The improved benevolent protective order of elks of the world, (I. B. P.O.E. of W.) has been called the largest fraternal organization in the world. It has been reported to have in excess of 500,000 members world wide.
The order was founded in 1898 by attorney, Benjamin Franklin Howard in Cincinnati, Ohio. He became the first Grand Exalted Ruler of the first Elks lodge of this order. This lodge was named Cincinnati Lodge Number 1. Since that time there have been many other lodges formed throughout the country and in foreign nations, and each has been assigned a number.
Shortly after the founding of Cincinnati Lodge No.1, the ritual of the I.B.P.0. E. of W., was copyrighted by brother Arthur J. Riggs on September 28, 1898. This was the first Elks ritual copyrighted in the United States of America. The following year in June, 1899, the first charter and articles of incorporation were granted.
The head or leader of the entire organization is known by the title of “Grand Exalted Ruler”, as stated earlier, attorney Benjamin Franklin Howard was the first Grand Exalted Ruler.
There have only been thirteen Grand Exalted Rulers since the inception of this powerful organization. Grand Exalted Ruler J. Finley Wilson served in this capacity for 31 years, from 1922 to 1953; Grand Exalted Ruler Robert (Bob) Johnson served from 1953 to 1960; Judge Hobson R. Reynolds, the Grand Exalted Ruler Emeritus, was elected in 1960 and served until 1982. He caused the organization to present a new highly respected image because of his concern with housing, registering, voting and first class citizenship.
Judge Reynolds lived in Winton, North Carolina (he passed away in 1991). The same city which is the home of the Elks’ multi-million dollar headquarters complex which consists of an administrative building, a hotel/motel complex, a Olympic size swimming pool, tennis courts, cafeteria building, a huge auditorium, etc. This site has been called the largest and most complete facility owned by any fraternal organization. This complex sets on 72 acres.
The present Grand Exalted Ruler is the honorable Dr. Donald Paul Wilson, who was originally elected in august of 1982. He has many years experience within the organization and because he has successfully accepted the awesome challenge to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, he has been unanimously re-elected to continue to serve as the head of this powerful organization. There are many other Grand Lodge officers, state officers and local lodge and temple officers of which you will learn more about if you decide to become a part of this great organization.
The purpose of this organization is “that the welfare and happiness of its members be promoted and enhanced, that nobleness of soul and goodness of the heart be cultivated, that the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity be inculcated, that its members and families be assisted, and protected, that the spirit of patriotism be enlivened and exalted”. It’s this purpose that makes the Elks Lodges throughout the country and the world a viable and vocal part of their community.
The current Grand Exalted Ruler, and The Grand lodge have insisted that all new members be initiated, but they also insist that the initiation be done with dignity and without physical or bodily harm to the candidate. Many hundreds of thousands of members of this organization have survived the initiation. To be exact, they all have. This order of Elks has an auxiliary that is known as the “Daughters Of Elks of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World”. The auxiliary’s Grand Temple was founded in 1902 by the late Emma V. Kelley. The auxiliary is headed by the (the Grand Daughter Ruler). As previously noted, the entire organization boasts a membership in the hundreds of thousands, with lodges and temples in the United States, Canada, the West Indies, Virgin Islands, Panama and other locations throughout the world.
The order is best known for its Education Department, which over the many years has given millions of dollars in scholarships to youth of all races. The Department of Education is best known for its annual oratorical contests. The contests are held on a local, state, regional, and international level. Although there have been many Elk oratorical contest winners, some of the most notable include, justice Thurgood Marshall, McDonald Henry the former ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mary Beth Bethume, Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Ophra Winfrey, the television station owner, producer and talk show host.
The Education Department also sponsors and hosts a computer camp each year, where children between the ages of 9 and 16 are co-sponsored by local lodges and temples and invited for two weeks. All expenses paid to the Elks headquarters in Winton, North Carolina for basic computer training and other developmental education lessons.
There are many departments and programs within the Elks. Some of these are: The Assault On Illiteracy Program, the Department For Children With Special Needs (mentally retarded children), the (Pioneer Special People Department, the Youth Department, the Beauty and Talent Department, the Senior Citizens Department Fez), the Fire and Safety Department, and since 1926 the Civil Liberties Department which has fought all forms of injustice against any racial group. Local lodges and temples around the world have made large financial contributions to civil right movements and organizations in addition to the donations of the grand lodge and the grand temple. There are many, many other departments that function within the organization from Medical to Veterans Affairs to Athletics.
The Elk parades at state and national conventions down through the years with the antlered guard department (our military unit) and the youthful drill teams and marching units competing against one another for the many trophies awarded each year by the Elks, have been an inspiration, and a fond memory to many a ghetto child
As in any organization, whether, it be fraternal, political, or religious, there are bound to be disagreements and sometimes hard feelings, but that’s life; nothing is perfect in the Elk organization, the disagreements can be anything but political because the Elks are not a political organization. As a tax exempt organization does not officially endorse any political party or candidate.
Although many doctors, lawyers, ministers, politicians and other professional people are included in our membership, the majority of the membership are the ordinary hard working average citizens from throughout the world.