Dedicated member helps local Elks fill role in region

After about 40 years as chairman of the local Elks Charitable Foundation Committee, George Officer decided this month that it is time to step aside. Officer, 94, is not stepping down, though, as he will continue to serve on the committee as he has for 62 years.

His 71 years with Minot Elks Lodge 1089 have been memorable and enjoyable, he said.

He served as Exalted Ruler, the top position in the lodge, in 2001-02. He was Elk of the Year 1991 and Elks Citizen of the Year in 2004-05. He doesn’t hold the lodge’s membership record, though, which goes to Alf Fugelso, who was with the lodge for 73 years.

Despite declining from one of the nation’s largest lodges with more than 4,000 members to about 240 members today, Elks Lodge 1089 remains active because of the dedication of long-time members such as Officer.

“You can pretty well depend on George,” said Carolyn Smetana of Garrison, secretary for the foundation committee. “If he says he’s going to do something, he will do it.”

Officer was living in Ryder when he was recruited by a couple of Minot Elks members in 1943.

In those days, the Elks ran a club, and the club would set aside certain evenings for its members from the various communities. Officer recalled a snowstorm one year that threatened to keep Ryder members from getting to Minot for their club night.

“We were snowbound,” Officer said. Officer, a pilot, and another Ryder resident took Officer’s brother’s plane out to scout for an open road. All the highways appeared blocked at first.

“We got to Douglas and found a route that was open,” he said. “Two carloads went to Minot.”

The road filled in with snow while they were gone, though. His brother flew eight trips between Ryder and the Minot airport to bring

everyone back.

“They fed us good,” Officer said in justifying the urgency in getting to Elks night.

The original Elks Club was on Main Street. In 1954, the club moved to the downtown building that now houses Rehab Services, Inc. The club closed a number of years ago, but the lodge still pursues its mission through committees on Americanism, drug awareness and the charitable trust.

George Smetana of Garrison, a 50-year Elks member, now chairs the charitable foundation committee. He said the foundation designates gifts from the charitable trust fund to benefit individuals and organizations in the region.

Much of the money over the years has gone to help people with medical needs. A large portion of contributions have gone to Elks Camp Grassick, which serves children and adults with special needs, and to programs that benefit youth. The annual grant total averages between $13,000 and $14,000.

Officer’s wife, Jeanice, also an Elks member, recalled how her husband would take the responsibility to contact recipients and deliver checks during the many years that he served as committee chairman.

Carolyn Smetana said Officer’s knowledge of the community was helpful in deciding where to dedicate the money.

“He knows most of the people. That’s a great benefit,” she said.

Officer would have loved to designate money to the Elks Band, a forerunner of the Minot City Band that used to play at functions around the region. Since the band raised money of its own, the Elks didn’t fund it through the charitable trust, but Officer made a point to donate personally because he felt the band was such a positive representative of the organization.

“I enjoyed giving to the Elks Band,” he said. “They were good.”

The Elks’ largest single donation was more than $40,000 to buy and donate land to the federal government for the former John Moses veterans hospital after World War II. The site is now the Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center.

Officer also is a member of the Minot Moose Lodge, Eagles Aerie and Sons of Norway.

He was chairman of the Scandinavian Heritage Association in the late 1990s when the association built its building at the heritage park. He served as chairman of the Ward County Historical Society and is a life member of that organization.

He was elected to a term as mayor of Ryder in 1980 and served six months as an appointed Ward County commissioner during that time. Retired from Ottertail Power Co., his long-time involvement in the local Republican Party led to his collection of about 300 elephant trinkets and carvings.