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Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos presents a statue to Florida State Elks President Frank Malatesta Jr. while Commissioner Susan Miccio-Kikta watches during a formal dinner at Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge 1719 on Sept. 8.

TARPON SPRINGS –Last weekend, Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge 1719 welcomed the nationwide fraternal organization’s state president for the first time in more than two decades.

The Florida State President of the Benevolent and Protective Orders of Elks, Frank Malatesta Jr., and his wife, as well as other dignitaries, visited the area for a weekend of dining, dolphin sighting and enjoying everything Tarpon Springs has to offer as part of the dignitaries first official trip to the area since 1996.

According to Tony Fratello, a Tarpon Springs lodge member who is the vice president of the BPOE’s West Central Florida district, a lot of work went into ensuring the visit was a success.

“This is the first time our lodge has had a district vice-president to play host to the state president in 22 years,” Fratello said a few days after the visit, which spanned the weekend of Sept. 7-9 and included dinners at the New Port Richey and Tarpon lodges as well as a sightseeing excursion off the Sponge Docks and more. “It took a lot of work, but we had a lot of great people to help with the event. It was exciting and extremely gratifying.”

In addition to being wined and dined, Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos presented Malatesta with a sponge diver statue made in Greece during a formal dinner at the Tarpon lodge on Saturday, Sept. 8.

“It was a very, very nice event, very formal with a lot of officials from Elks Clubs everywhere, and I applaud Commissioner (Susan) Kikta and the rest of the committee members who helped organized such a great event,” Alahouzos said afterwards.

The mayor noted Malatesta seemed appreciative of the gift he presented.

“I presented the president with a sponge diver statue we got while we were in Greece, and he was very appreciative of the offer and how he was treated here,” he said. “I enjoyed speaking with him and his wife.”

Fratello said he learned after the visit the Elks officials enjoyed the visit.

“Not only did they send us letters thanking us for everything and telling us how lovely the city of Tarpon Springs was, the vice president, Tom Ludwick, said he plans to return soon, and Frank said he hadn’t been here in 20 years and he and his wife loved it,” he said.

“She said she can’t wait to come back and shop at the dock.”