Can you imagine being 101 years old? Do any of you know someone that old? I find it amazing that a volunteer organization has been helping communities all over Canada for 101 years. I was privileged to attend a meet and greet last week where I was introduced to some amazing people who belong to the Elks club.

National President Robert Larsen, Lexie Elliott and Honorable Royal Lady Sandi Birnie during award presentation. Submitted by Chris Parker.

In 1977, while still a young man, Robert Larsen was asked to join a service organization whose goal was to make his community a better place to live. Now, 36 years later, he is not only still a member but the National President of the Elks of Canada. Larsen, from Grande Prairie, Alberta is so committed that he quit his job to enable him to travel throughout Canada visiting, encouraging, and exchanging ideas with fellow members. Larsen said he wanted to meet with as many clubs as possible during his year at the helm of the organization. McBride, he pointed out has only seen a National President visit once before in its history and the then-national president was a Prince George resident.

When asked what made him dedicate his life to this organization he replied that “To really live, to thoroughly enjoy life, you have to give. I love knowing what we do helps others. The money we raise pays for health care, hampers for those in need, special things that help our neighbours. We don’t advertise what we do, we do it because we care… because we want to make our community a better place.”

When asked how this organization was fairing, considering the national statistics which show volunteer clubs are facing declining numbers, aging members, and a distinct lack of young people volunteering; Larsen said like all service clubs they had seen a rather steep dip in membership numbers since 1983, but they were now starting to see their membership increase slowly
“As society changed, we did not keep up,” Larsen said. “We stuck rigidly to the old ways, not that they are wrong, but as there is no exact formula we need to be willing to try everything. What works in one community will not necessarily work in another. We must keep up with society, we now have a web page, we tweet, we do our best to make things fun. According to our membership numbers it is working.”

Larsen did admit that one of the biggest drawbacks to service clubs is the cost of insurance. Without personal liability insurance they are not allowed to operate but the expense is high and prohibits some from joining.

If meeting the national president was not an honour in itself, I was then given the opportunity to watch the presentation of a 55 year active participation award. Several words come to mind to describe a person who would commit that much time and effort to the benefit of others; dedicated, diligent, giving, generous, and caring. McBride’s Lexie Elliott received her pin recognizing her 55 years of service from Larsen in front of fellow members Tuesday evening. Elliott is a woman I have seen around town and behind the scenes but never knew who she was. Thanking Larsen and her fellow members she emphasized they all did things that helped others.

Before I could leave I was asked if I would like to give of myself and would invite others to join the Elks, which has served Canada for 101 years. Said Larsen: “We might be an old organization, but we are a good one.”

Chris Parker