A longtime private, fraternal organization in downtown Clarkston has been closed for “not meeting Moose Lodge obligations.”
Norm Dean, regional manager of Moose International, said the Lewis Clark Moose Lodge No. 751 was shut down Monday by order of the General Governor’s office in Illinois for rule violations.
“Their charter was revoked because they ceased functioning as a fraternal unit,” Dean said Wednesday. “They have the option of appealing the decision, and we communicated that to the leaders of the Lewis Clark Lodge.”
The lodge administrator, Allen Brown, said the Clarkston group has talked about appealing, but no decision has been made because of financial concerns. Losing a few months’ worth of revenue during the shutdown will put the struggling organization even further behind, he said.
Sandi Weaver, who books bands for the lodge and teaches dance lessons, said the closure is “absolutely devastating” to members. She has been fielding about 50 calls a day since the doors were locked Monday.
“We were blindsided,” Weaver said. “I’m the one who hires all of the music, and I had bands lined up through the first of the year. We have entertainment there six nights a week. This has been very painful and everyone is upset.”
A sign posted on the front door of the lodge, located at 814 Sixth St., says questions about the closure should be directed to Bob Isom, a territory manager. When reached at the phone number listed, Isom said he is only discussing the Clarkston issue with Moose members.
“We’re not prepared to make any statements at this time,” said Isom, who oversees Washington and northern Idaho chapters. “If members have questions, they can call me.”
Dean, who oversees the entire West Coast, explained the obligations the Lewis Clark Moose Lodge had to meet for the charter to remain active.
The organization must conduct meetings twice a month, perform community service, meet financial obligations and operate as a private club, Dean said. Public events have to be approved by Moose International, and any income derived from a public event must be reported under IRS guidelines.
Brown said getting permission from headquarters for a public event took a lot of time, and the lodge needed people coming through the doors to break even.
“If we operated strictly by the Moose International rules, we would only have 20 or 30 members attending dances, and the bands can cost up to $2,000 or $3,000,” he said.
Abiding by the fraternal organization’s rituals was also problematic when trying to recruit new members, Brown said. Younger people weren’t interested in the “ritualistic stuff,” such as saying blessings and “walking in circles.”
“That’s the kind of stuff we didn’t do,” Brown said. “We let people just sign up and come dancing.”
Brown said membership at the Lewis Clark chapter has dwindled to about 370, in contrast to the 1970s, when the number was closer to 3,000. In the past year, the Women of the Moose gave up its charter, which cut membership by about 360.
Over the years, the Moose lodge struggled financially because of high property taxes, Washington’s minimum wage and lack of participation, he said. Volunteers put a lot of time and effort into turning things around, but it wasn’t enough to keep the doors open.
“We tried to operate by the rules, and we still couldn’t make it,” Brown said. “Some of the things we were trying to do to attract younger members, such as an outdoor venue, were met with resistance from the older members, so it was a difficult situation.”
When Moose International pulled the plug, it also spelled the end for a restaurant that had recently opened in the lodge. The chef removed his cooking items Wednesday night.
Civic organizations that used the space will have to find new spots to hold meetings, and Clarkston High School will need a new site for its safe-and-sober graduation parties, members said.
Weaver, who has been a licensed dance instructor for 30 years, said she’s scrambling to find space for hundreds of students. Moose International owns the 20,000-square-foot building, so she can no longer use the ballroom.
“We did a lot of charitable things for this community,” Weaver said, “and people need a place to dance. They did a real detriment to the valley when they closed us down.”
Sandaine may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.