This summer, the spanking new Churchill Residential retirement community will be complete — it’s the reason for those bulldozers and construction workers covering 13.5 acres at Northwest Highway and Lullwater.

But just beyond all that Sheetrock and sawdust is a structure that has stood since the 1980s, rallying seniors and relative spring chickens alike with dances, dinners, bingo, karaoke and, frankly, such frenzied activity that it’s tough to keep track — it’s Elks Lodge No. 71, one of the most happening spots in the ‘hood.

There’s something mystical about The Order of Elks — maybe it’s because the leaders are called Exalted Rulers, Esteemed Knights and Grand Poo-bas (no, wait, the Poo-ba led Fred Flintstone’s fictional Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes … but you get the point). It’s nothing magical, says lodge 71’s Exalted Ruler, Gene Barton, chuckling, “We only use those titles inside the club. These days, outside the lodge I’m simply the club president … and I have vice presidents.”

Elks don’t spend all their time dancing and playing bingo, although they do love a good dance (case in point: the 71 Steppers line-dancing squad, pictured, which includes 45 or so Elks and wives of Elks). They also provide an endless amount of services to the community, including feeding the hungry, sponsoring Boy Scouts and student sports, visiting veterans, helping senior citizens brush up on driving skills, and providing funds for college scholarships, to name a few.

Elk Herman Williams oversees the Red Ribbon Week campaign that brings drug abuse awareness and prevention to area elementary schools every October. “We hand out about 15,000 ribbons and 20,000 to 30,000 pieces of informative literature to students and teachers of third, fourth and fifth grades,” Williams says. “The point is to make sure they are scared of drugs and alcohol at an early age so that they will be less vulnerable when faced with choices.”

The Elks also put on the wildly popular annual Hoop Shoot, a nationwide basketball free throw contest for boys and girls 8 to13 years old. “It’s hugely popular and competitive,” says Henry Williams, lodge 71’s youth activities chairman. He’s not exaggerating — last year more than 3 million kids participated, starting at their respective schools, with winners advancing to a national competition. “The winners go on display at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.,” Henry Williams adds.

Even if you never knew the Elks existed, chances are, if you live in Lake Highlands, the Elks Lodge has touched your life in some way.
And for many, it goes beyond that, says member Ken Ransom, a former warplane cryptographic technician and computer engineer. “It filled a void that would have been here after my wife passed away, he says. “I think that’s what it does for a lot of people.” 

Learn how to become an Elk, and about Dallas’ first Elks Lodge — located right here in Lake Highlands — at elks.org. Not a member? You are still invited to lunch Mondays at noon, and BINGO on Mondays at 12:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.