Marnie Butcher Piehl

Rugby may be the center of North America, but the Elks Lodge #1199 is definitely the center of the universe. This was proven on a recent Friday night when my family accompanied long time Elk (and father of mine) W.T. to dinner there. As a kid, my sister and I spent a LOT of time cooling our heels in the princess chairs in the lobby as our parents tightened up in the bar. (Back off on your judgment people -- the '80s had different rules.)

We'd dress up, have the same awesome crudités currently served (olives, pickles, liver pate and that little corn!), a steak, baked potato, dessert and about 17 Shirley Temples. As young kids, we sometimes slipped under the table to play, where we'd run into our parents' friends. The Elks bartenders still pour a mean martini.

On this recent beautiful early fall weekend night, we figured the place would be pretty quiet. But not so. We had an hour wait -- Roy Rogers for the boys, drinks for the rest of us. And then the parade of friends and acquaintances began.

I knew the bartender and one of the waitresses. The extended Liffrig/Fedorchak clan wandered through (three generations, just like us). Next, the kids' good friend appeared and invited us all down to his grandfather Harry's retirement party. Our former neighbor, Harry and his Dvorak Motors buddies put on a great spread, and my husband ran into his uncle's best friend from out in Marion, N.D. In a testament to the sociability of the place, the hostess tracked us down in the party room and on we went to dinner. But not before chatting with a favorite candidate from District 30, Nancy Guy, her husband, and her sister Deb who built the house my parents have lived in for 31 years.

Retro lives in the dining room at the Elks; we ate well, drank well and received very nice, if overly-apologetic, service. While this was what my boys call "slow food" (vs. fast food), they were pretty amiable. As we left, we ran into three more couples that all of us knew and had a chance to dance to some personalized karaoke in the ballroom ("And this one's for the cowboy and his gal who just walked in").

Expectations are high for the largest Elks club in America and #1199 never disappoints. A peek at the official website tells us that they do some good works in the world -- scholarships, member discounts on everything from vacations to hearing aids, etc. And of course, #1199 provides great joy to the community through the dulcet tones of and smooth harmonies of the Elks Chorus. Members have access to all of the Elks offerings -- from special events to party rooms. Although I do question how much fitness is achieved in the health facilities.

Historical note: The Teddy Roosevelt Bar upstairs has a long and storied history -- and I'm not talking about the annual New Year's Day Tom & Jerry party. The Roosevelt Bar was built in St Louis, Mo., and then traveled through Black Hills to Mobridge, S.D., Medora and Wibaux, Mont., before it took up residence in Bismarck in 1910. In addition to every Elk, Elkette and honored guest in town, the massive wood-columned mahogany bar in the Elks #1199 also propped up Teddy Roosevelt and Tom Mix way back in the day.

Your most basic involvement ... seriously don't make me come after you.

When it comes to involvement -- and that's loosely what this column is about -- what kind of citizen would I be if I didn't encourage you to get engaged during the election? You don't have to pound the pavement or make calls, but at minimum, you have to vote. Your vote is your voice. As a woman you dishonor the women who fought for this basic right if you don't. The suffragettes in the sky weep when women choose apathy over action -- and they weren't criers! Get out there and state your position by voting for it. And, don't kid yourself, every vote matters. My close personal mother once lost a statewide election by 219 votes in a year when only 57 percent of the population exercised this vital right. I'm still tracking down those apathetic cads.

Don't make me come after you, too.

Marnie Butcher Piehl lives in Mandan with one husband, two dogs and three sons. Most days find her happily working, gardening, reading and running around with her boys.