In 1884, fifteen years after the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was formed in New York City, a group of seventeen men met in the Old Music Hall in the village of Marion to organize the second Lodge of Elks in Ohio, and the first Lodge outside of a metropolitan city. On March 3, 1885, Marion Lodge No. 32 was instituted by Cincinnati Lodge No. 5, with thirty-three charter members. The first meetings were held in the Hotel Marion Block on Center Street. Dues were $4 per year.
Later that year in September, 1885, Marion Lodge instituted Columbus Lodge No. 37. In 1886 we instituted Cleveland Lodge No. 18 and Mansfield Lodge No. 56. We also assisted in instituting Delaware No. 76, Upper Sandusky No. 83, Bucyrus No. 156 and Kenton No. 157.
In 1895 Marion Lodge moved to new quarters on the third floor of the brand new Warner & Edwards Building on Center Street (first floor now home to Rite Aid Drug Store) in downtown Marion. It was one year later when the annual Memorial Day Committee called upon the editor of the local Marion Star newspaper to deliver the memorial address. While he "was loath to accept," his wife urged him to "help the boys out." It was reported that our members enjoyed one of the best Memorial addresses ever, delivered by Brother Warren G. Harding. He was nominated the following year as a candidate for the Ohio State Senate, thus beginning a political career that would lead to the White House in 1920. One of the few Lodges to claim a U.S. President as a member, Harding joined Marion 32 in 1890, and served as Esteemed Loyal Knight in 1893.
In 18xx, the Lodge moved once again to the third floor of the Old Masonic Block Building on East Center Street (now occupied on the first floor by Keefer's Clothiers).
In 1910, the Grand Opera House on South State Street suffered a major fire. As Marion Lodge 32 had previously purchased the adjacent lot, it was decided to purchase the burned theater building, renovate it, and erect a new building beside it to house business rental properties on the first floor, a Club Room on the second floor, and a Lodge Room on the third floor. This, the current home of the Marion Elks Lodge 32, was completed in 1914 at a cost of $60,000.
In 1917, our ER, Captain George T. Geran, was called to active duty in WWI. A big membership push ensued in his honor, and on March 21, 1918, 77 new members were intiated, bring the toal enrollent to 1,019. That same year, the DDGER, Charles Fairbanks, was from Marion, and was nominated for state president. A jpg of the April 1918 bulletin can be found at this end of this history narritive.
Taking advantage of the theater facility, the Marion Lodge became know during the roaring twenties for the excellent Minstrel Shows put on for charity. Many famous personalities such as Mr. Correll (Andy of "Amos & Andy), Nick Iler, Ned Burke, Charles Gano and the "Great Reynard" performed on our stage and enjoyed our fraternal friendship.
In 1920, when member number 68, Warren G. Harding, was elected the 29th President of the United States, a class of candidates numbering 150 was initiated in his honor. In 1922 President Harding spoke at a special banquet at the Lodge on the occasion of the City of Marion's Centennial. He was accompanied by General John Pershing, Grand Exalted Ruler William Mountain, the governor and attorney general of Ohio and the president of the Ohio Elks Association. Membership during this heyday approached 1,500.
In this time frame Marion 32 was a leading Lodge on the state level, with three state presidents in under a decade. They were Charles W. Fairbanks, 1918-19, George J Doerzbach, 1920-21, and Charles L. Justice, 1926-27.
Much like current times, by 1927 the Lodge had experienced a membership decrease of 566, and was on a collision course with the looming Depression. But while many Lodges succumbed, Marion 32 survived, thanks in no small part to the charity of its members. In fact, it was during this time period when William Guthery donated the funds necessary to purchase a burial plot in the Marion Cemetery so that no Marion Elk would be without a permanent resting spot. Marion Lodge 32 is one of only a handful of lodges throughout the country to offer this kind of member benefit. In 1985 a monument with the BPOE logo was placed by the headstones of the eight members buried there.
In 1938 the Marion Lodge 32 threw their support behind a local girl, Marilyn Meske, by sponsoring her bid to become Miss America. Many Lodge members were on hand as she was crowned Miss America in Atlantic City that year.
In 1945, as WW II was coming to an end, the Marion Elks burned their mortgage. An elevator and air conditioning were installed in 1956.
1975 was a big year for the Marion Elks, starting with a remodeling of the entire second floor. A new clubroom bar and lounge area was created, and this remains mostly intact today. In the dining area the windows were covered over, the ceilings painted black and outdoor fencing added to the walls to create the effect of a patio at night. The Lodge purchased the parking lot immediately to the south, and the "225 Club" was born for the purpose of supplying extra funding to equip and furnish the new facilities.
In 1985 Marion Lodge 32 celebrated its Centennial anniversary with a special celebration and unique "open initiation" for invited guests. In preparation, the Lodge Room was redecorated with new flooring, carpeting, drapes and a fresh coat of paint. Membership roles climbed over 1,000 that year.
The 1990s were tough years for all fraternal organizations, and Marion Lodge 32 was no exception. Our membership aged as our numbers dwindled to fewer than 500. Our building, while a symbol of our historical pride, was also a drain on our finances to keep it in working order.
The late 1990s and the turn of the century has brought a resurgence to one of the oldest Elks Lodges in America. The Lodge Room, which still boasts its original oak seating, officer's chairs, alter and ornate Elks brass door hardware, was repainted to match the original 1914 color scheme. In 2000 the Dining Room was remodeled with an "elegant 1920's," theme. The six windows were uncovered, and their natural oak woodwork restored. Sconce lighting was added to the walls, and lights with fans installed in the ceilings. An archway between the Dining and Clubroom was discovered, and a beautiful stained glass Elk added above it. All complimented by new carpet and by adorning the walls with historical Marion Elks 32 photography from our dusty archives.
As of this writing in April of 2007, the membership of Marion Elks 32 is on the grow again, and stands at over 625.