NAUGATUCK — For James Desmarais being an Elk has always been about helping the community.
“I’ve always been involved in community service and I thought the Elks was an avenue to continue my community service,” Desmarais, 70, said.
Desmarais, who has been a member of Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 for more than three decades, will be honored as the Elk of the Year during a celebration Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at the lodge, 758 Rubber Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be bought at the lodge or by emailing BPOE967@gmail.com.
“It’s kind of nice to be recognized by your fellow members as having accomplished something. It gives you personal satisfaction knowing that you’ve done something to help other people,” Desmarais said of the honor.
The Elks first caught Desmarais’ eye in 1983 when the Naugatuck Lodge was building a new home on Rubber Avenue.
“I used to drive by on Rubber Avenue when they were building a new building and it kind of attracted me. I said, ‘wow, they must doing well because they have a new building.’ Then I read in the paper about what the Elks did. I think the Elks, of all the service organizations, lead the way,” Desmarais said.
Desmarais has had a long and prestigious tenure with the Elks. He served as the lodge’s exalted ruler in 1988 and 1989, and the lodge secretary for 22 years.
In 1992, he was selected to serve the Grand Lodge of Elks as district deputy, representing the grand exalted ruler for the Northwest District. In 2000, Desmarais was elected president of the Connecticut Elks Association. He currently serves as a lodge trustee.
In addition, Desmarais was a member of the Connecticut Children’s Hospital Foundation Board for several years and was instrumental in bringing the Elks of Connecticut and the Connecticut Special Olympics together.
Looking back over all he has done with the Elks, one aspect of his service that stands out to Desmarais — the Elks Senior Home Project.
The project, which Desmarais administrates, was started eight years ago. Through the project, the Elks assist senior citizens and people who are handicapped around the house with chores, such as fixing a leaking sink, changing light bulbs, cleaning gutters and trimming bushes.
“Whatever they can’t do, if we can do it we will,” Desmarais said.
Over the past eight years, Desmarais said, the Naugatuck Lodge has received close to $70,000 in grants from the Elks National Foundation for the program.
After more than three decades of service, Desmarais doesn’t plan to slow down.
“I still want to see the programs I started continue,” Desmarais said. “I want to make sure we do the programs we should be doing to help our community.”
Desmarais also encouraged people to get involved with the Elks to keep the tradition of volunteering alive.
“Come down, see who we are, what we do, and what we accomplish locally, statewide, and nationally. Then jump on the bandwagon and become an Elk,” Desmarais said.