By Debbie Adams
Several years ago, Dr. Jessica McClung, then Supervisor of Special Education for Roanoke County Schools, received a phone call “out of the blue” from Clark Crawley, administrator of the Vinton Moose Lodge. He was calling to ask how the Moose could help the Special Education students in Roanoke County. McClung said she was somewhat taken aback by his call at first, but, during the conversation, they arranged a “Breakfast with Santa” for children with disabilities in grades preschool through high school in the banquet hall at the Moose Lodge.
“When we got to the Moose Lodge, they had it set up as if the kids were princes and princesses, and treated them like royalty,” McClung shared. “Santa came on the fire truck. The Moose had built a sleigh for photos for the kids with Santa. The Vinton Police Department attended. It was magical.”
“The Moose members took care of everything. They cooked; they served; they even provided breakfast for the bus drivers who transported us. The kids, their parents, and teachers, and tons of kind people from the Moose Lodge filled up the banquet room. We found out there is never any stress working with Clark and the Moose. They are phenomenal.”
McClung is not the only one who has received those calls. Countless organizations have been invited in.
According to Angie Chewning, executive director of the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce, “The men and women in the Moose work diligently to seek out the needs of other organizations and support them in any way they can.”
The Vinton Moose Family Center No. 1121 was chartered on January 3, 1961 and this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.
What is known as Moose International was founded in 1888 by Dr. Henry Wilson, who established the first lodge in Louisville, Ky. In the early years, the goal as a fraternal organization was to offer men “an opportunity to gather socially, care for one another’s needs, and celebrate life together.”
The Vinton Lodge started out meeting downtown above the Swan Restaurant on Lee Avenue with 50 charter members. Membership grew to 900 at one time and now stands at about 400. But the members of today are “not your grandfather’s Moose Lodge.” Over the years their focus has become community service, especially helping children and the elderly. The Moose International philosophy has become “a burden heavy to one is borne lightly by many.”
The Moose organization is known for establishing Mooseheart Child City and School, a 1000-acre campus near Chicago to care for children and teens in need, and Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, Fla.
The school and retirement community, along with countless local projects, are financed and supported by the Moose members with their membership dues, donations, volunteer hours of service, and funds from “charitable gaming” available at the lodge.
In 1965 the Vinton Moose purchased land on East Washington Avenue from Martin Bush and built their lodge, a 4,800-square-feet structure which is the core of the building today. In 1972, 1,200 square feet was added to the upper level as a “social quarters.” In 1978, more land was purchased and another 4,800-square-foot expansion on the lower level was completed in time for the first Christmas dance. In 2002, the members added an upstairs game room and a picnic pavilion. In 2010, the downstairs dance hall was remodeled with plans to become a special event venue for all occasions, with probably the largest dance floor in Vinton, a raised stage, bar and kitchen area, and bridal parlor.
The seemingly small building passers-by see driving past on Washington Avenue hides a huge space inside and out back.
Clark Crawley has served as administrator of the Vinton lodge for 11 years. Formerly a building contractor, he renovated the massive banquet hall on the lower level. He was invited to join the lodge; his role has steadily grown from there, both at the Vinton lodge and at district and state levels. He is currently president of District 11 and serves as audit chairman, Mooseheart admissions chair, and Virginia house chair on the state board.
“I have been amazed at all the things the Moose does to help the community,” said Chris McCarty, president of the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club and a member of the Moose Lodge. “They have pancake breakfasts for WBHS softball and baseball teams, buy all the supplies, host the breakfast, and then give all of the proceeds to the teams.”
They offered their space to the Breakfast Lions for their annual pancake breakfast on the day of the Vinton Fall Festival and their traditional spaghetti dinner, usually held on the evening of the Vinton Christmas Parade. The Moose volunteered to save the day when a Mingle at the Market concert was rained out and turned it into “Mingle at the Moose.”
“Since the pandemic started in 2020, Clark has provided the Moose Lodge for meetings and events that wouldn’t have happened without the Moose,” McCarty said. “The Breakfast Lions are one of the few clubs that have been able to continue to hold meetings and events during the pandemic. With the Moose’s large room, the club is able to space people out for safety. Clark and the Moose not only helped us with our Children’s Christmas Shopping event, but also provided us with a place to wrap the gifts and made a donation towards the project. It’s easy to go on and on about Clark and the Moose’s involvement with the community.
“About two years ago, I asked Clark to the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club; he has helped the club plan the Drawdown money giveaway fundraiser at the Moose,” McCarty said. “It has been a great success with Clark and the Moose Lodge’s help.”
Last December, with the cancellation of the Vinton Christmas Parade due to COVID, the Moose partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and Town of Vinton for the Santa Claus Crawl through the neighborhoods of Vinton.
The International Moose organization, including Vinton, supports Special Olympics softball on a national basis, the Safe Surfin’ Internet safety program which protects children from predators, and St. Jude, to name just a few of their causes.
Crawley says the organization is always looking for new events to host and new community service projects to support. Unbeknownst to many, the legendary Galax Fiddler’s Convention is sponsored by the Galax Moose Lodge. Crawley would like to establish their own signature event to bring crowds to the Vinton Moose Lodge. He would also like for the community to become more aware of what the Moose members do for the community and what they offer.
Chewning, who recently helped organize the informal Sassy Sisters of the Moose, says that “being involved in the Vinton Moose organization has been a true joy. The Moose organization is so much more that what people think. They are a leader in community involvement and an asset to our town.”
The Sassy Sisters provided Thanksgiving dinners for struggling families in the Vinton area and are currently collecting for the Soup for Seniors campaign. There have been coat collections and plans to volunteer at Ronald McDonald House coming up in the spring.
Crawley says that he is hoping to attract younger members to continue the Moose community service tradition.
The Vinton Moose Family Center is located at 2127 Washington Avenue. Email the lodge at Vintonmoose1121@gmail.com for more information.