WALLINGFORD — One of the items that is being overlooked in the agenda for the upcoming Grand Lodge of Connecticut Annual Communication is a bold initiative to help finance the rejuvenation of the state’s older lodge buildings, a plan that may be the first of its kind in the North America, and which may be the key toward not only rejuvenating the buildings, but revitalizing the lodges, themselves.
Like most of the areas of the northeastern US, Connecticut has a number of older lodge buildings, many of them built in the early 1900s or even before. While many of these buildings are located in the center of their respective towns, these historic buildings were often poorly maintained, and the funds for much needed capital improvements were often neglected by the members from the 1960s until today. Indeed, it’s not unusual for lodges to lack air conditioning or updated heating systems, proper kitchen and dining areas, or in some cases, even modern bathroom facilities.
“While some members of the fraternity might see their facilities as ‘quaint,’ the sad fact is that many members of the public, including potential members, see them as ‘antiquated,’ ‘dated,’ or just plain ‘old,’ and it becomes a real turn-off,” said Grand Master Simon LaPlace. “Unfortunately, many of the lodges were short-sighted and skimped on saving money for improvements, and with the lack of new members, they simply can’t afford to put the necessary thousands of dollars into building improvements, and many of them are just barely able to keep up with the basic maintenance. This is why we are introducing this plan, which should help them to raise the money to bring the facilities up to date.”
The new program, called the Building & Organization Allied Sponsorship, or BOAS, allows lodges to partner with local or even national businesses and organizations in order to have a committed source of revenue that would be put toward building and grounds improvements, and updating the facilities inside the buildings. Lodges could look forward to new or updated lighting, handicap access, internet and wifi service, and cable tv, as well as kitchen and dining equipment, general upkeep, and yes, even more modern bathroom facilities.
When questioned about the criticisms that BOAS would lead to Freemasonry as being seen as “too public,” the Grand Master dismissed the concerns. “Corporate sponsored venues have been around for years,” he said. “A few large corporations put their names on ball fields, and nobody bats an eye. But a business puts a name on a small, little lodge, and everyone loses their minds.” Indeed, a quick survey showed that most people could not remember the previous names of the Xfinity Theater or the Comcast Theaters, although most people also did not remember that Toyota now sponsors the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford — ironically, the town in which the Grand Lodge of Connecticut is located.
A large concern for some is that the Connecticut Grand Lodge gets a percentage of the BOAS funds, and will start pressuring all of the state lodges or buildings to find businesses to partner with, or worse, may penalize some of the lodges for not doing so. “Grand Lodge needs to make money, too,” responded Grand Master Simon LaPlace. “None of those guys complaining think twice about spending money on a mocha latte several times a week; but if Grand Lodge asks for a five or ten dollar per member increase, suddenly we’re the evil empire. Sure, times are tough, but we’re talking about giving up the equivalent of a couple of coffees and donuts in a year.” He looked around and added “And believe me, many of our brothers could certainly afford to go without a donut once in a while.”
Not surprisingly, not all of the Masons are happy about this program. “It’s nothing more than plain, old Grand Lodge greed. They don’t actually care about the lodges, they just care about getting their cut of the action.” said one Past Master who refused to be named. “That’s not what we used to do back in the old days,” said another, “Back in 1968, when I was Master of the lodge, when we needed money, the wives around the lodge would help hold a bake sale, and we hit everyone with a ten dollar special assessment. Why, we once raised over a thousand dollars, which was enough to put on whole a new roof!”
That’s not the attitude voiced by everyone, however. Many more members, and not necessarily the younger ones, seem to approve of BOAS. Several lodges around the state have already been testing the idea, and indeed, at least one partnership is in the final stages. “We have been fortunate to partner with a large, nationally recognized corporation that is known for its aggressive community outreach,” said a District Deputy from the 4th District. “We are just finalizing some details, like the new sign placement and promotional spots, and within a few weeks everybody should be seeing some big changes at the new McDonald’s Masonic Center of New Haven.”
While the larger buildings in the cities that host several lodges will probably benefit the most, smaller lodges in the towns will also be encouraged to seek out sponsorships, and the Grand Lodge will have suggestions for those who are interested. “Try to focus on the businesses that are important to your area,” suggested a Grand Lodge officer who would only identify himself as ‘Mike.’ “For example, Southington is known for its fruit orchards and large number of chain restaurants along the main street. I’d suggest that they approach Applebee’s. Newington has those shopping centers and the Berlin Turnpike running through it; I would tell those guys to look at Dick’s,” he said. “Or maybe they’d rather look at Hooters, instead. Unfortunately, towns like Putnam or Lakeville aren’t known for anything except being out of the way. We haven’t come up with any good ideas for them as yet.”
Indeed, this highlights one of the biggest issues with BOAS: Lodges in the cities and along the “Gold Coast” I-95 corridor will probably have no shortage of possible sponsors, while those in the northwest (and northeast) corners of the state are in economically depressed areas, with few business or organizations that would have the financial backing to pay for advertising and promotion, let alone sponsor building improvements. Ironically, BOAS could well accomplish the very opposite of what the Grand Lodge hopes to achieve; as the urban and suburban lodges draw sponsorships and become more modernized (thereby attracting more members), the older, rural lodges will look even worse by comparison, and not only fail to attract new members, but perhaps even lose some to the modernized lodges.
