Paying My Respects

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

Driving north on Holmes Avenue in Kansas City after lunch with family, I saw the imposing Mount Moriah Mausoleum looming in front of me. On an impulse I turned in and parked by the massive stone structure. I went inside to see if someone could help me locate a grave site – no one there. I went up a half flight of stairs and was surprised to find myself inside a darkened Masonic Lodge room. It was obvious the building was empty but I made a mental note to come back when I could explore the place.

Absent help from someone, the website gave me the information I needed. The section I was looking for was right behind the mausoleum. In the distance I could see a lone pine tree with a bench beside it. I walked out there and found the grave I was looking for. "Frank S. Land," it said, "Founder, Order of DeMolay."

A large gray plaque at the site tells the story of the man buried there, and the stone bench, bearing Land's name, is situated so a visitor can sit and read the inscription. It's a modest monument for a man who did so much.

Young Frank Land didn't have a lot going for him. His parents divorced and his mother moved him to an unfamiliar city. He didn't have many friends and became shy and withdrawn – he missed his father. He worked at the restaurant his mother and grandmother owned and purchased it at the age of 18, a move that forced him to drop out of high school. Ironically, the profits of the establishment had been intended for his college education.

He took evening classes at the Kansas City Art Institute where he met his future wife, Nell. For a time after completing his courses he worked as an artist for the Kansas City Star.

On his 21st birthday his grandmother gave him $50 and asked him to use it to join the Masons, a fraternity which his grandfather had loved. Frank joined Ivanhoe Lodge 446 and quickly followed up by joining the York and Scottish Rites as well as the Shrine. Not long after joining, he sold the restaurant and went to work for the Scottish Rite as administrator of the newly-formed Mason's Relief Committee. He didn't realize it but, at the age of 24, his destiny was now laid out before him.

In the years that followed, Land built the program into one of the premier relief organizations in Kansas City, helping secure hundreds of jobs for the unemployed and distributing food and clothing to the needy. The organization grew and, in time, Land needed assistance, so he hired 17-year-old Lewis Lower to help him during evenings and weekends. Lewis had just lost his father. Land understood how much Lewis missed his father due to his separation from his own dad as a youth. Brother Land was so impressed with young Lewis that in February 1919 he suggested forming a club at the Scottish Rite temple in Kansas City for Lewis and some of his friends. The following week Frank Land, Lewis and eight of his friends met together for the first time.

Land was Commander of the DeMolaii (sic) Council of Kadosh in the Scottish Rite. Jacques DeMolay, its namesake, was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Rather than betray his God, DeMolay defied Philip the Fair of France and was burned at the stake. This inspired Land to tell the boys about DeMolay, whose courage and strength of character so impressed them they named their club after him. Land, the original nine boys and twenty-two others met as DeMolays for the first time on March 24, 1919. Too old for the boys to call him "Frank," and too young to be "Mr. Land," the boys began to call him "Dad." For the rest of his life he was "Dad Land," and every DeMolay advisor today holds the title of "Dad."

The Order of DeMolay grew quickly, reaching a peak membership of 210,000 just prior to the Depression. Frank Land became known around the world as the organization expanded. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge was so impressed with Land's success he asked him to promote his nationwide program of youth development. It was not the last time such a request would be made of him. For the remainder of his life, Land moved in the circles of diplomats and presidents, including his beloved friend, Harry Truman. With Truman's help and support, Brother Land became the Shrine's Imperial Potentate in 1954. A year later, he became only the 28th man ever to receive the Scottish Rite's highest honor, the Grand Cross, and he was one of the very few men ever to receive the Thirty-third degree in both US jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite.

Today, with its headquarters still in Kansas City, DeMolay has expanded across international boundaries. It has attracted thousands of boys and young men who have gone on to make an impact on the world. Its members include those who became world famous men in nearly every endeavor.

In March 1959, Brother Land developed a rare disease, scleroderma, a buildup of collagen in skin and organs, which tends to affect people in a variety of ways. It is sometimes, but not always fatal. The disease remains a mystery today and was certainly not well understood in the late 1950's. Against doctor's advice, he kept working at a frenetic pace, with none of his friends realizing how ill he was. Then, on November 8, 1959, the news of his unexpected death rocked the Masonic world by its foundations.

Among those thousands of boys who have been DeMolays were my father, my brother and myself. As a youth, I was a passionate member participating in all its activities and learning its cardinal virtues. DeMolay taught me leadership skills I have carried through life, and is one of the major reasons I am a Freemason today.

I joined several years after Dad Land died, yet I feel like I knew the man. Now, I found myself paying my respects at the foot of his grave, near a simple memorial to a great man. I remembered the friends I had made in DeMolay, the fun, and the important lessons learned. I wondered what I would say if I could talk to him. Many things ran through my mind but, in the end, there is only one simple thing I could say: "Thank you, Dad Land, thank you."


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 is 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 Freemasons blog 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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