Whitehall Elks keep candles lit for nine departed members

By Lee Tugas

Members of Whitehall Elks Lodge 1491 lit nine candles Sunday afternoon in memory of nine departed members.

Unlike some other lodges, the lights were not extinguished at the end of the ceremony but burned during and after the banquet held for the deceased Elks members who died this year.

“There isn’t a specific ceremony for departed members for all Elks Lodges,” explained Julie Egan, exulted ruler of Whitehall Elks Lodge 1491. Each lodge personalizes its own ceremony, she said. Some lodges, like Glens Falls Elks Lodge 88, quench the candles at ceremony’s end. “Sadly, some lodges don’t hold memorial services at all,” Egan said.

Aware of symbolism

Egan knew what statement the Whitehall Lodge was making by keeping the candles lit. In her opening remarks, she said, “As Elks, we know that sometimes the mortal will take on immorality. They will live again in the choir of the invisible,” she said.

A visible choir, the Whitehall Senior High School Select Chorus, prepared Elks members and the general public for Egan’s remarks. Right before her speech of “ritual,” the Shaker Hymn “Amazing Grace” was sung by the choir, with member Emily Bessette rendering the word in solo:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

Following Egan’s speech, the families of nine departed Elks members were presented with a small bouquet of red carnations, blue tinted carnations, and white baby’s breath, adorned with a red, white and blue ribbon. The families also received a book of remembrance, honoring the departed member.

Candles of remembrance

The actual giving of the flowers and remembrance books was carried out by Girl Scouts from Troop 3067 and Boy Scouts from Troop 83, both of Whitehall. It was also they who lit each of the nine candles that burned in memory of the following departed Elks members:

Timothy T. Mulholland, Guy D. Frenya, Charles F. Carswell, Robert O. Jones, Edward A, Jeffreys, Emerson F. Bartholomew Jr., Marshall C. Gordon, Donald W. Elterich and Michael J. Butto, Past Exalted Ruler.

The poem, “The Vacant Chair,” a reference to a traditional Elks symbol for a departed brother or sister, was then read by Howard Osborne, Past Exulted Ruler and Past District Deputy Grand Exulted Ruler, followed by a second selection by the chorus, “Brother James Air.”

Esteemed Loyal Knight Tammy Stevens said that all of the poems read at the ceremony were chosen by the readers for their “personal meaning.” For example, Esteemed Leading Knight Hillary Rozell read the poem, “I am Home,” while Stevens read a poem pointedly entitled, “My First Christmas in Heaven.”

Father Rendell Torres, of Our Lady of Hope Church, stressed in his remarks that love, in its truest sense, is the kind of love defined by Pope John Paul II:

“That love which is benign and compassionate.”

Surrounding Father Torres, as he spoke, were the four main principles of the Elks, prominently displayed on the north, south, east and west walls of the hall:  charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity. The sign that said charity, in contrast to the three others, was an electric light that lit up the word so that it could not be missed.

 Gifts of charity

On a bulletin board downstairs, specific local acts of Elk benevolence underscored Father Torres words that love means mercy.

It is well known that nationally the Elks is an organization dedicated to supporting and helping veterans, children and the underprivileged. On the Whitehall Elks Lodge bulletin board there were thank you letters to the lodge from Mrs. Trotter’s 3rd Grade class for the gift of dictionaries, from the high school Elks Club student of the month, from Red Cross officials and also from staff at the Charles R. Wood Cancer Center of Glens Falls Hospital.

Upstairs, following a musical selection “In the Stillness,” the closing ritual of the Eleven O’clock Toast was conducted by Exalted Ruler Egan. A wall clock chimed and illuminated each hour up to eleven, symbolizing the hour of recollection of “the never forgotten or forsaken,” Egan said.

Following the “Toast,” the choir and those assembled sang Poet Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne.” Esteemed Lecturing Knight Michael Rocque led everyone in a “Prayer for the Troops,” and then Chaplain Thomas Abbot recited the closing prayer.  The ceremony ended with the singing of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”

After the ceremony, there was a banquet of homemade food and cake. Exalted Ruler Egan singled out Elks Members Hillary Rozell and Tammy Stevens for their organization of the ceremony and the dinner.

Meanwhile, the table holding the nine candles had been moved to the front of the hall, where each continued to burn as members and guests enjoyed the home cooked meal.

The candles continued to burn after the dinner. It took a while for roughly 150 people to leave the banquet hall and descend the broad stairs of the Elks Lodge. Even as the last of the attendees left the hall to walk down the stairs, the candles still blazed.