“The big companies aren’t going to partner up with a lodge out of the goodness of their hearts,” explained ‘Gary,’ a former Grand Lodge officer. “Lodge buildings in the city offer some good exposure, plus the opportunity to use the auditorium facilities for meetings or presentations. Even the smaller lodges in the suburbs are usually located in areas in which the buildings are highly visible, which is at least good for advertising and promotion. The lodges out in the boondocks, though, will have a more difficult time attracting a sponsor because there’s no visibility. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe they’ll have to get several smaller, local sponsors.”
Some of the members of the fraternity are ambivalent about the partnership idea, however. “Grand Lodge is always pushing some program, and every year it’s something different,” complained one member from a lodge that will be getting a facelift from its new sponsor. “It wouldn’t surprise me if in two or three years, whatever Grand Master happens to be in charge will scrap the whole thing, anyway. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Just in time for the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping season, too.
From The Telegraph (UK) comes the headline:
Its ‘secret’ handshakes and elaborate rituals have long been a mystery to outsiders, but the world of freemasonry is opening up by selling membership Gift Packs for people to give their loved ones for Christmas.
The Masonic Christmas Gift Pack costs £80 and includes a tour of the local Masonic Lodge, an invitation to meetings with masons, and – subject to approval by the local Lodge – a year’s membership to the group.
The British Federation of Co-Freemasonry described the pack, which is available until the end of December, as “truly a life-changing gift”.
Since I know that some brothers will be scandalized by the very idea, let me take a responsible opposing viewpoint on this.
Ignoring that this particular article is about Co-Masons in England (which we already know are not recognized by “mainstream” UGLE-recognized orders), maybe “holiday gift-packages” are just one more membership drive idea that we’ve been leading up to for the last few years.
Wait, “membership drive”? Freemasons don’t have membership drives; that’s almost as bad as recruiting… which we also don’t do.
In the US, there are already wide-spread and well-financed public relation campaigns to “raise awareness” about the fraternity. This includes things like the MasoniChip and various state-sponsored Child ID programs, advertising on radio, billboards, and producing very nice tie-in videos featuring Ben Franklin, Uncle George, etc., and sponsoring state-wide “open house” visiting hours, during which the lodge building is open to the public, with brothers on hand to act as tour guides.
We already have bumper stickers (and billboards) with “2B1, Ask1,” and various other slogans. We have taken very opportunity to reach out to the public, whether it’s through popular books (the Dummies and Idiot’s Guides are still popular selling items ), movies (From Hell, National Treasure, DaVinci Code), and television (History Channel, etc., specials on “Secrets of the Freemasons Exposed!”)
In many areas, the buildings are old, not well-maintained, and the membership can’t afford to renovate them. Once a month it seems that Chris Hodapp is bemoaning some beautiful old temple that is being sold or torn down because they can’t survive on the 38 active members that still show up. Shriners (who are now airing commercials looking for support for their excellent childrens hospitals) have long dropped the requirement that members need to be either a Knight Templar or a 32º Scottish Rite Mason, and are now open to Master Masons – and sometimes on the internet there surfaces rumors that they would like to open their doors to non-Masons.
We’ve seen 1-day degrees (“Mister to Master” or “Blue Lightning” festivals), and most of the Craft are exhorted to keep a few petitions with them in their car or briefcase so they always have one on hand to pass along.
So, a year’s gift membership to be a Freemason? I’ve had gift memberships to book clubs, wine clubs, record clubs, baked good clubs, and jelly of the month clubs. In light of what I’ve spelled out above (and other things that I might have missed), someone needs to explain just what’s so bad about a gift membership to one of the best “clubs” in the world.
The Millennial Freemason has another take on this, if you don’t like mine.
The tent has been folded up, the flooring has been packed away until next year, the fryers have been power-washed, and the apple prep gear has been boxed and stowed away. And most of us that worked the 2009 Southington Apple Harvest Festival are exhausted. In my opinion, we spent a hell of a lot of man hours (and some woman hours) just to make $1,200.
|From Apple Harvest 2009|
I’m not complaining — too much. Overall, the prep work was less tiring, and the clean-up much easier than when we had been cooking up those steak sandwiches. And we discovered that fresh, local cider — hot or cold –sells pretty well. And we also discovered that the warm, friend apples were an excellent mix with some ice cream, something that we’ll keep on the menu for next year. And as I’ve written before, I think that the two weekend stint is like a built-in team-building session, except that it is not run by high-priced consultants.
But still, the lodge building is old, and we need to raise more capital in order to stay ahead of the repairs, and to be able to lay something by in case of emergencies. I wonder what we could add to the mix for next year?
It’s an overcast Saturday afternoon in the middle of January, there’s six inches of snow on the ground, and the temperature is 17º F. So, what do you do for fun?
Well, if you’re from Friendship Lodge, apparently you take a dip in the lake.
