There are roughly 4,500 members of SPJST Lodge 88. But according to Brian Vanicek, president of the statewide group that oversees the 108-year-old fraternal organization in the Heights, nearly half of those members do not even have Houston addresses.
If there ever was a time for a homecoming at 1435 Beall St., that time is 1 p.m. Sunday, when the lodge’s annual meeting will be held and members will vote to adopt or deny several new rules and regulations that were temporarily approved in June. Most of the changes relate to a swimming pool being built on the lodge’s spacious property, which we’ll dive into a little later.
If you love the lodge – for its charitable contributions to the community, for its preservation of Czech heritage, for its dances, for its popular Thursday night Bingo games, for whatever – you should make every effort to attend. Because its future depends on it.
Vanicek is traveling to Houston from Temple, home of the SPJST Supreme Lodge, and is planning to be there.
“I’m anxious to see what happens,” he said.
The plan to build a new eight-lane, 25-yard heated pool – the lodge had one for about 30 years before removing it in the 1990s – will be the hottest topic. The project has been led by Aaron Rigamonti, president of the former Heights Swim and Social Club who joined the lodge early this year and, through the temporary rule changes, became a vice president, member of the lodge’s board of trustees and chairman of a newly created swim club committee.
Rigamonti said the idea behind the pool is to boost membership and participation at the lodge.
Kenneth Mlcak, a longtime lodge member and chairman of its board of trustees, said Rigamonti first floated the idea of a pool at the lodge in November 2017, before he became a member and when the Heights Swim and Social Club was still in existence. Mlcak said the lodge has since had an influx of at least 150 new members, most of whom were part of the Heights Swim and Social Club.
Mlcak said their presence at monthly meetings, typically sparsely attended by longstanding members, has pushed the pool project to near fruition. The rules and regulations up for vote on Sunday include funding details for construction and maintenance of the pool as well as a series of stipulations regarding pool access.
Whether or not two-thirds of Sunday’s voters approve the new rules and regulations, Vanicek said there will be more puddles to jump before a pool is put in, adding that the Supreme Lodge reserves veto power. But Mlcak views the vote as being more consequential.
“If they get passed this Sunday, it’s a pretty definite thing,” Mlcak said. “At that point, nothing’s going to stop it.”
So, you might be wondering, what would be the problem with putting in a pool? The Heights has a shortage of summer swimming options, and a new pool could be a major selling point for a lodge that according to Mlcak has been leaking members and money for years.
At issue is the way the pool project has been approached, which has created a divide among lodge membership before any of their toes have even gotten wet. Member Kathlyn Curtis said she’s considering taking legal action to prevent the proposed plan from coming to fruition, because the majority of the lodge’s membership would not have regular access to the pool and its funding model could affect the lodge’s status as exempt from property taxes.
According to information outlined on the lodge’s website, “The Swim Club at Lodge 88” made 360 memberships available to the public and all have been reserved, with a waiting list having been created for other prospective members. Swim club members are required to pay refundable deposits of $6,000, which will provide capital for pool construction and other improvements, along with $1,000 in annual dues to cover operating costs.
Swim club members must become members of the lodge, which entails purchasing an insurance policy from the lodge and paying annual dues of $9.
“You can’t make this exclusive. Period,” Curtis said. “If you‘re a member of the SPJST lodge, you’re a member of the lodge. You have interest and assets. We all own the land. If you’re a member of the lodge, you have a right to use the facilities.”
Limited pool access among the general membership wouldn’t necessarily be against the existing rules of the lodge, according to Mlcak and Vanicek. And although Vanicek said the Supreme Lodge has offered to finance a pool at the Heights post, it might also approve the proposed funding plan.
Vanicek said he’s waiting for Lodge 88 leadership to draft a management agreement for the pool and “would like to see some form of general access to members, support for the youth club and also support for the local community.” The rules and regulations up for vote address those desires to an extent, allowing non-swim club members to use the pool at least one day per year and requiring swim club members to volunteer at least five hours per year or donate $100 to the lodge.
Rigamonti said any lodge member who wants to join the swim club will be given that opportunity.
A statement attributed to Lodge 88 president Janice Jahns, emailed from firstname.lastname@example.org, says, “All members were given the opportunity to purchase pool memberships and we are happy to say that many opted in. Given the considerable expense of building and maintaining a pool, we did not feel it was appropriate to force uninterested members to share in its costs. We are excited about the future of Lodge 88 and the increase in membership and fraternal activity that the pool has already brought this year.”
Curtis and Mlcak questioned whether the majority of members, many of whom are detached from the lodge, have been adequately informed about the pool project. They also are concerned about the impact it could have on the lodge’s future and its role in the Heights.
“I don’t have a problem with the pool as long as we can protect our traditions,” Mlcak said. “I’m afraid that’s going to go away.”
For any lodge members who share that sentiment, and for those who think a pool would be a cool addition, it would be wise to show up Sunday. It could be the last best chance for your voice to be heard and vote to be counted.