Lonely? Need Purpose? Want to Give Back? Join the Olympia Elks Lodge


Between working from home, a pandemic and just drifting away from friends as we grow up, many of us are feeling lonely these days. The Olympia Elks Lodge #186 wants you to know they are eager to welcome you into their organization to give you a place to belong, make friends, find a purpose and give back to the community. And since 1997, women have been allowed to join the Elks Lodge – all are welcome!

“Women have been joining lodges and playing an ever-increasing role in Elks events,” shares Jill Anderson, past state president, past district deputy grand exalted ruler, past exalted ruler, chair of Olympia Elks Lodge and Washington State Elks Association officer training and chair of WSEA Government Relations and trustee. “These women have served on our charitable committees, which serve our communities, they have also served as officers in the lodges, including president. Many of these women have gone on to serve the Elks at state and national levels.”

History of the Elks Lodge

You may not realize just how important the Elks Lodges are to the United States. Did you know that the organization invented the first veterans’ hospital before the Veterans Administration existed? They also created the GI Bill, and started the first field hospital in France. And have always been great supporters of children’s charities.

The Olympia Elks Lodge #186 was founded in 1891 and upholds the mission of the greater organization. “The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) are American citizens,” shares Peter Schults, past exalted ruler and lodge secretary of the Olympia Elks. “We strive to help others less fortunate. We often say we like to give away money and spread joy.”

a woman puts socks on a Christmas tree covered in socks and mittens.
A giving tree with socks and mittens is just one example of the many things the Olympia Elks Lodge does to give back to Thurston County. Photo courtesy: Olympia Elks Lodge 186

“While Olympia Elks officially started in 1891, the idea arrived in August 1872, when Charles Vivian and his theatrical group came to town,” shares Steve Phillips, past exalted ruler, trustee and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Elks. “Mr. Vivian was from New York City and was a founding member of the Elks, he was also their first Exalted Ruler. During his stay in Olympia, he found out that a theatrical group from Seattle failed to show up at Tumwater for a fundraiser for their library. Mr. Vivian closed his show and moved it to Tumwater, giving all the proceeds to the library.”

It took until 1891 to have the Olympia Elks Charter signed. Judge T.N. Allen was the first Exalted Ruler (president) of the Lodge.

Over their long and respectable history, the Olympia Elks Lodge has done amazing things in our community. Here are just a few highlights:

1906 – Olympia Lodge sent $2005 to the San Francisco relief fund following the earthquake

1907 – Seattle Children’s Hospital opens. The Olympia Elks Lodge has supported them since the beginning and continues to do so.

1924 – Olympia Elks paid for therapy for a child with cerebral palsy, which led to a statewide Children’s Therapy program in which the Washington State Elks Association (WSEA) pays all the costs for therapists to provide needed care at the child’s home.

2013-2014 – over $330 million was given in public service nationally.

2017 – Olympia Elks Lodge gave $2.2 million to the local community in scholarships, grants, direct funds and volunteer hours of their members spent in a wide variety of local area charities.

2021-2022 – during COVID they donated $5,500 to the food bank and Meals on Wheels.

“We have supported the food bank, Veterans (American Lake, Drexel House, Vets center and others), and the Senior Center,” adds Shultz. “We have given money to Operation Thrive helping Veterans and First Responders overcome stress.”

Current projects include the WSEA Children’s therapy project; welcome home baskets through Drexel house for homeless veterans who are getting their first home after living on the street; food drives for pets and people with local food banks; All Kids Win fundraisers; Human Trafficking Coalition support; and more.

Elk Lodge mascot Elk pointing to a sign that says 'We give back to our community. Over 128 million dollars by our states lodges'
The Elks Lodges have giving back millions across Washington State to better our communities. Join them and be a part of it. Photo courtesy: Olympia Elks Lodge 186

Join Olympia Elks Lodge

The Olympia Elks Lodge does important charity work within the Thurston County area and beyond, and they are always looking for new members to help them continue their work. “Elks provide community support,” shares Shultz. “We gather items at our Lodge (food drives, school supply drives, clothing drives, etc.) to give out to community service organizations. We donate cash from collections at our Lodge and Grants earned from Elks National.”

Ready to get involved? “Elks is open to all American citizens, over the age of 21, of good moral character, who believe in God, or a higher power, and who are welcomed by a member,” shares Ron Nielson, past exalted ruler, trustee and house chairman of the Olympia Elks Lodge. “So that last part just means you need to come by and meet us so we can endorse your application.”

To get started, you can fill out the inquiry form on the Elks website or stop by the Olympia Elks Lodge located at 1818 East 4th Avenue, in Olympia, next door to Ralphs Thriftway.  Stop by during Wednesday evening happy hour 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., says Anderson.

Olympia Elks members sitting at long tables painting a pumpkin portrait and sipping drinks.
Olympia Elks do plenty of fun activities together, like this paint and sip, so you will never be lonely! Photo courtesy: Olympia Elks Lodge 186

“While you can commit as little or as much as you wish, we ask each of our new members to commit to 10 hours of volunteer time a year either at the lodge or out in the community – that’s less than an hour a month,” says Nielson. Shultz adds that more active members are involved in all aspects of the Lodge.

And while the core mission is about giving back, you will get something out of it too – a place to belong and not feel lonely, no matter where you travel. “Elks Lodge membership at Olympia means you are treated as a member in roughly 2,200 lodges nationwide by over a million other American citizens,” shares Nielson. “That means when you visit a new city, you are welcomed as a member of the family wherever there is a lodge.”

I keep reading these days about an ‘epidemic of loneliness,’ about young people searching for a third place – a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg that refers to a place where people can spend time between home (first place) and work (second place),” shares Neilson. “They are looking for a place to connect, exchange ideas, have a good time, build relationships. The Elks Lodge is one such place. We have a bar and game room. We host Bingo twice weekly, happy hour with a meal weekly, dances twice a month and other fun activities as voted upon by the membership. We also meet with a higher purpose.  We give back to the community with a focus on veterans and children. Looking for a way to give back to Thurston County? Why reinvent the wheel?”

For more information about joining, visit the Olympia Elks Lodge webpage.

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