ARIZONA CITY -- Ron Jolly joined the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 1038 in the fall of 1985, just a month or so after arriving in Arizona City.
He followed his wife, Becky, from Plymouth, Indiana. She’d found a job teaching in the Toltec School District. She taught seventh and eighth grades for 30 years. Ron sold insurance. A few years later, he took up real estate.
Ron and Becky brought two young daughters with them, Amanda and Deedra. Son Nick was born in Arizona.
In 1985, the Arizona City lodge was still known as the Casa Grande Valley Moose Lodge. It had been incorporated in Casa Grande in 1970. But it quickly pulled up stakes and moved to Arizona City.
“They moved part of a building out here,” Ron said.
A new building went up as well. Moose officials broke ground for it in late 1971.
TV-star Rory Calhoun cut the ribbon for the grand opening in December 1972. He lent his name to the developers who donated land for it. He later had a falling out with them and sued. That’s another story.
Two years after Ron joined, the lodge jettisoned the Casa Grande name. That was 1987. It became Arizona City Loyal Order of Moose.
The name changed. The welcome mat stayed. The lodge became a second home to Ron, Becky and even the kids.
Ron had his own parking spot. It wasn’t marked as such, but the members knew. Reserved for Ron. Inside, he had his own space at the bar. He and Becky called it the Cheers Corner, an homage to the TV show about a neighborhood bar.
“Pretty much I was there every day of the week,” Ron said. “Same old corner.”
He’d be greeted by familiar faces. His lodge fellows. People he knew. People he could share a beer with. And, as Becky put it, shoot the bull.
“We’d talk about the same thing every day,” Ron said. “I drank Miller Lite. I was their No. 1 Miller Lite drinker.”
He rarely talked shop there. The lodge, the bar, was his refuge. His comfort zone.
I spoke to him and Becky last week. They sat next to each other at their kitchen table. I sat across from them, socially distant. Amanda, their daughter, stood nearby. Her three daughters, oldest 5, ran around and played.
Becky spoke up.
The lodge was more than a bar, she said. It was the family center. It was, after all, a place for families, she said. Not just men chatting over a beer.
“Friday nights used to be kind of a family night,” Becky said. “It was a safe place to take the kids. You didn’t have to hire a babysitter. You could take the kids and they would play and stuff.”
Ron’s Cheers Corner had a cubbyhole by the bar. It was a good fit for young Nick, when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“Nick would climb up underneath there, and just go to sleep,” Becky said.
He learned to play pool, even as he could barely see over the table. It was three-ball pool. Games went fast.
The girls were older. They could stay up late. The lodge had tables and a small playroom with a TV, chairs and a sofa. And donated toys.
Every Christmas, Santa visited. Mrs. Claus helped.
“I remember we had Christmas parties,” Amanda said. “Every child gets a Christmas present. Bobbing for apples was a game we used to do.”
The grownups had their games, too. They played bingo in the dining room or the bar. Dinner was served every Wednesday and Friday. Fish fry or hamburgers.
“We had a pretty full menu,” Ron said.
Sunday poker was popular. Nickel, dime and quarter bets. Nobody got rich. But then nobody went away broke. Sunday was also a time to watch football, on one of a half-dozen TVs. Saturday night was reserved for darts.
“One year we had a men’s leg contest,” Becky said.
Contestants stood behind a curtain, raised just enough to show their legs, from the knees down. Prizes went for hairiest, most tanned and best-looking legs.
Max Moore had it all. He was decades older than the other contestants. Though he died in 2005, his legs were legendary.
“Oh, he had really nice-looking legs,” Becky said. “He’s a golfer and they were very tan. Athletic-looking legs.”
At other times, the lodge relived the ‘50s.
“We had sock hops, where they wore the poodle skirts and the guys wore jeans with the cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves,” Becky said.
Few members actually smoked. The lodge became smoke-free a few years back. Smokers had a place outside, on the patio.
Couples exchanged vows at the lodge. It was a place for wedding receptions and anniversary parties. Becky’s own mother and father celebrated their 50th there.
Moose Lodge 1038 had its charitable side as well. Members raised money for the Arizona City Library, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley and Toys for Tots. They contributed to Mooseheart, a school and residential campus outside Chicago. It cares for orphaned children of member families throughout the country.
The Jollys’ own children grew up learning to help others.
And, as kids do, they did grow up. They didn’t outgrow the lodge. Nick joined when he turned 21. He often took his own son there. Amanda joined in her 20s, as a Woman of the Moose, like Becky. She’s now 38. She would take her own daughters.
“They were itty-bitty,” Amanda said.
People always looked forward to seeing them.
Ron joined in his late 20s. Becky soon after. They’re now both 64. The lodge was more than half their life. A lot to reflect on. Becky boiled it down.
“It was a friendly lodge,” she said. “And a lot of people, because we’ve known them so long, are like family.”
The Loyal Order of Moose 1038 also opened its doors to others. It was, as PinalCentral’s Maria Vasquez wrote, Arizona City’s one community gathering spot.
For Ron Jolly, it was the Cheers Corner and old friends. He settled into his spot on Aug. 13 and ordered the usual. Miller Lite.
The next day, he got a call. “The bartender said the Moose was on fire.”
Thirty-five years of memories went up in flames. The Arizona City Fire District station was a block away. Casa Grande and Eloy fire departments also answered the call. But nothing could be done. The fire quickly spread in a gap between an older roof and newer one built above it.
The good news: No one was injured.
Nothing to do now but look ahead. Create new memories for its 365 members and their families. A GoFundMe page is up and running. And the fire station has opened its doors to Moose officers. They meet twice a month.
Ron Jolly is a trustee. He attends. But it’s no substitute for Lodge 1038. You can’t get a Miller Lite at the firehouse.
Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at firstname.lastname@example.org.