2nd woman in history of Jacksonville group to take helm
By Lynn Colburn
Over the past century, most of the “exalted rulers” in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) nationally have been men. Sherry Sills became the second woman in the Jacksonville’s BPOE 682 Lodge to take on the role in 2023.
Nationally, women were not even able to join the Elks Lodge until 1995.
“It takes about four years before you can become the exalted ruler,” explains Sills. “You have to sit the ‘chairs’ [The chair officers are leading knight, first vice president; loyal knight, second vice president; and lecturing knight, third vice president] before you can be the exalted ruler. Jan Leveque was the first female exalted ruler here about 12 years ago, so there has been a big gap since we’ve had a lady sit a chair.” There have been, however, some women who have sat some of the chairs and decided not to continue.
The exalted ruler is executive officer of the entire Elks Lodge and enforces and performs duties required by the laws of the order and the by-laws of the lodge. The exalted ruler appoints all committees and has general supervision over all matters pertaining to the lodge — operations, programs and social quarter activities.
“We have the house committee that runs the restaurant and bar and that reports back to me,” explains Sills. “I think our food is very good. … We serve dinner Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and serve lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays.”
Sills also started out bartending there three years ago just to help out and still enjoys bartending on Saturdays and loves being with the members.
“My job as [exalted ruler] is to lead the meetings and if anyone has any issues with the Elks, outside of the restaurant/bar, they come to me,” says Sills. If anyone would have an issue with the restaurant/bar, her husband, Doug Sills, would deal with it, as he is the head of the house committee — or the manager, Jennifer Baumgart, would address any issue. Doug Sills was exalted ruler of the Elks two years in a row starting in 2019.
“We have [board of directors] meetings twice a month in winter, then switch to once a month during the summer to go over old and new business, financials, the secretary’s report and we talk about any upcoming events,” explains Sherry Sills. She adds that once or twice a year, they also have a district meeting (which Sills attended in March in Beardstown).
Sills says, “My leading knight and I attended the four-day Grand Lodge Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota to represent the Elks 682 in June. We were able to meet a lot of members from different Elk Lodges and learned a few new things. We were also able to take in some sightseeing during our down time.”
Sills explains that the Elks Lodge does a lot for the community. “In December, we have a big Children’s Christmas Auction,” clarifies Sills. “In the past, the auction was held upstairs and it was an all-day event. Then COVID hit, so we decided to downsize, brought it downstairs and made it a silent auction and we still raised $20,000 plus last year. We used that money for different projects. One year, we put a big toy out at Community Park which is handicapped accessible. We also help with scholarships and we have a student of the month program. For veterans, we have ‘Veteran’s Breakfast,’ and we have ‘Member’s Night’ on Wednesdays, which is usually steak or prime rib, and that goes over well with everyone.”
In addition, the Elks help support outside organizations which approach the Elks for donations. They sponsor campers at Camp Courage and have helped sponsor a downtown concert.
In April, the Elks has its “Night at the Races” fundraiser using a pre-taped, pre-derby race, where people bet on the race. “People can wear their derby hats if they want to and some people really dress up,” says Sills, “and it is a lot of fun.”
The Elks also raise money by hosting parties and weddings upstairs in its facility.
Sills adds, “We also will be having our ‘Kids Fishing Tournament’ on Saturday, August 5, a popular event strictly for children headed up by one of our [past exalted rulers], Shawn Graham. He gets prizes for the ones who catch the biggest fish for each of the age groups. People should contact the Elks soon if they want their child [or children] to participate.”
According to Sills, “My main reason for being the [exalted ruler] is that my husband has been a member for 16 years and I’ve only been a member for four years. … I just wanted to give back to the community. I love the Elks; I love what it stands for. Our biggest thing we assist with is the Children’s Care Corporation, and almost everything that we do goes to fund it. So, I just enjoy the goals and the people and hope that I can be a great leader. I learn so much from all the meetings and have made so many friends from other Elks Lodges.
“I was nervous about taking on the role, but after talking to Jan Leveque, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I’m still learning new things every day but enjoy helping with the Elks. Elks Care Elks Share is the motto.”
Sills is chief deputy at the Morgan County Clerk’s office and has been there for almost 10 years. She moved here 31 years ago and has been married to Jacksonville Fire Department Chief Doug Sills for 16 years. She says with pride, “I have three children — my son is 23, my daughter is 27 and my stepson is 28. We love to camp when we aren’t working.”
“The Elks is like another home and we are one big Elk family,” finishes Sills.
Anyone interested in joining the Elks can call 217-245-5215; they would love to invite new members into the Elks family.