Local Elk says year at the top has given him a wealth of experiences

Don Schoeff is state president of the Indiana Elks Association. Schoeff says the post has afforded him the opportunity to visit many other chapters.
Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published May 14, 2009.

Don Schoeff says the past year has been one filled with many miles on the road and many friendships made.

Schoeff is the president of the Indiana Elks Association, a one-year term that has seen him make numerous visits to other Elk chapters.

"I have been a member of the Elks for 45 years," Schoeff states. "The journey to becoming an Elk president is not a short one."

Schoeff says that in order to qualify to be an Elk president, there are a number of stages that a potential member has to complete.

"You first have to be a past exalted ruler from your local chapter," he states. "That's anywhere from a five to seven year process. You also have to be a past district deputy, which is a three-year term."

Schoeff says he was also a past state director, serving a four-year term, and eventually worked his way up from seventh vice president to his current position as president.

"The Huntington chapter, No. 805, went defunct in 1989 due to lack of active memberships," Schoeff adds. "We re-established the chapter in 2007 and merged with the Bluffton chapter."

Schoeff says the chapter has been in Huntington for more than 100 years. Prior to the merger, Indiana had 67 total chapters.

"My wife and I have logged many hours on the road since I became president," he states. "We have traveled to many lodges in and around Indiana as well as across the country."

Schoeff says he has been invited to give Flag Day talks and installed officers at three lodges.

"I was invited to the Kentucky State Elks Lodge and my wife and I were made honorary colonels," he states. "I thought that was pretty neat."

Other notable trips include the Grand Lodge, in Anaheim, CA;and Springfield, MA, where Schoeff says they got the opportunity to watch two Hoosier participants in the National Hoop Shoot contest, an event the Elks sponsor yearly.

"I also had the honor of handing out the scholarship awards to the Top 10 contestants in the Miss Indiana contest," he states. "The Elks award more scholarships than anyone ex-cept the United States government."
He adds that the organization is heavily involved in charitable endeavors.

"We are big contributors in the fight against cancer and donate a lot of our resources each year to cancer research," Schoeff says. "Each year we donate money to both Indiana Uni-versity and Purdue University. So far this year, we have donated approximately $275,00 to $300,000, our largest in a single year."

To date, the Elks have donated over $7 million to cancer research.

"We also sponsor the largest co-ed Hoop Shoot, for youth eight to 18 years old in three age categories," he adds. "This year we've had over 3 million participants."
The organization sponsors a State Soccer Shoot as well.
Before the local chapter merged, Schoeff says it used to sponsor a local basketball team as well as a Boy Scout group.

"We do still have a scholarship program in Huntington," Schoeff notes. "We offer a $1,000 scholarship to a Huntington North High School graduate and the award gives them eligibility for our national scholarship."
There are additional eligibility requirements, including academics, community involvement and financial need. Applicants advance through various levels, from local to district, to state and finally on to national judging.
Even though the process may seem long, Schoeff says the potential reward is worth it.

"The national scholarship is a $15,000 award for four years," he sates. "This year we only had one student from Huntington who applied. There are a lot more scholarship availability for interested students."
The Huntington chapter allocated a $1,000 scholarship, which will be awarded to a Huntington North senior every year for the next 10 years. It was part of an agreement made with the chapter before merging with Bluffton.
"The funds are there for anyone who is interested and may qualify for it," Schoeff states.

Locally, he adds that the organization donates $2,000 each year to the PAL's (Police Ath-letic Club) building fund.

Schoeff says his stint as president has brought many highlights, some recent and some from the past.

"I remember practicing a part I had to recite for my initiation, which included saying the Pledge of Allegiance," he recalls. "My daughter learned to say the Pledge during that period, at the age of three."

Schoeff and his wife have seven children. Three of his daughters are past exalted rulers and one of his sons is past exalted ruler and past district deputy.

"It's a family organization and I'm proud to be apart of something that helped to foster strong Christian values and morals my children while they were growing up and also taught them respect and love for their country," he states.

Other highlights include choosing members for chair positions on various committees making flag presentation a part of the initiation activities.
As his presidency unwinds, Schoeff says there are still some events that he looks forward to.

"I have been invited to the Michigan State Elks convention, which will be held in Manistee, MI," he states. "Also, there is the state convention in Indianapolis, where there is a long list special guests, including the incoming State President Kevin Quinn; Miss America, Miss Indiana and Miss Teen Indiana and our state sponsors Raymond and Eleanor Arnold, from Michigan."

Indiana does not have a living past national president, so Arnold has been representing the organization for the past several years, Schoeff adds.

"It's been a great journey and we have enjoyed every minute of it," he states. "As of May 11, we will have visited all the lodges in the state. In the week of May 20, we will make stops in Angola, Auburn, Kendallville, Columbia City, Decatur, Bluffton and Fort Wayne."

Schoeff says he invites anyone to discover what the Elks have to offer and likens it to a phrase he heard before.

"The Elks organization is one of the greatest stories never told," he states. "Not many know of us and if they do, not many know what we do in and around our community. I would encourage anyone interested to contact an Elk and learn more about us."