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County grant will raze the roof for East Towson Elks lodge

Elks hall described as 'heart of the community'

By Loni Ingraham, lingraham@patuxent.com

3:30 PM EDT, June 13, 2011

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The Pride of Towson Elks Lodge No. 842 in East Towson will no longer need to keep so many buckets in easy reach.

Baltimore County announced last week a grant of $4,080 for the organization to replace the roof of its building at 411 E. Pennsylvania Ave., which includes a two-story frame house built before 1898 and a concrete-block addition from 1953.

The money was requested by and granted to the North East Towson Improvement Association.

"That roof was leaking badly," said association president Adelaide Bentley. "We just had to have so many buckets to catch the water last year.

"They needed a roof, but just didn't have the money to get it," she said. "They tried to raise the money, but times are hard. People can't afford things like they used to."

Bentley, described by many as the matriarch of East Towson, also has been a member of the Daughters of Esther Progressive Temple No. 55 for more than 50 years.

The women — or sisters — meet twice a month at the Elks hall, as do the Brothers of the Elks, on alternate weeks. The majority of the men and women live in Towson or Lutherville, she said.

The lodge, at 411 E. Pennsylvania Ave., is not affiliated with the nationwide Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, to which Elks Lodge 469 on West Pennsylvania belongs.

The hall has been owned by the East Towson community since Bentley was a girl, and she's in her 70s now.

"It has been passed down for years and we're still trying to hold on to it," she said. "It is the heart of the community."

East Towson native Timothy Brown, who now lives in Green Spring Valley, has been a brother for 10 years.

"The hall has a long history of memories and tradition. We do good works and help a lot of folks," he said. "These are my roots. My mom's mom's mom has been part of this."

Similarly, Tom Berry doesn't live in East Towson, he lives in northeast Baltimore, but he had an aunt and uncle that lived in East Towson for half a century and after he got out of the service 40 years ago, he joined the lodge.

"Being a brother is doing what you need to do to keep the lodge and the community going," he said. "The hall is like a symbol of our community."

It was the community association that "went to bat" for the lodge, Bentley said, in part to preserve it as a center of community life.

"The hall is a part of us, a neighborhood place where we all congregate and have fun, where we give parties and baby showers," she said.

The hall holds Halloween and holiday gatherings for the kids, and the lodge distributes school supplies and provides eye glasses for needy children and give out baskets at Christmas, she said.

"They do so much for the community."

Councilman David Marks, who dubbed Bentley "the unofficial mayor of East Towson," was glad to oblige after Bentley requested his help with the roofing project right after the election, he said.

"I thank the administration for supporting the grant," Marks said.

His office worked with Ray Heil, from what was then the Office of Community Conservation, to acquire the funding.

"Fifteen years ago, Baltimore County decided to focus attention on the historically neglected neighborhoods of East Towson," Marks said. "Today, instead of blight, there is a stronger sense of community in East Towson.

"The Elks Lodge has been an important meeting place for Towson's African American community since the 1920s, and this location is still a meeting place in East Towson today."

Bentley obtained three estimates for replacing the roof. The highest was more than $5,000, she said. The grant from the county was based on the lowest.

The work will begin, she said, "as soon as I get the check."