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Inside Sonoma’s Moose Lodge

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Moose Lodge board of directors

Jimmie Danz, Gary Felder, Earl Foster, Jon Williams, Chris Petlock, Bob Montini, Dave Herrick and Jow Tassano.

Women of the Moose Lodge board of directors

Debbie Fruth, Debbie Ryan, Linda Huddleson, Alina Ivanic, Diane Herrick and Julie Price.

The sign “Bingo Every Tuesday” displayed on Broadway beckons. Take a drive down the adjacent lane, past the hedge of pink and white oleander blossoms, to a big funky wooden building reminiscent of Old Sonoma.

It’s home to the Moose Lodge. Founded in 1963, the club originally occupied space above the Sebastiani Theatre before moving to the old Paul’s Resort in the Springs and then eventually acquiring the 2.5 acre Broadway site. Approximately 250 members pay nominal dues to belong and Sonoma Moose is always taking new members.

At the national level, the fraternal nonprofit has members in 50 states, Canada, the United Kingdom and Bermuda, and contributes approximately $100 million of community service projects every year. The Sonoma Lodge supports national Moose projects as well as local schools, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Babe Ruth league and families with children in need.

The local lodge has a state-of-the art kitchen with four stoves, a grill, ample refrigeration and an abundance of pots, pans and utensils. It’s a caterers dream. Members and those sponsored by members can rent the hall for receptions, quinceañeras, celebrations of life, anniversaries, fundraisers and other events. The bingo sign hints at other fun activities, many open to the public.

In 2011, the Sonoma’s Little Switzerland dance hall closed its doors, leaving dancers in a lurch. “Dancers are like joggers,’ said former Little Switzerland co-owner and Moose member Annette Casabonne. “They need their fix.” So her late husband Yves looked around for a site and discovered the Moose. “The people there were very welcoming. They replaced the old linoleum and installed a wooden dance floor.” Dancers and the bands followed. “Sunday at the Moose is great fun for couples and singles alike. It’s such a happy atmosphere,” Annette said.

Sunday evenings from 4 to 8 p.m., the hall rocks to the beats of the Showcase or Steve Ballich bands. Admission is $15. Dancers twirl, clap and sing along.

“We play all kinds of music — country western, rock ‘n’ roll, samba. And we take requests,” said Louie Perez of Showcase. Perez, in a colorful Hawaiian shirt, plays guitar and sings. Wife and multi-instrumentalist Patti plays harmonica, keyboard, electric bass, accordion, and is a vocalist. Daughter Nikki’s the drummer. “We love playing at the Moose,” Patti said. “Everyone’s so friendly. When someone new comes in, they’re made to feel right at home. When Nikki got married, everyone from here came. It’s like family.”

Ages of the dancers range from mid-50s to 96-year-old Dick Sweaza. “I can still cut the mustard,” Dick grinned. Sweaza and girlfriend Jane Ortega rhythmically moved across the floor as Louie and Patti belted out Sammy Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan’s “He Drinks Tequila, She Talks Dirty in Spanish,” followed by Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” and Ernest Tubbs’ “Waltz Across Texas.”

“We come here every other week from San Pedro. And I drive,” Sweaza boasted.

On Tuesday evenings, as many as 70 regulars from around the Valley gather for bingo. The snack bar opens at 5:30 p.m. “Lucky” seats can be reserved until 6:15 p.m. – the action starts promptly at 6:30 p.m.

Don’t expect your mother’s church bingo. There’s much more on offer. Winnings are higher, as is the price of entry. Packages are $30 for economy and $40 for the regular. For a buck, there’s flash bingo.

Moose Lodge board of directors

Jimmie Danz, Gary Felder, Earl Foster, Jon Williams, Chris Petlock, Bob Montini, Dave Herrick and Jow Tassano.

Women of the Moose Lodge board of directors

Debbie Fruth, Debbie Ryan, Linda Huddleson, Alina Ivanic, Diane Herrick and Julie Price.

The room’s quiet, the only sound coming from small numbered balls bouncing and vibrating in the hopper. Then the silence is broken by shouts of “bingo!” Jean of Sonoma won twice in a row and collected $350. “I wish this happened every time,” she laughed. Winners kick in a tip to support local causes. Recent beneficiaries have included Friends in Sonoma Helping, Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels.

Sonoma resident Jerry Farr and his wife Connie are bingo regulars. Connie, known as “Ms. Lucky,” recently retired after 23 years at Friedman’s Home Improvement Center. Jerry’s a lodge member and has organized bingo games for over 30 years. “I get here around 10:30 in the morning, set up and come back,” he said. The Farrs, with their neon ink daubers in hand, often track 24 games at a time. Some players manage even more. “Nobody comes here to make a fortune,” Jerry said. “It’s all about socializing and having fun.”

Speaking of fun, check out the Thursday night open mic. That event, celebrating its second anniversary, was the idea of musicians Jon Shannon Williams and Mark Gallagher. It’s Sonoma’s equivalent to “America’s Got Talent.” And talent abounds, from guitarists, singers, comedians, poets and a 12-year-old spinning a hula-hoop. Even Aria, Williams’ dog, takes a turn at the keyboard. On a good night, there can be up to 75 in attendance. Guests can purchase a drink at the bar, or a carton of fresh organic eggs.

Membership in fraternal organizations around the country is in decline. Open mic has brought in a younger, more diverse crowd interested in promoting good causes while supporting local talent. Guests are welcome and encouraged to join the Moose.

A Murder Mystery Dinner themed “Slayer in Sin City” is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21. Appetizers and character introductions start at 5 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m. Pick a role and come dressed as a gambler, showgirl, wealthy sheik or Jed Clampett. Elvis Presley will make an appearance for selfies.

Tickets are limited. For information contact Moose office manager Charly Pautsch at 996-3877.

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