By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Almost 20 months after the May 22, 2011, tornado destroyed the Joplin Elks Lodge, nearly 150 members packed the new lodge Saturday to celebrate its grand opening.
Members of Elks Lodge No. 501 moved in December into a new $2.7 million, 9,000-square-foot building at 1802 W. 26 St. on property where the former lodge had stood.
The grand opening ceremony Saturday celebrated the new building, honored of the resilience of Elks members who rebuilt from the loss and commemorated the lives of three members and an employee lost in the tornado, said Charlie Sorenson, Elks exalted ruler.
“We cannot replace the lives that were lost, we can only keep them in our hearts,” Sorenson said. “But we have witnessed how much that we have come together and kept the spirit and drive alive. This has absolutely made us tighter and more unified as a brotherhood, and I’ve seen that since that day. This is our family.”
Elks Lodge officers for Missouri and Elks Lodge members from across the country made the trip to Joplin for Saturday’s dedication ceremony. Missouri State President Dennis Bell said local lodge members represented the philosophy of the Elks organization.
“Today is the culmination of what the Elks represent,” Bell said. “They unite, come together and become a catalyst for hope in their community. I am honored to have witnessed what this group has accomplished. Through the endeavors over the past year and a half, you are the ones who helped keep this together.”
State Sen. Ron Richard, who is a past officer of the Joplin Elks Lodge, presented the group with a state proclamation recognizing the order’s rebuilding efforts.
“The ties that bind the members of this lodge are forever,” Richard said. “I am proud to see this new building here and to see all of the members coming together.”
Lodge members met in a number of different locations in the area until the new building was constructed.
“We lost a building that day, but we didn’t lose our lodge,” Sorenson said. “After the initial shock of the destruction wore off, you saw the smiles start to come back and you saw the happiness of everyone coming together. You saw everyone keeping each other in their heart, even though so many people had lost so much.”
About 100 of the 600 lodge members had homes damaged or destroyed in the tornado, said Missouri State Sponsor Ted Callicott. In his speech, he charged the Elks lodge members to keep extending the good will of their rebuilding efforts in Joplin.
“We have to keep providing leadership and integrity in that leadership with enthusiasm and a renewed spirit of dedication,” Callicott said. “We have to rededicate ourselves to being the center of good will and peace in Joplin.”
Saturday marked the homecoming for lodge members after meeting at various places across the area, including the Webb City Elks Lodge, Carl Richard’s Fourth Street Bowl and an 1,800-square-foot garage that the members rebuilt on the land after the tornado.