The Centralia Caper

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

In the winter of 1932, the members of Centralia Council 34, located in central (as its name might suggest) Missouri, decided it was time for a little housekeeping. With 191 members on its rolls, several were significantly delinquent in dues payments and it was time to suspend their memberships. In any Masonic body, suspending members is always a significant issue, not taken lightly. Still, retaining members who are no longer paying dues becomes a financial issue as that body remains under obligation to pay the per capita dues for each of them.

During that era in Missouri per capita payments were a hotbed issue. (And when are they not a hotbed issue?) Already a bylaws amendment was in the works to reduce the "tax" to 50¢ from the "outrageous" level of 70¢ (about $9.80 in today's funds). By their actions, there is no doubt the members of Centralia overwhelmingly supported this amendment and probably felt it didn't go far enough.

At the Council's December meeting, the Companions voted to suspend 76 delinquent members, saving a whopping $53.20 ($745). That's when the caper began to brew…

In early 1933, the Grand Council Secretary, Ray Denslow, received the Membership Returns from Centralia. The report showed on December 31, Centralia Council had suspended 191 members showing a total membership of zero. Accordingly, Centralia owed nothing in the form of a per capita payment to the Grand Council, saving it over $80 ($1,127) it should have owed for the remaining 115 legitimate members.

The creative antics of the Centralia Companions turned up the heat at the Grand Council session the following April in St. Louis. Ralph T. Finley, Grand Master of the Grand Council, would have none of it. He said in his ruling on the matter, "It appears that one Council [Centralia] suspended 191 members in December 1932. The 1933 report of said Council shows that 115 of said suspended Companions were reinstated in January 1933, but no per capita tax was paid thereon… I have held that per capita tax on such reinstated members should have been paid. The meaning and intent of the law is that per capita dues shall be collected on all members for each year for which such members pay subordinate dues… When a Companion, after suspension, pays his dues, he does not become a member merely from the time that he pays his dues, but he is reinstated, so that his membership relates back through the period of his suspension. To hold otherwise than that per capita dues are payable on reinstated members would place the Grand Council at the mercy of subordinate Councils… it would be possible for every council in the State to suspend all of its members in December and reinstate them in January, without the payment of any per capita dues whatever. The protection of the Grand Council, and indirectly the protection of every Council in the State, demands that our law and custom be construed to require that per capita dues be paid upon reinstated members."

To add insult to injury for the poor Centralia Companions, the amendment to reduce the per capita assessment failed. Still… nice try, Centralia.

One final thing: Grand Master Finley was a member of Centralia Council, so during his term he was, in fact, suspended from December 31 until early January.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasonsblog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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