the profits.
The 47-year-old chapter began without a hall; members met in a chicken coop on Dodge Street in the village. At its peak, the Swanton Elks Lodge had 460 members.
Waldron said other benevolent organizations like the Elks are experiencing a similar fate.
“I think all the lodges are having that problem,” she said. “It’s hard to get a younger generation to want to come into a private lodge. It’s just hard to get new membership. Your younger generation wants to go to sports bars and restaurants.”
Ward agrees. “It’s harder to get younger members to join at times,” he said.
The Swanton lodge has no official closing date, and will continue in business until a buyer for the building is found.
Waldron said the Swanton Elks leadership has been grateful to members who remained active, but added, “My next phone call will be to a real estate agent.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.