Irene Hale became one of the first female Elks
Irene Hale had provided her signature cake and coleslaw for Elks Lodge barbecues and other events for years before becoming a member of the previously men’s-only organization.
“I was doing everything that needed to be done,” says Hale, 98, who estimates she has invested more than 25,000 volunteer hours at the Elks Lodge in North Little Rock and other groups that support veterans. , and she collected several plaques and trophies for her volunteer efforts.
For Elks Lodge’s Labor Day picnic this year, Hale made 30 pounds of shredded cabbage for coleslaw and one of her Dreamsicle cakes for the cake walk.
“The coleslaw was gone,” says Hale, who travels from her Mayflower home to the Lodge in downtown North Little Rock and the Veterans Administration Healthcare Center in Fort Roots several times a week.
Hale’s brother had been a member of Elks Lodge for 45 years before her death in 1983, she says, and she was part of Auxiliary Lady Elks.
âWhen there were birthdays or someone got sick or something, I was responsible for getting them a card to send them from the Lodge and the Auxiliaries,â she said. âThen I ended up being the president, and that’s when they wanted me to be the hospital president. Well, I had to be an Elk to be a hospital president. That’s when they started letting women join the Elks. “
Prior to 1995, Elks Lodge membership was only open to men.
Hale believes that she was the third or fourth woman to join the Lodge and that she was also among the first women in the country to become an Elk.
âI just kept doing whatever needed to be done like calling bingo some nights and buying them a van,â she says.
When Hale isn’t volunteering, she enjoys visiting North Little Rock Farmers’ Markets and has enjoyed road trips to casinos with friends.
She was born in North Little Rock and lived at 1301 Willow St. for the first three years of her life.
âMy dad built the house at 1406 Sycamore, just around the corner, a brick house, and I lived there until I was 19,â she says.
She had a difficult relationship with her mother, a Polish immigrant who was not fluent in English, she says, and left home shortly after high school.
âI had sad childhood times,â says Hale, who had four brothers, one of whom died in childhood.
She worked for a while greasing cake pans for a bakery in Little Rock.
âI’ve worked my whole life,â she says. “I would work somewhere until they shut down the business and then I would go look for another job.”
Hale says her volunteer work with veterans began when she was married to her first husband, Eugene Frederick, who served in World War II.
“He was a German prisoner of war,” she said. “He was a tall man, he weighed about 238 pounds.”
When he was released four months later, she said, he weighed 128 pounds.
“It wasn’t the same person after that,” she laments.
They divorced, but she continued to volunteer with the Elks and the Fort Roots Veterans Hospital.
She met her second husband, Glenn, while working at a family bar owned by a friend who had asked her to run the place for him for years.
âI told her I had never sold a can of beer in my life,â she says. âHe said, ‘Well you can learn.’ Finally, I went to work there and had even more fun. “
She and Glenn Hale had been bowling in the same mixed league for a while, but she hadn’t noticed it until she walked over to the bowling alley to pick up something she had left behind and he insisted that she go fishing with him.
She agreed, even though she was wearing tights and high heels.
He built a bait shop, later run by his children on Lake Conway, and he built a display stand that houses the Bible in the Elks Lodge foyer in North Little Rock.
“He has been gone since the end of 2000,” she said.
Hale enjoys the camaraderie she finds at Elks Lodge.
âI go there whenever we have something to do,â she said. “I’ve been there for years. A bunch of years.”
The Elks helped her celebrate her birthday last month.
âOne of my best friends has a group and he had the group there, and other friends had my cake and my food – you wouldn’t know what food was there,â she says.
It was a bittersweet day, however. Shortly after returning home from the party, she received a call from the hospital where her daughter, Janice Bates, was a hospice patient.
“They told me she was dead,” she said. “We were with her all afternoon and evening and she had done pretty well.”
The Elks and other friends support her in mourning.
âI have a lot of friends at the Lodge,â she says.
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Irene Hale was born in North Little Rock and lived at 1301 Willow St. for the first three years of her life. âMy dad built the house at 1406 Sycamore, just around the corner, a brick house, and I lived there until I was 19,â she says. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)