Those born between 1928 and 1945 are known as the Silent Generation. The Silent Generation is a generation that does not get much attention. They certainly do not get the credit they deserve in our society or in the Masonic Lodge. As kids, they were taught it was better to be seen than heard. They always flew under the radar but managed to contribute to society by working hard behind the scenes without the need for attention or recognition.
We all know about the Greatest Generation of WWII heroes and the economic prosperity the country enjoyed post-war. We know about the Baby Boomers and their countless internet battles with the Millennial generation (one that I am a member of). The newest Generation Z is all the rave now as writers try to analyze their every move to determine what kind of leaders they will be. So why did the Silent Generation get overlooked? Why do we criticize them in the lodge instead of praising them for their contributions to the fraternity? The answer is because we do not know much about them and often lump them together with either the Greatest Generation or the Baby Boomers.
They are a sandwich generation that were kids or coming of age during WWII. They were young adults in relatively good economic times. They had good jobs to enter right out of high school. One key contribution that does not get attributed to them is the leaders they produced during the Civil Rights Movement. Although they led that change, they are well known to be traditionalists. The baby boomers brought on cultural change that overshadowed the slow and steady attitude of the Silent Generation. Think of the Silent Generation as the middle child. Even the war they fought has become unnoticed. This generation fought in the Korean War AKA the Forgotten War as it was fought between WWII and the Vietnam War. They also are a generation that was never represented in the White House.
The Masonic lodges they inherited were largely made up of the Greatest Generation and by the time the Silent Generation was able to step into leadership roles, Masonic membership was on its way down. The Baby Boomers stopped joining anything that was considered part of the establishment. The Silent Generation ran Masonic Lodges just as they ran the rest of their lives: respect for tradition, loyalty, and hard work.
We often complain that the older generation turned the Masonic Lodge into a social club or charity driven organization that turned the fraternity away from the original purpose of Freemasonry. That may be true, but they also kept Freemasonry alive and available to the common man. Many of us that complain today would not have been high enough on the social ladder to be even considered for the degrees of Freemasonry, let alone able to afford it. We would not be presenting education in our lodges if the Silent Generation did not step-up big time to maintain Freemasonry during its darkest years. They could have given up, they could have closed the doors, but they did not.
This generation had to work hard to maintain our lodges. We complain about the pancake breakfast and how “that’s all they want to do.” That is because they had to. They did not enjoy a membership boom during their tenure. They had to bring in money to support our lodges. We complain about the green beans at dinner. Chances are, the Junior Warden of your lodge has been in the position many times due to necessity and they are burnt out. Be thankful the green beans are on the table because that means the lodge is still open. These men supported lodges night after night performing degrees to any lodge within their cable tow. This generation was not really afforded the luxury of focusing on education; they have been maintaining our membership rolls and buildings for years. Even those that do not attend, regularly send in dues payments year after year because they see it as their duty. I see too many non-payment of dues suspensions go out to people that become uninterested in the fraternity. They do not see it as their duty to financially support the lodge once their self-interests are no longer being met.
Change is slow and takes effort. It is not instantaneous, and we cannot expect it to be. We wonder why the older members will not change. The truth is it has not been in their best interest to change. It worked for them, now we need to find out what will work best for us.
Thank you to the average men of America that kept the doors open for us so that we have a platform to enlighten our members on our principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. We may have our thoughts about what makes a proper Masonic lodge, but we are only to present these thoughts as Master Masons due to their commitment to keeping the lights on. In my lodge, it was the Ronnie Vallangeons, the Ronald Tranchants, the Seigel Halls, and countless others that will go down in no other history book besides the hearts of the men they influenced. Master Masons today should be forever grateful to the members of the Silent Generation. Traditions Matter. Progress Matters. It takes all of us from all generations to bring out the best traits in each other to make the Masonic Lodge sustainable for years to come.
WB Christopher J. Hathaway was raised in Catlin Masonic Lodge #285 and is the current Worshipful Master of Bloomington Masonic Lodge #43. He belongs to the Valley of Danville, AASR where he is the Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix and Membership Chairman. Other appendant bodies include the Gao Grotto, Mohammed Shriners, and the Illinois Lodge of Research. Outside of the lodge, he enjoys spending time with his wife Taylor and cheering on the Fighting Illini and Chicago Cubs.