The 50 Year Member: Part Three - Spreading Cement
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Bill Hosler, PM
The Social room of the Masonic Temple, in its day, was once one of the most popular rooms in the building. It was a beautiful room decorated with dark wood paneling and deep pile, plush carpet. The walls were decorated with framed Masonic lithographs and artifacts of past members aprons and jewels of men who had left their mark on local Masonry. All watched over by large black and white photos of Past Grand Masters in gold frames, who once were members in the building.
The room was always packed with men acting like boys in their “No girls allowed” clubhouse. Smoking cigars while they played the beautiful hand carved ornate pool tables. There was the clink of the ivory balls rolling along the green felt tables; bouncing off the buffered walls. The men heard calling their shots. In the middle of the room was a seating area with leather winged back chairs surrounded by a mahogany coffee table. Many men found it a quiet area to read a book or newspaper, which was sold by a man in the corner that also sold such things as tobacco products and candy. Many business deals were cemented while the members enjoyed a nice evening in the comfortable leather chairs.
On the other side of the room men were laughing as they were playing cards at several large wooden tables. Poker was the usual game. Since the Grand Lodge did not allow gambling there were no real bets taking place, Wagers were made with chips with no real value. It was all in good fun. Occasionally a member of the Grand lodge could be seen playing. The game was an open secret since it was all in good fun; no one really complained.
The building was opened around 9am every day except Sunday and stayed open until late at night. Giant urns were filled with coffee and were refilled several times a day as men would stroll in to meet clients or have lunch and even to just have some fellowship before lodge started.
As the years went by, the members retired to a warmer climate or passed away. Those that stayed around didn’t get out much due to their advanced age. Without an influx of new members the room was rarely used and the cost of keeping it open became too much because of inflation. The loss of membership as well as those who were still members that had been Masons for over 50 years no longer had to pay dues. The Temple board made the decision that the building would only be open on meeting nights an hour before dinner was served and on special occasions.
The Social room became a time capsule to a bye gone era. With the years came the decay. The smell of cigar smoke faded away. Paint on the ceiling cracked and peeled. The once beautiful leather chairs now had tears that someone tried to repair with duct tape. The once proud room had become nothing more than a storage area of forgotten memories; A monument to what used to be.
The 50 year member opened the door to the room and turned on the light. The musty smell and the dust everywhere gave the room an eerie feeling. The silence was deafening as the only sound heard was of the fluorescent light bulbs coming to light. The old man wanted to show his young friend Pudge a certain photo which hangs in the room. Pudge had asked the 50 year member questions about the history of the lodge and the old man was overjoyed someone new was taking interest in what he and the other members had done so many years before.
“This is a great room!” Pudge exclaimed with his eyes in wonder. “Why don’t we ever use this space?” “We used it all the time when I was a young man.” The 50 year member said “Guys would be playing cards or pool. Sometimes we would get together smoke cigars and just talk. A lot of guys learned their memory work in this room, including myself.” The old man had a faraway look in his eyes remembering the good times he had had in this room. “We should start using it again.” Pudge said. “That would be a great thing”, said the old man. “But most of the guys just come for a meeting and run for the door right after we close. There just isn’t the fellowship like there used to be.” “Well maybe not with the older guys but the guys my age meet up for dinner when we leave here. We sit around and discuss the meeting over dinner and we talk about various Masonic topics. If we do it at a restaurant, we could do it better here.” Pudge said. You could almost see the wheels in his head turning with the possibilities. “The room needs so much work. I doubt if we could come up with the funds to restore it.” The 50 year member sighed, “It’s a great idea but I don’t think we could pull it off.”
