When it was first instituted, the Elks Lodge was a men-only fraternal organization.
Now the Elks Lodge 294 in Fairmont is under the direction of a female Exalted Ruler — Cathy Demasi.
Demasi, a retired school teacher who taught at Pleasant Valley for 37 years, is only the third female ruler in the history of the Elks Lodge 294, following in the footsteps of Judith Plivelich, who served as the Exalted Ruler in 2003 and is currently the lodge’s secretary, and Sally Tarley, who was the Exalted Ruler in 2004.
According to Demasi, though, the increasing presence of women within the club is a sign of the times.
After recently attending a state Elks Lodge convention in Wheeling, Demasi noticed there were more women holding the position of Exalted Ruler, including both the rulers of the Mannington and Morgantown lodges.
“There have been more women becoming involved and accepting leadership positions,” Demasi said. “It’s not such a big deal in this day and age.”
For Demasi, what’s really important is sharing the history behind the Elks Lodge 294 and increasing the community involvement of the club.
Prior to being named the Exalted Ruler in April, Demasi served as a member of the Elks for nine years. She said she held various leadership positions, but nothing compares to the responsibility she now holds as ruler.
“This is a very new job for me,” Demasi said. “But I’m happy to step up to the plate even though it’s a big responsibility.”
In her role, Demasi is the head of the organization’s Board of Directors, which she said is in charge of the club’s day-to-day operations. That can be a large undertaking, considering the many projects the club participates in.
Demasi said the Elks help organize and fund a camp for special-needs children at no cost to the participants.
“It’s an opportunity for children with special needs to have a place to go that they can call their own in the summer,” Demasi said.
In addition, the club organizes other youth events such as the annual Elks Hoop Shoot, a free-throw contest for students to compete in nationwide, as well as the Americanism Essay Contest.
Members of the Elks also volunteer their time preparing dinners for organizations such as HOPE Inc. and making monthly visits to veterans at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg.
“There are a lot of good things that the Elks do,” Demasi said. “We’re still a very vital organization and very much involved in the community.”
The Elks Lodge 294 hosted its first meeting in 1925, and Demasi said her goal is to continue the traditions of former members and maintain the historic building.
“It’s the last remaining historic building on the 400 block of Adams Street,” Demasi said. “It remains a vital part of history connecting the past to the present.”
Demasi also said the Elks take pride in offering their building to be rented for special events such as weddings and elimination dinners.
“We do our best to see that it’s a memorable experience,” Demasi said.
And with all the new responsibilities on Demasi’s shoulders, she is making it a priority to learn the ropes. She plans to attend the Elks National Convention in Reno, Nev., where she can network with other rulers.
“It will give me the opportunity to meet with other lodges and their leaders and find out how they’re doing things,” Demasi said. “That will be a good way for me to get some ideas.”
So far, though, Demasi said the members of the lodge have given her their full support.
“I’ve been really pleased with the members and their willingness to help,” Demasi said. “What I have learned is that everybody is behind me supporting me, and I feel a responsibility to them to just do the best that I can.”
Email Kaylyn Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.