Lodge History

Provided by The Denver #17 History Committee

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Denver #17 Lodge

Chartered in 1882 as the 17th Elks Lodge in the organization. Our Lodge now resides in it's second home currently located at 2475 W 26th Avenue, CO CO 80211. Denver #17 is known as the Mother Lodge of the Rockies. The Lodge was moved to land purchased in 1973, previously the local granary. The original Lodge location was a stone building on 17th Street in downtown Denver built in 1911. Much of the original stained glass and chandeliers adorn the new location in Northwest Denver. The Lodge clubroom bar also known as the The Jolly Corks Bar boasts one of the best views of the downtown Denver skyline. #17 welcomes visitors both Elks and the public to view our history and enjoy our magnificent view. We are also home of the famous Buffalo Bill Table located in our main floor conference room.


See home page for open hours or contact our Lodge Office to set up a visit.


Formal Organization and Name

The Order of the Elks was formally organized February 16, 1868, in the City of New York. Its full corporate name is "Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America." Its declared purposes are to practice its four cardinal virtues, Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; and to cultivate good fellowship.

The animal from which the Order took its name was chosen because a number of its attributes were deemed typical of those to be cultivated by members of the fraternity. The elk is distinctively an American animal that lives in herds. It is the largest of our quadrupeds, it is yet fleet of foot and graceful in movement. It is quick and keen of perception; and while it is usually gentle and even timorous, it is strong and valiant in defense of its own. A representation of the majestic head of the male with its spreading antlers was adopted as the first badge of the Order and is still the most

adopted as the first badge of the Order and is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted, fraternal emblem. 

The Elks’ Colors

The Elk colors are Royal Purple and White, a combination deriving its origin from the history of the clergy, nobility and the people. Throughout Europe, the Orient and in Rome, the symbolism of colors was associated with severity of laws and customs. Each color in each pattern was identified religious, or political, and to change or alter it was a crime of rebellion, a desertion of principles, party or cause. White denotes purity and absolute truth. When combined with Royal Purple it signifies the love of truth and the highest degree of virtue. Purple indicates the favor of the people, which bespeaks the status of Elkdom.

(From "An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks" by Charles Edward Ellis) 

A Brief History of the Origins of the Order of Elks

(This was copied from a publication from Bath Lodge #1547, N.Y. by Exalted Ruler William Kastner, December 1986)


The Story, always interesting, is the story of the expansion of a dream of brotherhood into the greatest of American Fraternities.


On Friday, November 15th , 1867, Charles A. Vivian, an English comic singer, landed in New York via an English trading vessel from South Hampton. On the night of his arrival he dropped into the Star Hotel, a "Free and Easy" kept by John Ireland on Lispenard street near Broadway. Richard R. Steirly, also of English birth, was a piano player at the Star Hotel. Vivian struck up an acquaintance with him and volunteered to sing a few songs. He made such an impression on John Ireland that the latter sent for his friend, Robert Butler, manager of the "American Theater" on Broadway. Vivian sang for Butler, making such a hit that he was engaged for a three week's run at the American. When closing time came at the Star Hotel, Steirly took Vivian around to his boarding house at 188 Elm Street, kept by Mrs. Giesman, There he found a collection of congenial spirits, among them William Bowron, who also knew Vivian in his native land, *** The streets in that section of New York have been re-plotted and their names changed so that the plot known as "188 Elm Street" can now be found on LaFayette Street in the block between Broome and spring Streets, In 1939 the Council of the City of New York passed the following resolution: "Be it resolved... that the two blocks remaining on Elm Street be known as Elk Street to pay tribute to the famous Order of Elks which was founded on that Street in the year 1867."


On November 23rd , 1867, Dick Steirly went to the American Theater to take notes for the purpose of orchestrating some of Vivian's songs. After the matinee, Vivian took Steirly over to Sandy Spencer's place at Broadway and Fulton Street, There they met Hughley Dougherty, Cool Burgess and Henry Vandemark. The latter suggested that the party shake dice for the refreshments. Vivian replied that he never handled the cubes, but would show them a new game. Calling for three corks he gave one each to Steirly and Vandemark, keeping the other for himself, He asked Cool Burgess to be the judge and Dougherty to count to three. They rehearsed the trick of each dropping his cork on the bar and picking it up as rapidly as possible, several times, the idea conveyed to initiated being that the last man to lift his cork was to buy. Vivian then gave the word of command, Dougherty counted, He and Steirly passed their hands over their corks while Vandemark, eager to lift his cork from the bar, was both first and last to pick it up, and consequently was stuck for the round. This was the first introduction of a delectable form of amusement which became popular.


