Vernon’s inaugural Rib Fest was such a success organizers are already busy planning to serve up a second portion.
The Elks Lodge brought the first event to town in July, drawing approximately 8,000 people over three days to the Curling Club and Centennial Rink.
“It was just awesome, over the top,” said Maureen Sather, longtime Elks member who organized the entire affair alongside Elaine Gallacher. “We haven’t got one comment that was negative. One guy called me and said I can’t believe that Rib Fest, you two gals should have the keys to the city.”
With the Elks celebrating its 100th birthday in 2020, plans are simmering for an even bigger draw next year, on July 3-5.
While many service organizations are dwindling in membership and facing an uncertain future, Vernon’s Elks Lodge has been booked solid all summer outside of the regular activities that take place in the building.
“It’s an Elks hall but it’s not just available for members,” said Gallacher, as the building is used for weddings, celebrations of life, weekly Scouts and Vintage Car Club meetings, and more.
Plus the Elks hold fundraisers for different societies or family emergencies, a major silent auction and fundraiser in October for the Vernon Treatment Centre, dart leagues Wednesday nights and Friday night suppers Sept. 1-June 30 (which are open to all, including children).
“And they’ve done that for 89 years,” said Gallacher of the popular dinners.
“Any money that’s raised above expenses goes back to the community. They generally raise $30,000.”
The Elks also offer local groups a chance to earn donations by signing up for once-a-month dish duty at the Friday suppers.
The hall has been a busy spot ever since the Elks purchased the building in 1950. Prior to that the hall was actually a church, but it started out as F.S. Reynolds’ Agricultural Implements in the early 1900s.
While the lodge is bustling with activity, the Elks also struggle to keep up membership numbers.
“Young people are really not interested in service clubs,” said Sather, 75, noting that members also age out. “A lot of them have passed on, and a percentage of ours are snowbirds, who go to the Elks down south.”
Sather also points to the fact that the days of hanging out at a local watering hole are dwindling.
“People have really slowed down they are being more responsible. Even the bars are not as busy as they used to be.”
Today, the Vernon Elks has 45 members, whereas peak membership was 75 in the early 2000s.
But with the centennial anniversary approaching on March 30, the club has a goal of getting 100 members. They are close, having signed up 35 at Rib Fest alone.
Either way, Sather (aka Moe) is satisfied she was finally able to bring the popular event to town, something she has been trying to do for years but just couldn’t seem to get people together and enough interest.
“It’s been on my bucket list!”
Gallacher had never even hear of a rib fest until she got a call from a fellow in Ontario interested in bringing it to town.
“Moe kept coming to mind, but I didn’t think she could do it. I called her and she started to cry,” said Gallacher, who works with the Elks as a consultant (etc. Consulting).
It was Matthew Smith, from Gator BBQ, who called. And Gator BBQ ended up winning the People’s Choice award for best ribs in Vernon to add to their trophy collection.
In true Elks fashion, the event also offered a chance for local groups to fundraise with different groups running and profiting from the daily 50/50 draws. The BMX club raised more than $900 one day.
While meat was a staple of Rib Fest, the event was dripping with activities for all. Live music, a beverage garden and kids zone made it a family-affair.
“It was the perfect venue with inside and outside,” said Gallacher, as they were able to accommodate everyone rain or shine.
As the event continues to grow, the Elks are looking for prizes, sponsors, donors and volunteers, for what Sather suspects will be an even bigger turnout.
“Kamloops gets 30-35,000 people. It’s a big draw.”