Ray Estrella Fought the Santa Ana Elks Lodge and the Lodge Won

The onetime exalted ruler tried to the lodge into the 21st Century

In another report, titled "Verbal Threats," a witness claimed that when Fernandez asked for a drink at one point, the bartender said they were closed, told Fernandez he was drunk and to finish his drink. Fernandez then allegedly said, "Since when do you tell us?" and "Why don't you come to this side of the bar?" According to the report, those present called for Fernandez to stop.

Ironically, in a separate report titled "Verbal Abuse," Fernandez tried to defend himself against the allegations, but in doing so, he acknowledged harassing a bartender who was trying to close the bar at 11 p.m. "I just asked why he closed it down," Fernandez wrote. "I did not get the 'last call.' I gave him a 'little harassment.' He said, 'I quit.' He always locks the front and side doors at 9 to 10. He acts like it was his bar."

Continuing to defend himself, Fernandez filed another complaint against Estrella, claiming the former exalted ruler defamed him by emailing "unjustifiable and untruthful charges" against him to lodge members. In one email, Estrella wrote that the danger to the lodge is not so much Fernandez, but rather a membership capable of entrusting an "inexperienced man" like him with the position of exalted ruler.

Mark Dancey
Mark Dancey

"It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of a Fernandez administration than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgement [sic] to a flawed system willing to allow such a man as its leader," Estrella argued. "The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Dan Fernandez, who is a symbol of an outdated process which had no checks or balances, yet allows persons with flawed morals and character to assume leadership."

Fernandez isn't the only one who has filed complaints against Estrella. Four others, including Fisher, have also done so, alleging Estrella made malicious, unjustifiable or untruthful charges against them. Fisher alleges that in one email, Estrella says Fisher puts "his normal spin on things so they don't appear to be as bad as they really are" and that Fisher continually gives out false information related to the lodge's financial reports.

Estrella recalls his time in the lodge was marked by good deeds punished at every turn, a vain fight to do the right thing for the future of the Elks, and the neighborhood that ignores it like some distant, doddering grandparent. With the outcome of his possible expulsion hanging in the air, Estrella has already moved on; he resigned as trustee on Feb. 25. Despite the fact his archnemesis at the lodge is a fellow Latino, he remains convinced that racism played an unspoken role in his ouster. "A small group of people control the lodge [with] consent from the district leadership," he claims. "The whole thing was racist."

Some of his friends from the lodge have transferred to other chapters or quit the Elks altogether. "I love Elkdom," Estrella says, and it's clear he hasn't yet come to terms with everything that's happened. "It broke my heart to walk away."

* * *

Back at the Elks Lodge on bingo night, the little hopper of balls sits silently on the stage, beneath the caller's perch and between two large boards, on which, in a matter of moments, electronic numbers will light up, flashing rays of hope into hundreds of hearts. Gaudy chandeliers hang above the crowd; a green carpet held over from some dead era spreads beneath them. With jackpots in their eyes, the gray phalanx of bingo players is settling into its seats, stuffing its faces with the mini-buffet's lasagna and mashed potatoes; more frugal mouths masticate homemade sandwiches.

They prepare their bingo sheets, silently hoping the gods of gambling will bless them with good fortune during rounds of "Corner Stamp," "Crazy Kite" and "Hardway." An Elk in a blue shirt with etched gold lettering that reflects the lodge's name and number alights the bingo caller's perch and announces the first game of the night, "The Big Cheese."

One of the younger women—white, perhaps in her mid-50s, with dyed-black hair—gives two unironic thumbs up and yells to a friend, "It's time for bingo!"

Over the course of the next four hours, the steady drone of B4, G46, I27, etc. is interrupted only by the ecstatic gasps of winners shouting, "Bingo!" followed by an immediate, echoing murmur of "Ah, shit!"

Four hours, $20, one Diet Coke, a slice of apple pie, and an interminable number of "Ah, shit"s later, Bingo Night is over. As the last number is called, four ladies who appear to be regulars grab their purses. Asked if they have ever heard the names Ray Estrella or Dan Fernandez, they collectively shrug.

"No," answers one, looking puzzled.

"Hmm," says her friend. "I haven't heard of them."

The women trash their bingo sheets and join the stampede for the door.

This article appeared in print as "Elk In Exile: Ray Estrella, exalted ruler of the Santa Ana Elks, fought the lodge and the lodge won."

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