More than 350 members help raise funds for worthy causes

Published in the January 11-24, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By Marty Cheek

Gilroy Life file photo
Gilroy Elks Lodge members prepare scampi at the 2015 Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras.

For nearly 90 years, the Gilroy Elks Lodge has been making life better for the entire South Valley region. The service group will be honored as the 2017 Spice of Life Award Nonprofit of the Year honoree by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce at a gala Feb. 11 at the San Juan Oaks Golf Club.

The Gilroy Elks has more than 350 members joining together around a mission to promote the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity, said Mitch Marinovich, the service club’s “exalted ruler,” a whimsical title for president. Despite the Gilroy Elks name, members reside in not only in the garlic-loving city but Morgan Hill and San Martin as well, he said.

The list of the local lodge’s annual activities is considerable. Education and promoting the academic success of young people is a big part of the mission. In 2016, it gave seven $1,000 college scholarships to graduating high school students in the Gilroy and Morgan Hill unified school districts. For the past 25 years, several hundred pairs of eyeglasses have been purchased and presented to underprivileged youth to help them see and read better.

“We support various youth activities,” Marinovich said. “In 2016, we distributed 900 dictionaries to third and fourth graders and also distributed a similar number of thesauruses in the Gilroy area. Even though you might think that every kid in the country has a iPad or a smart phone, not everyone has one. So we help support their education by getting the kids involved in the dictionary and the thesaurus.”

Honoring those men and women who have served in the Armed Forces is also important in the Gilroy Elks Lodge philosophy, he said.

Each year, Elks volunteers prepare a barbecue dinner for about 400 military veterans at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital Spinal Unit. The local lodge also maintains an active honor roll called the “Wall of Vets.” Pictures of local residents who served in the military are placed in the main room of the lodge during the months of October and November in honor of their service to the United States.

The Gilroy Elks Lodge has supported the Gilroy Parks and Recreation’s annual Triathlon with a $2,000 donation for the past seven years.

Members of the Elks Lodge also volunteer many hours of their time and culinary talents to sponsor the service club’s events such as Oktoberfest, Friday Night Fish Fry, International Nights, Tom and Jerry Night, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brunches.

Every Memorial Day weekend, they can also be seen in a booth at downtown Morgan Hill’s annual Mushroom Mardi Gras cooking up scampi and mushrooms to sell to thousands of visitors and raise money for its scholarships and various other programs.

Last year the Gilroy Elks sponsored a pig dinner that raised thousands of dollars in support of the California-Hawaii Major Project “Children with Disabilities.” Purple piggy banks were distributed to members which resulted in the Gilroy Elks per capita giving to this project as among the highest in the states of California and Hawaii.

Among the longest-running activities for the Gilroy Elks is the Ladies Fashion Show which is usually held during the first weekend of March. This popular event has become a tradition for well over 50 years. The proceeds from this function are donated to the California-Hawaii Elks Major Project established in 1955 to assist children in need.
Recently the Gilroy Elks started a program to help support the Blue Star Moms of the South Valley whose sons and daughters are serving in the military.

“We collected goods and supplies and some cash and donated it to the Blue Star Moms and made some new friends out of it,” Marinovich said.

The lodge’s history goes back nearly 90 years when several South Valley men began the process of petitioning the Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks to form their own local lodge.

They were granted a charter and Gilroy Elks Lodge No. 1567 was instituted on Aug. 8, 1929. Among the founders was local businessman Lin Walker Wheeler who donated a $40,000 building in downtown Gilroy to serve as the Gilroy Elks Lodge.

The Elks later sold the building and in 1969 used the money to acquire a new property on Hecker Pass for the current lodge. Located on a hill with a magnificent view of the region, the site is also used by other nonprofit organizations including the Gilroy Rotary Club and can also be rented for parties and fundraisers.

Marinovich joined the Gilroy Elks 10 years and said he enjoys staying involved in the worthwhile activities benefiting the South Valley because it connects him with other people.

“I wanted to join because of the social aspect, kind of like many of the other people in the Elks,” he said. “And it just kind of evolved from there because of the different works that Elks do because of the charity works.”

Among his first involvements was organizing and chairing a “soccer shoot” where youngsters learn soccer skills including how to aim a ball when they kick it toward the goal.

The event takes place every year on the athletic fields at either P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy or Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill. About 700 kids have gone through the popular program since it started 10 years ago.

“The exalted ruler at that time wanted to have a soccer activity,” Marinovich said of the origins of the soccer shoot. “He got a hold of a manual and he handed it to me and asked, Can you make this happen? And I said, Let’s have a look. So I got a hold of an associate that I know from Orchard Valley Youth Soccer League, and I showed it to him and he said, That’s not a problem.”

One of the fun events for building club morale is a special rib barbecue that takes place nine times a year on a monthly basis. It’s not open to the public but members can bring guests, Marinovich said.

“We use a secret Elks recipe when we’re having the rib night,” he said. “You get a nice slab of ribs, a baked potato about the size of your fist, coleslaw. It’s a nice comfortable place to have dinner up in the lodge.”

The friendly spirit of the Elks is a big reason people join the local club and keep involved over the many years of their membership, he said.

“The camaraderie and the brotherhood of everyone pulling together that we have a common goal that we’re working for, whether it be the Mother’s Day breakfast, the Father’s Day breakfast, the annual fashion show that we do as well as the barbecue up there in Palo Alto. We’re always looking for new members to join with us and help us support a worthy cause.”