Birth of the Jolly Corks

At about this time the Excise Law was being strictly enforced and Sunday in New York City was a very dry day. Devotees of the cork trick formed the habit of congregating at Mrs. Giesman's on this day to hold social conventions under the inspiring influences of a stock of beer laid in the night before. This little coterie styled itself the "Corks", with Vivian as the "Imperial Cork".


The revels of the Jolly crew meeting at Mrs. Giesman's became disturbing to the other boarders and she finally required them to forego their Sunday gatherings in her house. Quarters were found at 17 Delancy Street, over a saloon kept by Paul Sommers, where the meetings were continued, The object of the ?Corks? at this time was entirely convivial, it?s membership was composed of professional and semi-professional entertainers with a sprinkling of legitimate actors. Among the latter were Thomas Riggs, George McDonald, William Sheppard and George Thompson, a theatrical agent. When the cork trick was tried on McDonald it amused him so that he called the coterie the "JOLLY CORKS," and as such it has gone down upon the pages of history, In the latter part of December just before the holidays, they were returning from a funeral of a friend, Ted Quinn, when McDonald suggested that the "Jolly Corks" become a protective and benevolent society. At the meeting held on the 2nd of February, 1868, presided over by Charles A. Vivian, George McDonald offered a motion to organize the "Jolly Corks" as a lodge along benevolent and fraternal lines and providing a committee be appointed to formulate rules and regulations for it's government, prepare a suitable ritual, and select a new name. Vivian having in mind an English organization, "The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos," but the majority were desirous of bestowing a distinctively American title upon the new organization. A committee visited Cooper Institute Library, where the Brothers found the ELK described in a work on Natural History as an animal "fleet of foot, timorous of doing wrong, but ever ready to combat in defense of self or of the female of the species". This description appealed to the committee as containing admirable qualities for emulation by members of a benevolent fraternity and the title "ELK" was incorporated in its report.


Birth of the Order of the Elks


On February 16, 1868, the committee reported, recommending that the "Jolly Corks" be merged into the "Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks" and the recommendation was adopted by a vote of eight (8) to seven (7). Listed below are those who voted for what name.


For "BUFFALO": Charles A. Vivian; Richard Steirly; M.G. Ash; Henry Vandermark; Harry Bosworth; Frank Langhorne; E. W. Platt.


For "ELK": George McDonald; George Thompson; Thomas Riggs; William Carleton; William Sheppard; George Guy; Hugh Dougherty; William Bowron.


The Death of Charles A. Vivian and Division in the Elks


Before passing from this branch of the resume of Elks History, it will not be inappropriate to mention the death of Brother Vivian. With the beginnings of the B.P.O.E. a breech was opened between two factions within the ranks, which rapidly developed into a feud. On one hand were the legitimate actors, endeavoring to invest the new organization with principals and ideas in keeping with a benevolent and fraternal institution, while on the other were the semi-professional entertainers more in sympathy with the original purposes of the convivial "Jolly Corks."


Charles Vivian was the leader of the latter faction, and when he appeared for the second degree on 14 June 1868, the professionals who were in command ordered a ballot and he was rejected. At the same time a number of Vivian's friends were barred from the meeting and afterwards declared expelled. This incident ended Vivian's connection with the B.P.O. Elks. He died in Leadville, Colorado, March 20, 1880, twelve years later, of Pneumonia. On April 28, 1889, the remains of Charles Vivian were exhumed and taken to Boston, under the auspices of Boston Lodge # 10, where they rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery. As far as can be learned from personal friends, Vivian never claimed to have been an ELK. He did claim to have been one of the organizers of the Elks, which he was, but he never took the degrees of the Order, and severed all connections with it a few months after it was born.

Elks History with Race and Gender


Elks and People of Color:

The cardinal principles of Elkdom, "Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity” were non-inclusive during the first 100 years of the BPOE for men of color and 125 years for women. Lodge 17 recognizes our past injustices and pledges to be more inclusive in the future through recruitment and engagement of members who reflect the Greater Denver Community and by supporting causes intrinsic to our community makeup and identified needs.

The Elks (BPOE) was originally founded as an all-white, all-male organization in 1868, as was common practice for many social clubs during that time. The fraternal order, as we now know it derived from a social club made up of Vaudeville minstrels, many of whom, regretfully performed in blackface. The social club, The Jolly Corks, was quickly supplemented by 1870 by a charitable works arm that gave support to widows and Veterans, but did not admit people of color, nor women as members.


Denver Lodge 17 Diversity Statement - adopted in 2019 and revised in 2021:



Inherent in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks  cardinal virtue of Brotherly Love, we support a culture of mutual respect regardless of gender, race, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, marital status, military service, disability, and age. We celebrate the diversity of our membership and use their talents and energy to foster the Charitable works of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. We promote a safe environment free of discrimination and harassment. We value the distinct contributions of all our members and require that all members refrain from any action or deed that may be interpreted to conflict with this statement.

