“My father was Exalted Ruler of Wheeling Lodge No. 28 the year I was born,” said Ted. “He coached the Ritual team for many years. I knew the Eleven O’Clock Toast by the time I was 7.”
Ted always knew that one day he would follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Elks. Ted’s father, Lester C. Hess, Sr., was a shrewd man, and when Ted was in his final year of law school at West Virginia University, he offered his son sage advice.
“Lawsuits are adversarial procedures,” the elder Hess said. “You’re bound to make some foes. Join the Lodge now before one of them has a chance to blackball you!”
Ted didn’t take much persuading—many of his friends were already members of the Lodge. In addition, he was newly married to Becky Eades, and the Lodge had fun dances and an excellent restaurant and lounge that was perfect for the newlyweds.
Ted dove head-first into both governance and community activities.
Soon, he blazed his own trail through Elkdom. He served the district and then the state association on numerous committees and in positions of leadership. He was a member of the Grand Lodge Committee on Judiciary and the Board of Grand Trustees, and in July 1991, he was elected national president of the Order.
Ted remained active as a past national president. He spent 14 years on the Elks National Foundation’s Board of Trustees, including two years as chairman. As a Trustee, Ted helped shape the organization that has provided him with so many opportunities to give back—as a local scholarship judge, at V.A. medical centers, as a Hoop Shoot official. (“I never pass up an opportunity to try to steer the really good shooters toward the basketball program at Vanderbilt University,” he says.)
“I initiated the conversation that eventually led to the Legacy scholarship that we have now,” Ted said, referring to the four-year scholarship for children and grandchildren of dues-paying Elks. When interviewed in 2017, Ted said he’d been judging scholarship applications for more than 40 years. “The Community Investments Program started on my watch.”
Ted volunteered regularly with Wheeling Lodge’s Just for Kids Impact Grant project. In 2017, Ted and his peers on the Lodge’s Youth Activities Committee had been preparing and serving a monthly family dinner at a local soup kitchen for nine years. Ted also stuck around to play games with kids and help with their homework.
Despite all his accomplishments in Elkdom, Ted counted the introduction he gave as a state sponsor for the 1994 top Most Valuable Student Scholarship winner as his proudest moment.
“I must have spent 20 hours on that 10-minute speech,” he said.
As an active Elk, he embraced many opportunities to share Elkdom with young people, whether a top scholar, a client at the soup kitchen, or a camper at the camp for children with disabilities operated by the West Virginia Elks Association.
“The Elks have been very good to Becky and me,” Ted explained. “The Order has been a major part of our lives. I can never fully repay the Order for what it has done for me, but I can do what I can.”
Ted gave to the Foundation his time and talent, and he was also a regular donor and member of the John F. Malley Society. He wanted to help Elks build stronger communities because it’s the kind of thing family does.
“I ate a lot of ‘gourmet’ meals at White Castle,” reflected Ted on his days as an undergrad at Vanderbilt. “I hope I can help some of today’s college students avoid that experience.”
In 2017, Ted and Becky sold their country home of 40 years and downsized to a one-story townhome. The new place had no room for Ted’s extensive home library, so he arranged to donate it to the Louis Johnson V.A. Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
“I drove from Wheeling to Clarksburg to personally deliver the books to the hospital’s librarian,” Ted said. “The famous American who said, ‘The Elks raise a lot of money and give it all away’ was not too far off the mark.”
Ted passed away on Thursday, November 17, 2022. His legacy with the Elks and the Elks National Foundation will never be forgotten.