PALM COAST, Fla. (March 27, 2024) – Managing a nonprofit organization or club is no easy feat. Being named the Exalted Ruler adds even more pressure to deliver on the organization’s mission. Stepping into the role on Saturday, March 23, Pete Lehnertz and his team are ready to take the Elks Lodge 2709 to the next level.

Supported by the robust efforts of the Women’s Auxiliary, who presented the Club with a $9,000 check during the installation, the leadership team is off to a banner start.

Elks Lodge 2709 Ladies Auxiliary Officers

“They have things that they do and we have things that we do,” said Kathy Collero, an Elks member for the past 15 years, and current President of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

Trying to get the ladies more involved, Collero is scheduling guest speakers, day trips, activities, games, and dinner meetings, in addition to a full calendar of activities like the annual rummage sale, the Chinese auction, and Kentucky Derby Party for the women this year.

“It’s like a neighborhood,” she said.

Getting the House In Order

Surrounded by friends for the celebratory dinner, fiancé Heather Thompson was invited to affix the customary symbolic finery of the Exalted Ruler’s office for Lehnertz, during the installation ceremony.

Elks Lodge 2709 Exalted Ruler Pete Lehnertz and Heather Thompson

It’s a one-year term and such a short period often goes by quickly. Lehnertz has his to-do list ready to go, including replacing banquet room chairs and aging air conditioning systems for the lodge. With a solid team of individuals ready to grow, enhance and support the organization’s goals, he’s optimistic about the future.

“I’m very confident. We’re looking at different things, picking apart the budget and trying to make sure we make the right choices with the money and elevate the club a little bit,” said Lehnertz. “We can’t do anything if we don’t take care of the members and the club first.”

Elks Lodge 2709 Officers and Directors

Serving the Community

After retirement from both the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman, Lehnertz built a number of lasting friendships within the lodge over the past decade. It was here he rekindled a friendship from decades ago with a veteran, as part of a meals for veterans program offered through the lodge.

“They bring veterans in a bus over here and we get to serve them lunch. They hang out here. Not only is this a great thing because the veterans get to tell their stories to people that are interested, I recently had the opportunity, (to reconnect with) one of my good friends when I was with Northrop Grumman. He was in the Air Force. When he retired, he came to work for Northrop Grumman. I worked with him in numerous countries, traveling all over the world,” Lehnertz said.

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen and Linda Hansen

“I came in here when we were doing one of the veteran’s lunches and he had had a stroke and is staying at the VA hospital. It was just like crazy for me to experience seeing him sitting at the table. He didn’t know who I was when I first talked to him, then he started putting it together and then we started talking stories. The other day I came in and he was here with the group and he got so excited he stood up, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Building Future Elks

Lehnertz says there are a number of other successful programs he would like to see grow during this year’s programming.

Elks Lodge 2709 Exalted Ruler Pete Lehnertz

“We want to go even further. We have tons of scholarships that we offer for local schools, for some of the kids we’ve got a thing called the Hoop Shoot where the younger kids, different age brackets, they get to come in and they play basketball, shooting from the foul line and they get timed. If they keep winning in their brackets they advance to region and state. It’s a big deal,” he shared.

“I’ve been affiliated with the Elks Lodge 2709 for almost 11 years. It’s a great organization. We work with a lot of charities. It’s a private membership club. I just really enjoy the people that I meet here. They’re the greatest group of people and our volunteers outshine anybody. You can see the camaraderie and everything that’s going on here. I’m just really excited to be part of it and do my year. Hopefully I can take it to the next level.”

Dominic and Kathy Austrino