As members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America. Federal and state equal employment opportunity laws prohibit sexual harassment and other discriminatory practices. The Denver Lodge #17 embraces these laws. We are proud of their tradition of maintaining an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. All members have the right to an atmosphere which promotes equal opportunity and prohibits discriminatory practices including sexual harassment. We embrace strict guidelines prohibiting unlawful harassment in any form (i.e., verbal, physical and visual harassment). Such conduct is also prohibited whether it affects either a member’s individual rights and privileges of membership or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World (IBPOEW)


Two Black men, having been denied entry into the BPOE in 1898, were determined to form an organization to qualified individuals without regard to race, creed, or ethnicity. Having discovered the Elks ritual was not copyrighted, the IBPOEW filed and were granted a copyright for it and on November 17, 1898, the first meeting of the “Black Elks” was held. The BPOE were angered by the use of the seal and pin, but by 1918, this opposition ended. This historically Black non-profit charitable fraternal organization is still operating. The IBPOEW was modeled after the BPOE. Its stated purpose is "that the welfare and happiness of its members be promoted and enhanced, that nobleness of soul and goodness of heart be cultivated, that the principles of charity, justice, brotherly & sisterly love, and fidelity be inculcated, that its members and their families be assisted and protected, and that the spirit of patriotism be enlivened and exalted."  

AAREG: aregistry.org/story/the-black-elks-a-home-away-from-home/

It was not until the early 1970s, that the exclusionary policy of the BPOE led the Order into conflict with the courts over its refusal to allow black people the use of its club and leisure activities. See. McGlotten v. Connally, 338 F. Supp. 448 (D.D.C. 1972); Cornelius v. Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, 382 F. Supp. 1182 (D. Conn.1974).  The decision in McGlotten indicated certain governmental support of private clubs is not permitted either by the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Constitution.  New Test for Suits Seeking to Halt Governmental Support to Private Discriminating Organizations - Impermissible State Action". U. Colo. L. Rev. 44(1973–1974): 447.  [AS6] A resolution to repeal the discriminatory clause of the national constitution of the Elk lodge passed in 1973.

IBPOEW Lodges still exist today and commonly refer to their Lodges 'Black Elks'. Any members of of an IBPOEW Lodge are welcome at Denver #17 and we encourage our Lodges and members to learn more about each other and work together for the betterment of the community.

The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World was granted a copyright as an organization on September 28, 1898, in Cincinnati, Ohio. A Pullman porter, Arthur James Riggs, and Benjamin Franklin Howard, who were both members of another fraternal organization discovered they both had dreams of forming an Elks organization for people of color. Their dreams and plans were realized when the first Lodge, Alpha Lodge No. 1, was organized in Cincinnati as a result of their efforts. As the Elks prevailed, the organization struggled against many racist attitudes and legal efforts to deny the existence of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World.



Pictured: Arthur James Riggs, Logo IBPOE , Emma V. Kelley and J. Finley Wilson

(courtesy of https://www.ibpoew.org/history)


On June 13, 1902, Emma Virginia Kelly organized the Daughters of Elks in Norfolk, Virginia. This group was later adopted by the Grand Lodge and became an auxiliary body to the Brothers of Elks. The first Temple was Norfolk Temple No. 1, Norfolk, Virginia.

The Daughters of Elks national organization presents an annual Emma V. Kelley Achievement Award, named in her memory.

In 1922, J. Finley Wilson was elected Grand Exalted Ruler. He also founded and edited the Washington Eagle, the publication of the Elks Grand Lodge. Throughout his reign as the “Grand,” Wilson increased the fraternal society’s national membership from 30,000 to 500,000 and oversaw the creation of approximately 900 new lodges. Wilson also led efforts to raise about $700,000 in scholarship money for African American college students.

Women and the Elks:


The BPOE did not accept female members, but rather,

encouraged women to join similar organizations, related

to the Elks. In 1917, Elks’ ladies organized as the Emblem

Club to support American troops in WWI. In 1921, a group

of Omaha, Nebraska women created an independent, yet

similar organization called the Benevolent and Patriotic

Order of the Does, organized along similar lines, with

membership to be confined to wives, widows, mothers,

daughters, and sisters of Elks. Women in Canada founded

an auxiliary to the BPOE of Canada in 1914, called the

Royal Purple of Canada.

Until 1995, the Elks was an all-male fraternal order. As late as

1993, in Beynon v. St. George-Dixie Lodge 1743,[18] the Utah

Supreme Court ruled that while Freedom of Association allowed

the Elks to remain a men-only organization, "the Elks may not

avail itself of the benefits of a liquor license and the license's

concomitant state regulation" as long as it violated the Utah

State Civil Rights Act. Faced with losing their liquor licenses if

they did not admit women, the Elks Lodges of Utah voted to

become “unisex” in June 1993, which was followed by a vote at

the Elks National Convention in July 1995 to remove the word

"male" from the national membership requirements. Beset by declining membership and pressure from women seeking to join, the Elks' national legislative body voted in to delete the word ''male'' from the membership requirements.


