Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks honor the late Jack Unger for his more than 50 years of community service
It was 2014 and the Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge No. 2855 had a problem.
The person who was expected to serve as the 2015 exalted ruler — the fraternal organization's top position — couldn't fill the commitment.
Rosedale's Jack Unger was willing to help, as he always had been through 50-something years with the Elks. The leadership at the Elks asked if he could fill the top role.
"He came home and whispered in my ear, 'I'll do it next year if you help me,'" said Joanne DiCarlo, Unger's longtime companion.
Hand-in-hand, the two worked to keep the Elks effective in raising money for charity during Unger's term.
On Nov. 6, the Lakewood Ranch Elks held a special ceremony to honor Unger, who died Aug. 23 at the age of 82. Since the Elks opened its Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Lodge in 2009, Unger was the first person to die after serving as exalted ruler.
Countless times during the ceremony, Unger was remembered as an honorable, caring man.
"He absolutely loved doing anything for Harry-Anna (the trust that funds the Florida Elks Children's Therapy Services and the the Florida Elks Youth Camp)," DiCarlo said. "I remember he and I donating the food and cooking an Italian dinner for 130 people with all the proceeds going to the children. He was a wonderful cook."
DiCarlo paused several times to wipe tears from her eyes as she told the stories. She looked around at more than 100 fellow Elks who had come to honor Unger.
"They have been so wonderful ... all the Elks."
Past Exalted Ruler Christine Carruthers said Unger and DiCarlo embraced her when her husband died in 2007.
"They never let me be alone on a holiday," she said. "Then they brought me into the Elks."
As Carruthers moved up the line of leadership at the Elks, Unger gave her tips along the way.
"He was a great mentor," Carruthers said. "He taught me a lot and I am extremely grateful for his friendship. He showed me that the art of leadership is being an honorable servant. He was special to me."
Elks member Tom Sweeney called Unger a "phenomenal" person who always was present at the Elks Lodge.
"He was kind of a fixture here," said Sweeney, who noted that he was one of the founding members of the Lakewood Ranch Elks with Unger in 2009.
Elks Secretary Brett Davis led the ceremony.
"We are here to pay a tribute of affection and honor to Jack," he said. "He did a lot for this community. If he had one fault, it was that he was so quiet. Those of us lucky enough to know him learned you never could have talked to a nicer person."
Past Exalted Ruler Darrin Simone and current Exalted Ruler Jerry Ditty both said they loved Unger's many stories about his former police work with the Patterson, New Jersey Police Department. They both said he had a great sense of humor, though he was so quiet you had to get to know him to discover it.
"He was a good man" Ditty said.
Past Exalted Ruler Randy Volkart told a story about Unger from about five years ago during a fundraiser at the Elks former lodge just south of the current one on Lena Road. The Elks were hosting a fundraiser that day, a lobster boil.
"We were in the back of the old lodge and we got the burners out," Volkart said. "We were waiting for the water to boil. All of a sudden, we had a rupture in a line to one of the propane tanks. It looked like the flame went 100 feet high, but it probably was 50 feet.
"I ran 30 yards in 3.3 seconds. I didn't see Jack around, so I figured he ran farther than me. But Jack had gotten the fire extinguisher, sprayed it all down and put out the fire.
"Jack was such a cool guy."
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