Janet Johnson, a Kodiak resident for 18 years, was also the first woman to serve as exalted ruler of the local lodge. For the past year she headed the efforts of about 5,700 Elks statewide aimed at supporting programs for youth and veterans.
“Everything I have done has been a highlight,” she said, looking back at her term.
Among the youth programs is the Hoop Shoot free throw contest. At the local level, the Elks give every participant a free ball with anti-drug messaging,
“We buy a lot of extra basketballs,” said Johnson, who traveled to Portland, Ore., with 12 Alaska children and their parents for the regional competition.
Alaska Elks also sponsor a youth camp in Sutton north of Palmer where children get a week of outdoor activities and balanced meals for free.
Locally, the Kodiak Elks run Camp Mueller.
“We are the only ones in the state that has our own youth camp,” Johnson said.
The Kodiak Lodge also sponsors an Easter egg hunt, Halloween activities and operates a bowling alley at their building to provide youth with a wholesome activity.
“We lose a ton of money on the bowling alley,” Johnson said.
The lodge building is available for rental for special events and other organizations.
“Funerals are always free,” Johnson said.
Elks work closely with the Veterans Administration and helped found the first Veterans Hospital. They have supported the Wounded Warriors Project providing support and travel for veterans, like the Kenai River Fishing trip Johnson joined.
She said Alaska Elks are developing their own version to provide help including service dogs.
“So we call ours the Alaska Wounded Veterans Project,” she said.
Johnson said anyone can contact the Elks for youth or veterans services or emergency assistance, even nonmembers.
Past national president Roger True of Richland, Wash., attended the Kodiak gathering and noted the Alaska Elks under Johnson raised about $1.5 million during the last year, one of the highest per capita rates in the country.
“She’s had a very excellent year,” he said. “That’s a lot of fundraising.”
During his year as leader of the 850,000-member organization, True spent about 48 weeks on the road, visiting all 50 states, but he said Alaska stands out.
“It’s the talked-about trip among the national presidents,” he said.
As sponsor for lodges in Alaska and Washington, True has been to Kodiak several times, but this year’s sunny weather was a new experience.
“Every day we’re going someplace new,” he said.
True and Johnson acknowledged the trend that has seen falling numbers among most service clubs has not left the Elks untouched.
“The world’s changing,” said Johnson, who recalled the organization boasted three more lodges in Alaska when she first joined. “Membership has dropped quite a lot.”
But True noted the Elks came back from decline in 1930s and ’40s to peak during the 1970s at more than 1.5 million. He said the club has adjusted its recruiting strategy to focus on people who might have more time to devote to fundraising and charitable programs.
“We’ve been shooting for the empty-nesters,” he said.
As for Johnson, she looks forward to continuing work on state and local projects, and did not rule out standing for higher offices.
“I’ll never be done being an Elk,” she said.