Donald Bauermeister A famous Freemason you've (probably) never heard of

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, PM, FMLR

The members of Beech Grove Lodge #690 surround President Harry Truman after the ceremony raising Donald Bauermeister, far left.  Photo courtesy MWB Dwight L. Smith family.
    

      One evening in 1948, the President of the United States evaded the press, his entourage and some of his secret service agents to sneak off and attend a Master Mason Degree.  The story has all the stuff of an urban legend, but it really happened.  The events of that evening have been related many times, most notably in Allen Robert's book Brother Truman.  You've probably heard about it, but in case you haven't, this, in a nutshell, is what happened:

     A US Navy sailor assigned to Harry Truman's Presidential yacht, Williamsburg, knowing about Brother Truman's interest in Freemasonry, told the President he would soon be receiving his Third Degree.  In the conversation that followed, Truman realized his upcoming "Whistle Stop" campaign tour would take him through Indianapolis, near Beech Grove Lodge #694 where the event would take place.  Since President Truman and his employee shared an interest in history, Truman had come to know the young man well.  So he told him if they could coordinate things, he would attend.  The young man's Lodge made every effort to ensure the event would happen when the President's campaign was in town.  



     On the day of the event, President Truman's train stopped in Noblesville, Indiana.  The young man joined the President there and they rode the 20 remaining miles to Indianapolis together.  That evening Brother Harry slipped out the back of his train car and went to the Lodge.  There, he was given an honorary seat in the East, raised the young man and made some poignant remarks about the Bible and the fraternity.  President Truman undoubtedly met every man in attendance that evening as they all shared an iconic moment of Masonic Brotherhood.

     As many times as this story has been told, little has been said about the man Truman raised that evening.  Who was he?  What became of him? Did he become a "true and faithful Brother among us," as we pray in the first degree?  Did he and Truman remain friends?

     The young man was Donald Earl Bauermeister, born August 24, 1927.  He was 21 years old at the time of his raising, just barely old enough to join the fraternity.  He had recently enlisted in the Navy and served as a Hospitalman Third Class on the Williamsburg.  In fact, he spent his 21st birthday there, with the President aboard.  Three days prior he had assisted in a crew member's emergency appendectomy, an event that no doubt drew Truman's attention.

Brother Donald Bauermeister prepares to dive from a platform on the Presidential yacht, Williamsburg as President Truman (3rd from right on deck) watches.  Photo courtesy Truman Library, Independence, MO.
    

      After his Naval service, Brother Don enrolled at the Indiana University extension in Indianapolis and ultimately entered the dental school there.  In 1950, he met his future wife, Lois and that May, when they decided to marry, he wrote the President to inform him of his wedding plans and also updated Truman on his schoolwork.  Finally he asked the President if he would take time to meet his parents when they were in Washington the following month. Truman wrote back saying he would meet with Don’s parents.  He concluded his letter, “I waited ten years too long before I assumed the responsibility [of matrimony]... It pleases me when one of the young men with whom I have been associated buckles down to work and makes good.”  Truman sent the young couple a silver tray as a wedding gift.

     Over the years, Brother Don made a few requests of the President, who never turned him down. On one occasion, Don and his wife Lois went to Washington and attempted to phone Truman, but he was unavailable.  It is the only documented occasion when Don tried unsuccessfully to make contact with Truman, while he was in the same town.  It’s understandable; the man was merely the leader of the free world.  Some months later, however, the tables were turned.  Truman visited Indianapolis. Once there, he went to his friend’s house only to find he was out of town.

     In 1951, Don traveled to Washington, DC.  While there he went to the White House unannounced and asked to see the President.  Matthew J. Connelly, who was Truman's personal secretary, said Truman was too busy to break away.  Brother Bauermeister urged Connelly to contact the President anyway, which Connelly reluctantly did.  The Korean War was raging, the Middle East was in turmoil and the President had a crammed schedule.  He literally had the weight of the world on his shoulders; yet, he made time to see his young friend.

     The pair exchanged letters, gifts, Christmas and birthday greetings.  Bauermeister sought out Truman’s advice on several occasions.  Truman counseled him on subjects including Masonry, schooling and a career choice.  On the President's 65th birthday, Don sent him a fifth of Old Granddad.  One would assume Brother Harry enjoyed that more than the accompanying card and the not-so-subtle reference to the President's increasing age.

     In 1956, Don and Lois traveled to Independence to visit the retired President in his office at the Truman Library.  It was the last time they saw each other in person.

     Don and Lois settled down on the south side of Indianapolis, not far from the Lodge where Brother Truman had raised him.  After graduating from the Indiana University School of Dentistry, Don established a practice and went on to become a respected Indianapolis dentist.  He never held a Masonic office, but remained a member of Beech Grove Lodge #694 for the remainder of his life.  On August 5, 1994 Brother Don succumbed to the effects of years of smoking at the age of 66.

     


Many men have formed friendships bonded in Masonry.  This one is certainly one of the most unique.  It was a friendship between two very different men.  One was a successful and special man, but of no remarkable status.  The other was a man of destiny, the leader of the free world.  In part, the fact they shared a friendship says something not only about the country, but also the time they lived.  In today’s world of sound bytes and handlers, it might not even be possible.   Truman easily could have declined the invitation to attend Donald's raising; but he didn't and both men's lives were richer for it.

Brother Bauermeister’s memorial, located in Washington Park Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
~SLH

Steve Harrison, 32° KCCH, is a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri.  He is the editor of the Missouri Freemasonmagazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden.  He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.

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