Elks Zellen looking to ‘pay it forward’
STEVENSVILLE — Elks Grand Exalted Ruler Michael Zellen, of Everett, Mass., has been an Elks member for 49 years. He officially joined when he was 21, then in his junior year at Suffolk University, in Boston, majoring in business administration. At the time he was very dependent upon his father, the late Charles M. Zellen, for his financial support to go to college.
Zellen was only 8 when his father became Exalted Ruler (a local president) of their Elks lodge at home in Massachusetts. “I grew up there, at our local lodge,” Zellen said. So at a young age, he was no stranger to the Elks organization, which will celebrate its 150th birthday in February 2018. His father would be his sponsor to join when he turned 21. However, two weeks before the initiation ceremony was to take place, his father died unexpectedly at the age of 59. Still grieving, Zellen went forward, honoring his father, and joined. Little did he know how great a decision that would turn out to be.
With his father gone, Zellen realized he had no way of paying for the remainder of his college education. He only had three semesters remaining to get his degree, but he would have to find a full-time job to support himself. He went to the college registrar’s office to formally drop out.
Two weeks after submitting his letter to the university, he received a phone call from John E. Fenton, president of Suffolk University. Fenton had previously served as the Elks G.E.R., and had the answer to helping Zellen stay in school to get his degree. Fenton saw to it that Zellen was awarded an emergency grant through the Elks National Foundation, enough to pay his tuition and book costs for his remaining three semesters.
Zellen took his college degree and made a career in banking for most of his adult life, remaining a very active Elks member. He said, “I’m not paying the Elks back for what they did for me, I’m paying it forward! I’ve always tried to do for others who are in need, through the programs the Elks have, and help people, like I needed help after my father died.”
This was only part of Zellen’s message, Saturday evening, March 25, as he addressed more than 200 Elks leaders from across Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., as they met at the Kent Island Elks, Lodge 2576, in Stevensville. Lodge 2576 was chosen this year to host the annual state G.E.R. visit, and state leadership meetings over the weekend. The G.E.R. represents the national Elks program, traveling during his year-long term to every state. Zellen took office in July 2016. So far, he has visited 35 states.
From March 21 to March 23, he met in Washington, D.C., with the directors of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Coast Guard officials and Veterans Affairs. He asked each group, “What can we as Elks do to support you?” The Elks have a very active Drug Prevention Program sponsored through more than 1,900 lodges across the nation. Elks are also very active in helping veterans, especially those returning to civilian life, and especially those who have had major injuries while serving the nation in the military. Last year the Elks helped get more than 700 homeless veterans off the streets and into a place they could call home, and helped them find jobs to support themselves. Zellen said, “We’re here to help our neighbors and communities. To help the youth, help the needy and especially our veterans.”
He also praised the charitable work of the many lodges in the Maryland, Delaware & D.C. areas. He asked that efforts continue to be made with communications with the public to let people know what Elks do and that they want new members to help make their communities stronger.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Mark Anderson presented Zellen with a proclamation from the commissioners, honoring his visit to the county, and praising the work done by the Elks lodges in the area. He even gave Zellen copies of newspaper articles demonstrating Elks support of youth programs in the county. Anderson, also a longtime member of the Elks, pointed out that the lodge in Stevensville continues to show membership growth every year, this year nearing 700 members. And, that over the past 12 years, Lodge 2576 has given well over $1 million back to the community through federally registered charitable 501(c)3 organizations.
Zellen concluded the banquet wishing everyone a great year ahead.
The Elks national slogan is: “Elks Care, Elks Share!” For more information about joining the Elks, call your local lodge or ask an Elks member.
From left, Kent Island Elks Exalted Ruler Lloyd Barron and Leading Knight Angela Meyer stand with Elks Grand Exalted Ruler Michael Zellen, the Elks national president, Saturday evening, March 25, at the KI Elks Lodge 2576 in Stevensville. Kent Island was chosen as this year’s site for the G.E.R. visit and Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., Elk lodges state association meeting. Zellen addressed more than 200 Elks members commending their local lodges, especially Kent Island, for serving their communities.
Alvin R. Emory Jr. of New Castle, DE, center, is the winner of this early 1950s model Ford. He is surrounded by current and former state and national Elks leaders, from the left, Past Grand Exalted Ruler Paul D. Helsel, Elks Maryland State President Connie deYoung, current Grand Exalted Ruler Michael Zellen, and raffle coordinator Robert H. McIntyre of Delaware. The car was owned by Dave Walcott of Easton, who died in 2015. In his will, Walcott asked the Elks to raffle the car with the proceeds to be used for the “Army of Hope” fund to help veterans.