Fraternal organizations aren’t as popular as they were back in the decades immediately after World War II, but Robert Rolewicz thinks Brookfield may just be the place to revive the Elks.
A resident of Brookfield for the last 25 years, Rolewicz is the chairman of the board for the Cicero-Berwyn Elks, which, since 1945, has called a former bank building, at the corner of 26th Street and Ridgeland Avenue in Berwyn, home.
On April 25, however, the lodge purchased the former Brunetti’s/Bellavia restaurant building at 9022 31st St. and is in the process of turning it into its new headquarters.
“There are a lot of steps we have to take before we can even occupy the building,” said the 59-year-old Rolewicz. “But we feel the building and the neighborhood are worth investing in.”
The Brunetti’s building was actually the club’s second choice. Their first was the vacant Nino’s Buona Cucina building at 9237 Ogden Ave., but village officials discouraged that plan.
“They said they wanted to preserve Ogden for commercial development,” said Rolewicz.
But 31st Street was deemed suitable for a fraternal organization, and the village is paving the way for the club’s move by proposing to amend the zoning code to allow such organizations in that area. They’re currently not allowed on 31st Street.
The Brookfield Zoning and Planning Commission, on April 24, voted 6-0 to recommend the zoning change, which is expected to be approved by the village board later this month.
Rolewicz, a retired engineer, is devoted to the Elks, where he’s been a member since he was 21 years old. By the age of 26 he was club president and was responsible for instituting the lodge’s annual holiday food basket program. Since joining, the lodge has held 900 meetings. Rolewicz has missed only two. He even returned early from his honeymoon to get to a lodge meeting.
“I had been a member 10 years by the time I got married,” Rolewicz said. “She knew what she was getting into.”
Now his wife, Vicki, is an officer of the lodge. His daughter, Heather, is also a lodge member. At 26, she’s already a past president of the club.
The lodge traces its roots back to 1925 when it was headquartered in Cicero. By the 1960s, the lodge had a membership of about 800, said Rolewicz. Over the next four decades, however, membership plummeted.
Now there are about 110 lodge members, according to Rolewicz, about a third of whom are active.
Part of the move out of Berwyn was the condition of the building itself. Partly it was the fact that people in the neighborhood weren’t interested in joining.
“I thought, ‘Maybe Brookfield would be the place,'” said Rolewicz. “This rebirth of ours in Brookfield has stimulated some interest among our members. We’re going to launch a new facility and new philosophy.”
The Elks are planning to bring their weekly bingo night to Brookfield with them. According to Rolewicz, the club only rents the hall to members or sponsored guests.
But first, the former restaurant building needs a major renovation. Bought out of foreclosure, the building was stripped of anything of value. All of the kitchen equipment is gone, and repairs to the electrical system, plumbing, a stairway and kitchen are expected to top $30,000, said Rolewicz.
“We have to start from scratch,” said Rolewicz.
Eagles moving to Plainfield Road
While the Elks get ready to move their operations from Berwyn to Brookfield, another fraternal organization, the Cicero Eagles have their eye on a storefront space inside the strip mall at the corner of 47th Street and Plainfield Road in Brookfield.
Brookfield Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral confirmed that the club is seeking to relocate to the village. The industrial zoning district there presently does not allow fraternal organizations, but the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-0 on April 24 to recommend a change in the code that would pave the way for the move.
The Brookfield Village Board will vote to change the code to allow fraternal organizations on 31st Street and in the 47th Street area later this month.