Friendship’s new Worshipful Master Eric Charrette, accompanied by a chilly suite of officers, took on his second “Polar Plunge” in a week to help raise funds for Camp Sloper, the the local YMCA camp. The polar plunge took place at the camp’s small lake, Sloper Pond. Known locally as the home of a semi-ficticious chelodian, a snapping turtle by the name of Mama Cass, the pond was the scene of several dozen people (accompanied by several hundred warmer supporters) willing to brave the elements – specifically, the frigid air and freezing water.
Each volunteer had to commit to a minimum of $100 in cold, hard cash, to be used for the upkeep and maintenance of the popular camp. Several local organizations sent their hardiest, or certainly, their craziest members. Friendship Lodge, which raised about $550 toward the camp benefit, was one of several other local organizations that managed to raise almost $2,000 for the camp, now in it’s 60th year of operation.
WB Eric was joined by RWB Gary Arseneau, Senior Deacon Kevin Cyr, and John Miller, Senior Warden from Frederick-Franklin No. 14 in Plainville, all of whom spent about 30 seconds in the water. . . and then another 30 minutes warming up afterward.
And according to Kevin Cyr, the adage that you don’t feel cold because the water is warmer than the air is a complete myth. “It was like thousands of stinging needles,” he reported. And while everyone agreed, they all offered to jump in again.
The end of Apple Harvest is the final reminder that summer is over and we’re now beginning our long slide through autumn into winter.
Our own Apple Harvest was a mixed success; the changing New England weather left the crowds a bit more sparse than we would have liked to have seen them, but the people who did show up brought their appetites, and Friendship Lodge was benefited by that. In an interesting twist on our fund raising efforts, though, we discovered that those little fried apples that we’ve been selling for the last few years actually make more money for us than our famous Philly steak sandwiches. We never actually took a serious look at our sales until this year, when we were faced with an interesting dilemma.
Our building faces the town green, and is on a small, one-way street parallel to the main thoroughfare. Along the short block is a small office building, a bank, the American Legion, and a newly remodeled office building. The American Legion is right next door to us – we share a driveway in front and a small parking lot in the rear of the buildings.
For almost ten years, our lodge has sold steak sandwiches during the Apple Harvest Festival; it’s really our only big fundraiser, and we use the money to help maintain the old building that we’ve owned since the 1930s. In order to be a participant in the Festival, we pay a fee. We also pay a separate fee to get a tent, electricity (which we don’t use, since the tent is on our front lawn), gas hookups, and a temporary food permit. We also get some mention in one of the local sponsor flyers.
For the last three years the Festival was not run by the local Chamber of Commerce – it was turned over to private managers. Our lodge, being right on the green and in the middle of the Festival, has always kicked in a “goodwill payment” to help with the general costs. For this, we were supposed to get some extra mention in the various sponsorship ads – but each time it failed to materialize. It did entitle us to sell soda, which was a town-run franchise, but this year we noticed that several other non-sponsor vendors were selling soda, too.
Okay, stuff happens. But that’s not the worst of it.
Our neighbors, the American Legion, decided that they wanted to take advantage of the crowds and sell food outside. In a booth. Just like ours. And while they could have sold pretty much anything, especially items that weren’t already being sold (sausage & pepper sandwiches, burgers and dogs, Irish stew, turkey legs, etc.), they chose to sell. . . steak sandwiches.
The Festival managers limit the items that can be sold, so that vendors are not selling the same things. However, the American Legion does not pay the entry fee, so they do not have to abide by the same rules as the other food vendors. Being right on the green, they are in the middle of the Festival, and being 20 feet closer to the band stage, they probably intercepted some of the traffic that we would have otherwise had.
They also priced their sandwiches a dollar lower than ours (we lowered our own prices to match). They also opted to sell drinks, and since they did not need to pay anything to the town supplier, were able to price their soda lower than the rest of us. Complaints to the Festival managers went nowhere, as they had no authority to do anything.
I know that the libertarian-minded people will say that this is just a matter of supply and demand, of simple economics – but that is not the way that the rest of us viewed the situation. All of the other vendors agreed to abide by certain rules, with the understanding that such rules turn a potential free-for-all into an organized community event.
Every year we always have one or two members who ask why we continue to pay a fee to the town. “The Legion never pays anything, and they get the benefits. Why don’t we do the same thing? We could put up our own tent and sell what we want, and keep all the money.” And every year, a few of us sigh and explain that while it’s frustrating for us, the majority of the members of our lodge believe that it’s the right thing to do. We believe that we are part of the community, and we want to contribute in any way that we can.
It’s easy to voice those sentiments when things are going well, of course, but it’s another thing to hold to your principles when faced with opposition. We spent the two weekends kicking around the idea of not paying the entry fee next year, but really, it was more about blowing off some steam.
But ultimately, this all led to some good things. At the meeting after the end of the Festival, we discussed a number of alternatives to sell; this included taking a closer look at how well the fried apples were selling, and what we could add or subtract to the mix. Some of the officers are already coming up with ideas for the next year, and I fully expect that our fund raising efforts for next year will be completely different.