Women and Denver 17: Prior to 1995 

Originally, there were three different women’s organizations that supported the Denver 17:   


  1. The Elks Ladies was organized on Dec. 11, 1936, by Ann Sherman, who served as its first president.

  2. The Elks Widow's Club was organized on Feb. 9, 1949, by Mrs. William Erz, Mrs. Nicholas Coninillo, Mrs. Mat Haesch, and Mrs. Al Zable. Mrs. Nicholas Coninillo served as the first President.

  3. The Elkettes formed in Sept. 1976 and was chartered in 1977. Bernice Barlock served as the first Elkettes President. 

The first Denver 17 Charity Ball

and crowning of a Charity Queen was held in December of 1950,

honoring the women of Denver 17 and their charitable contributions

on behalf of our Lodge.

The Denver 17 Elkettes May 1992: these three groups combined into one group, Denver 17 Elkettes.


Denver 17 Elkettes Charter Members: 

Bernice Barlock; Juanita Carlson; Iva Coomes; Margaret Davis; Louise Debeii; Madlyn Dezzutti; Betty Dillman; Wilma Faulkner; Arlene Fosnight; Arlene Gustafson; Donna Gustafson; Barbara Matlock; Edith McGillivray; June Moss; Mickey Ress; Lauretta Rullo; Verona Runyan; Ester Salina; D. Schaughnessy; Pat Schmidt; Roseann Sievin; Dona Smidt and Beverly Suntum


First Denver 17 female initiates: On April 25, 1996, just 1 year after the Elks Order settled a lawsuit
allowing women to join the organization, Denver 17 initiated the first women into full Elk membership to
the Order and Lodge Denver 17:

 Janie Iacino *deceased
 Bernadine (Berni) Penrose *active honorary life member
 Joan (Joanie) Verhey *active honorary live member

On February 6, 2019, in recognition of their unwavering dedication to Denver 17 by Motion and
unanimous vote of the Lodge, three of our female members were recognized as Honorary Life
Members for their distinguished and ongoing service to the Lodge and the Order. As some of the
first women to be allowed to join Denver 17 as Elks, these women played an early and continual pivotal
role in pushing Denver 17 another step forward in the battle for equality between women and men and
have been instrumental in making Denver 17 what it is today.

Bernadine (Berni) Penrose:
Bernie was initiated into Denver 17, on April 25, 1996 in the first class of initiation of women into Denver
17, just 1 year after the Elks settled a lawsuit allowing women to join the organization. Bernie continues
to be a vital and highly active member of Denver 17. Prior to her initiation and continuing today, Bernie
has been an active and contributing member to Denver 17 as a member of the Elkettes Society. For her
combined service to Denver 17 for more than 24 years and as a member in good standing, her
contributions and accomplishments are too many to recite, but here are a few:

● Lecturing Knight
● Loyal Knight
● Esquire
● Chaplin
● Charity Queen
● Elkettes Society
● Bingo Volunteer

Joan (Joanie) Verhey:
Alongside Berni Penrose, Joanie was in the first initiation class of women into Denver 17 Elk membership
on April 25, 1996 by Past Exalted Ruler Pete Vollmer, just 1 year after the Elks allowed women into
membership. As our current Treasurer, Joani continues to be a vital and highly active member of Denver
17. Prior to joining as an Elk, and continuing today, Joanie is an active and contributing member to
Denver 17 Elkettes Society. For her combined service to Denver 17 for more than 24 years and as a
member in good standing, her contributions and accomplishments are too many to recite, but here are a

● Treasurer for over 15 years
● President of Elkettes Society
● Charity Queen
● Bingo Games Manager and weekly volunteer
● Member of multiple committees

Valeri Fitzgibbons:
On November 20, 1997, after years of contribution to Denver 17 as an Elkette, Valerie was initiated as an
Elk, joining her husband Cliff who was a Denver 17 Elk since 1993,. Valerie continues to be a vital and
highly active member of Denver 17 as a principal contributor to Denver 17 as both an Elk and Elkette and
driving force of Denver 17. For her combined service to Denver 17 for more than 23 years and as a
member in good standing, her contributions and accomplishments are too many to recite, but here are a

● Denver Elk of the Year 2004
● Two-term Trustee
● President of Elkettes Society
● Charity Queen
● Weekly Bingo volunteer
● Committee Chairperson for multiple committees

Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benevolent_and_Protective_Order_of_Elks

More sources




History of Elks and Race/Gender is an ongoing research project within our Lodge. Check back for more history, sources and activity. If you have information to share please contact Jim Wolf.

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