“The thing the room needs most is a good cleaning and a good coat of paint to start with. It wouldn’t cost that much and we could do most of the work ourselves. It would be awesome to get the chairs recovered and maybe some new carpet and then…” The 50 year member interrupted Pudge. “That all sounds good but there is no way the lodge could come up with that kind of money. Sometimes we can barely pay the building’s heat bill.” The smile started to disappear from Pudge’s face “But we have all those fundraisers like the golf tournament and the raffles. And we raise a lot of money with those.” The older man replied, “But the proceeds from those go to the lodge’s scholarship fund and for various other community projects.” Pudge seemed confused. “If the lodge is having issues with money why are we raising funds for all those other groups?” The 50 year member seemed surprised by the question, “We do those things to get our lodges name out in the public. Many members think that the public has forgotten about Masonry and giving out scholarships lets people know we are here and we might get new members out of it.” “That seems backwards to me”, Pudge replied. “If we don’t take care for ourselves first how can we help others? I always heard charity begins at home. You recently explained to me about Masonic charity and how that is one of the true tenets of Freemasonry. If we take care of ourselves first and have a beautiful building won’t that help bring new members?” The old man paused and said “Maybe you are right Pudge. If we offer new members more than just an occasional meeting men might come here more often. I would love to see this room filled with men like in the old days. Do young guys still play pool or cards?” Pudge laughed, “Some do. I have a lot of friends who love Texas Hold ‘em. But I think there is other ways we can use this space too.” “Really like what?” the 50 year member asked.
“Lots of things. I heard about a lodge in Indiana that has chili cook offs. They have an evening of fun tasting each other’s chili and judging whose chili is the best; the winner gets a trophy.” Pudge pointed to an empty corner of the room “That would be the perfect spot for a flat screen TV. We could have football and basketball watching parties. Everyone could bring a covered dish and we could all get together for the game. Members could invite their friends and if they have a good time they might even ask for a petition. We could have our families come. The wives could all get to know each other and then might not mind their husbands coming to lodge. The wives may even become friends themselves. I could get an Xbox and have gaming competitions, like Madden football. Or in March a basketball competition. These are all things guys do now at each other’s houses. How cool would it be to have a place all of us can escape to?”
“It would also be a great area to have Masonic study classes. We could have hors d'oeuvres and gather around the chairs and discuss books like a book club or listen to lectures. We are spending money going to restaurants now when we could spend the money and do the same thing within the temple?”
”I would also think if we were to get internet access guys could come in and study or just surf the net. Add a cappuccino machine and we could have our own little coffee house. I would much rather come in here for my coffee and internet access than go to some chain coffee house. The more I think about it the possibilities of this room are endless! It just seems to me we spend all this money within the community to get new members when we could spend the money on this room and make men want to be a member here.”
The 50 year member was awestruck by Pudge’s enthusiasm in this room. He would love to see this room utilized again like it was so many years ago.
“Pudge you are on to something. You are right that we need to take care of ourselves first. It makes sense that if we offer young guys more than just a stuffy meeting once a month they might start coming around more and be even better staying members. I think things like this room and the fellowship with the other members is what kept me coming back all those years. The friendships I made in this room or while eating dinner was the real cement of brotherly love. Let’s see what we can do to breathe life into this old room!” The old man felt like he did when he was a young man again. The thought of seeing the place, where so many of his favorite memories were made, gave him that old feeling that Masonry can bring to a man. The old man smiled and put his arm around Pudge’s shoulder, “Let me show you that picture I was telling you about. Then I am going to tell you some stories about the men I knew who used to come to this room.”
Bill Hosler was raised in 2002 in Three Rivers lodge #733 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He served as master of the lodge in 2007 and was a member of the Internet committee for the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM. Bill is currently a member of Roff lodge #169 in Roff, Oklahoma and Lebanon lodge #837 in Frisco, Texas he is also a 32° Scottish Rite Mason within the Fort Wayne, Indiana Valley AASR NMJ. Bill has also served as High priest of Fort Wayne Chapter #19 Royal Arch masons and Commander of Fort Wayne Commandery #4 Knights Templar and the Webmaster and magazine editor for Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne, Indiana.