By Jeff Bahr
Like other lodges that bear its familiar name, the Lyndhurst B.P.O. Elks Club 1505, 247 Park Ave., provides charitable services to the community at large. So it was nothing less than a major blow to the community when Hurricane Irene blew through New Jersey last August and left the lodge looking much the worse for wear.
The storm, which delivered most of its devastation through intense flooding, hit the Elks Club and hit it hard. Seven feet of water destroyed the club’s banquet hall, lounge, kitchen, boiler room, bathrooms and storage garage, among other areas.
“Our first sight of the lodge was that Sunday morning after the storm,” said Lodge Chaplain Christine Brown. “A block away was as close as emergency workers would let us be. The water was all the way up to the top step of the lodge building – it seemed surreal, like something from a bad movie. I just kept thinking, how would we ever rebuild? It kept going through my mind, also our neighbors… We lost a building – they lost their homes. I knew we needed to rebuild so we could also help our community.”
Julie Murtha, the club’s Esteemed Leading Knight, wondered what, if anything, might be salvaged from the lodge. “(Our) first thoughts were once the water recedes we can see what can be salvaged,” said Murtha. “We have been through flooding before but never this bad. We are in for the long haul. And looking at the neighboring houses and the American Legion up the street from our lodge in complete shock at the damage, (we were) hoping everyone got out safely. Material things can be replaced but people cannot.”
Murtha also expressed frustration with the laborintensive precautions that members took when they heard that Irene was coming. “We sandbagged for two days in preparation – all for nothing,” said Murtha, whose exasperation at the utter hopelessness of guarding against such an event was apparent.
Head Lodge Trustee Steve Robinson, a past Exalted Ruler at the lodge, spoke about the unprecedented level of damage that came as a result of the storm. “We survived the flooding a few years back. It was only about three feet (deep). This was a total shock. It didn’t happen during the storm – it was the storm surge,” said Robinson.
With the Passaic River a short distance away, the lodge and surrounding homes were affected not only by the intense rainfall, but also by a severely rising water table.
“We received phone calls earlier in the morning that we only had maybe three feet in the building, then the surge came. And the calls came in that we lost the lodge and the neighborhood was under water. Two members were in the building when the surge came and were thankful that they got upstairs and out of harm’s way,” Robinson said.
Realizing that they had a Herculean job on their hands if they were to return the lodge to its original state, lodge members from Lyndhurst and members of assorted Elks clubs from across New Jersey banded together in solidarity to restore the damaged facility. According to Brown, the lodges included Nutley, Belleville, North Arlington, Kearny, Harrison, East Newark, Newark, Bloomfield, West Orange, South Orange, Orange, Cedar Grove, Brick, Paramus, Bayonne, Mahwah, Ridgewood and Garfield. Boy Scout Troop 97 and Emblem Club 72 also helped in the restoration effort. There were about “50- 60 people in total,” said Brown. “Including our own membership.”
Steve Robinson and Julie Murtha “spearheaded the demolition, cleanup, and rebuild,” explained Brown who added that the two put in more hours than all of the help combined. “Bill Wirth, our Exalted Ruler-Elect, also handled all the contracts, contractors and rebuild,” he added.
The volunteers gutted portions of the building that were beyond help and repaired those that showed structural integrity. It took six long months and well over $100,000 to make the necessary repairs. On Friday, Feb. 24, the lodge officially reopened and was once again put to task in serving the community.
Fearful of hurting anyone’s feelings by forgetting to mention them by name, Brown stressed how important all of the volunteers were in their efforts to bring the lodge back. She also sent out a “special thanks to Joe and Terry” for letting their Double Barrel Tavern act as “1505’s home away from home.”
Despite its triumphant return, the lodge isn’t quite out of the woods yet. “We need some help keeping up the good works,” said Brown in describing the lodge’s need for money and continued help from the community. If people could remember that when looking for a hall to rent for a special occasion, the Elks is now open and available,” said Brown before cataloguing some of the many things that Elks Club 1505 does for the community.
“We will continue to sponsor and continue to help throughout the community with things such as Student of the Month; Our Americanism Committee holds an annual essay contest throughout the school system; Our Special Children’s Committee offers scholarships for special needs children looking to go to college – we would like to extend this into the Lyndhurst school system as we know there is a need,” said Brown.
“Our Veteran’s Committee not only visits the veterans in hospitals, we have them to the lodge for barbeques and dinners and they always leave with a much-needed bag of supplies.”
“Lyndhurst Elks also offers an Antler Program. (Anyone) 12-20 looking to discover what the Elks are about, make new friends, help the community and Elks programs, or gain needed community service hours is welcome.
The Antlers have their own officers, treasurer and president so they can also gain leadership experience which will help them later in life. Many past Antler members have received scholarships through the Elks for college,” Brown said.
“But we can only do all these things with help not just from within the lodge, but by getting the word out about the good work the Elks do and stand for. Again, that goes back to the community. It is a special circle of life.”
Upcoming events at the lodge include the following:
The Lyndhurst Emblem Club is holding a Vendor’s Night on April 12 from 6 – 9 p.m. It will feature new and used items for sale. Fee is $25 if you bring your own table or $30 to rent one. Call Pat at 201-355-8522 or email lyndhurstemblemclub72@ gmail.com for more information.
The Emblem Club is sponsoring a Ham Dinner and Shoot on March 28 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 for dinner, coffee and dessert. Call Pat at 201-355-8522 or buy tickets at the door.