CALEDONIA - When the Elks Lodge was robbed at gunpoint last December during bingo, it didn't help the struggling organization.
Membership for the service group was already down. Fewer people were playing bingo.
A year after the robbery, the Racine Elks Club, Lodge number 252, has turned in its charter and the lodge's building at 5844 Douglas Ave. is for sale, said Ted Pier, who was the club's secretary.
It's the end of the Racine organization that started in 1904 and provided more than a century of help for the community through scholarships for youth and activities for veterans and the disabled.
About 25 years ago the Elks had about 1,100 to 1,200 members, Pier said. At that time the organization was based out of a building Downtown at the corner of Lake Avenue and Sixth Street.
"Then it just slowly dropped down," Pier said of membership.
When the members of the lodge voted Nov. 10 to turn in its charter there were 67 members, Pier said.
Of those members, the average age was "better than 65," Pier said. "That was one of our problems. You couldn't get many young people."
Pier is 85.
This is similar to the problems the Woman's Club of Racine faced. After 114 years serving the community, that club also disbanded last year.
The group's membership dwindled as the average age of the members climbed and they couldn't find anyone to serve as president. Pier said he was not surprised when he heard about the Woman's Club. The Elks also struggled to find people to join and to serve in leadership positions.
Other financial problems
Besides losing members, fewer people were playing bingo in recent years, Pier said.
About four or five years ago, the organization used to make $5,000 to $6,000 per month from bingo. That was after paying expenses, Pier said.
The games' proceeds were put toward social events for veterans, dictionaries for third-grade students, college scholarships and other community activities.
Recently they were lucky to make $1,000 to $2,000 per month, Pier said.
"This whole economy had something to do with it. People just didn't have the money (for bingo)," Pier said.
Then after the robbery last December the amount of income from bingo really went down, Pier said. Even fewer people started going.
Plus the robbery meant the 100-plus-year-old lodge started spending an additional $450 a month for security at its three monthly bingo events, Pier said.
Finally at the end of October the Elks held their last bingo night because they couldn't get help for the games.
"Once there was no bingo we knew financially we were in trouble," Pier said. "It was a question of just barely hanging on."
Now the Douglas Avenue lodge is up for sale. Revenue from the sale will go to the state Elks organization, where it will stay for up to five years in case a chapter is re-established in Racine, said Pier.