A volunteer helps clean up the grounds last weekend at the Corvallis Elks Gun Range on Cardwell Hill Road in Wren. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

WREN — Taking over as the exalted ruler of Corvallis Elks Lodge No. 1413 early this year, Tim Smith has hopes of seeing a stronger Philomath connection within the organization.

The invitation includes prospective members, of course, but he’s also reaching out to Philomath-based organizations that might need funding for a specific cause or project.

Tim Smith has strong ties to Kings Valley, Wren and Philomath. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

As Smith put it during an interview a few weeks ago, “I feel like the Corvallis Elks is part of the Philomath community, too, and I want to reach out more to the community here for members and also as to what we can do as far as our charitable stuff.”

Unlike many service organizations that are starting to find themselves at a crossroads with dwindling membership numbers, the Corvallis Elks appears to be thriving on solid footing with membership above 600.

“The Elks is actually growing. I don’t remember how many we gained nationwide last year but as a whole, we’re growing,” Smith said. “Last year in Corvallis, we gained a couple of members.”

Tracking membership numbers involves more than a few lost here and five or six added there. As Smith explained, “We have like this kind of revolving door … and I think this year, we’re going to lose about a hundred members that just don’t re-up their dues.”

There are people who either choose or forget to pay dues but also those who move out of the area, pass away or simply lose interest.

“Last year, I’m sure it was in the 80 to 100 range while we brought in 80 to 100 new members, plus a couple more,” Smith said. “So that’s kind of where we’re at again this year. We need to slow that down, you know, the attrition rate.”

Sight-In Days will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sept. 23-24 at the Corvallis Elks Gun Range in Wren for hunters who want to make sure their rifles are sighted properly. The event is open to the public and the cost is $10 per gun. The range is located at 24509 Cardwell Hill Drive west of Philomath.

The lodge’s average age is about 62, Smith estimated.

“We’re trying to recruit young new people,” Smith said. “We’ve talked about this in our meetings … the younger guys are more committed to their families than they were 50 years ago and doing more family stuff. Definitely, family comes first before going and hanging out at the Elks Lodge.”

The organization has a long history in the area with Corvallis Elks Lodge No. 1413 receiving its charter in 1921 with a founding membership of 62. Dr. W.T. Johnson served as the lodge’s first exalted ruler.

Smith lives in Corvallis but has a strong connection to Wren, Kings Valley and Philomath.

“My whole family’s from Kings Valley and my dad grew up in Wren so I don’t consider myself a member of Corvallis — I consider myself out here more even though I’ve lived there most of my life,” said Smith, whose family originally homesteaded in the vicinity in the mid-19th century and has a son in his senior year at Philomath High.

Smith came into this year wanting to re-establish the Elks Lodge’s annual picnic, which hadn’t been held since 2019 before the pandemic. The event materialized last month at the Elks Lodge shooting range, which is located just outside Philomath off Cardwell Hill Drive in Wren.

“Myself and a couple of other guys are working on creating some additional facilities out at the shooting range for the members,” Smith said about the location. “When they bought that property out there in the early ’60s, it was termed as ‘for the betterment of all members of the lodge’ and it just kind of morphed into a shooting range. There’s almost 40 acres there where we could have some additional things going on besides shooting.”

The Corvallis Elks Lodge has a presence in Philomath to a degree already but as Smith said, would like to expand further into the community.

“There are quite a few members that live out here or at least in the area — we have members in Wren and Kings Valley, too,” Smith said. “There’s Corvallis and this area and then we have some outlying people from Salem and all over that come just for the range.”

The Corvallis Elks Gun Range will host Sight-In Days on Sept. 23-24. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Roughly half of the lodge’s 620 members use the shooting range, Smith estimated.

Members from the Philomath vicinity have come and gone over the years, but those numbers don’t figure into the organization’s desire to contribute to causes in the community. Last spring, for example, the organization’s charity trust donated $1,300 to the Philomath Senior All-Night Party group.

“That’s a separate corporation from the lodge and I have to give out at least $25,000 this year,” Smith said, possibly more with money that carried over from the previous year. “That’s why when one of our other members who had something to do with the Senior All-Night Party said ‘we need money,’ it was the perfect way for us to help out somebody in Philomath.”

Money is also routinely donated to the Wren Community Club as well as a target shooters committee. Charities receiving funds have also included the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis, Samaritan, CARDV (Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence) and others. Plus, the group contributes to the Oregon State Elks Association’s major project — E.Y.E.S. (Elks Youth Eye Service).

Smith said the Elks Lodge has expanded its reach through interactions with other organizations.

“One thing that we have done — and it happened over COVID — is we’ve kind of become the hub for all of these other service organizations,” Smith said. “We have the (Corvallis) Rotary that comes in on Tuesday night and the (Corvallis) Lions come in and have their meetings. I think it’s the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) that started up a chapter in Corvallis and they’re meeting at our lodge. And there’s Altrusa that’s coming in.”

Smith said the Elks don’t charge rent for use of the facilities.

“We just ask them to buy at least $75 worth of food and drink and that seems to work fairly well for everybody,” Smith said.

In addition, the Corvallis Elks provides a venue for the Meals on Wheels program, which pays a monthly fee for use of the kitchen and as a launch point for distribution.

Smith invites anybody to come out and check out the lodge. The group meets Tuesday evenings and the lodge is open Tuesday through Friday beginning at 4 p.m.

Smith is also at the shooting range each month at 9 a.m. on the first Saturday to lead orientation sessions.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.