By Michael Greenzeiger
“Some sages predict that this Society of Odd-Fellowship will soon run its career of glory, and sink in darkness, to rise no more. It may be so. If it is not founded in truth, supported and sustained by the principles of Friendship, and Charity, and Benevolence, it ought to fail. As much as I esteem it, at this moment – as firm as my faith is in the purity of its principles – and as positive as our knowledge is that it has done deeds of Love, I say, if the gallant ship changes her streamer, on which Justice floats, for the pirate’s flag, let her sink! If the principles of this Institution are ever prostituted to griping Avarice, groveling Injustice, and deeds of blood – if it shall cease to hush the orphan’s plaintive wail, aid the sick, bury the dead, and sooth the widowed heart – may it go down to the Plutonic realms of silence, and no trumpet-tongue ever sound its resurrection!”
THE ODD-FELLOWS’ TEXT-BOOK by Paschal Donaldson (1878)
Our forebearers in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows knew that the acts of love and compassion we performed were at the center of our collective identity and were the secret to our growth and success. Somehow, though, we have become increasingly distant from these noble ends and our Order has paid the price, becoming a mere shadow of its former self in terms of size and vibrancy. It didn’t happen all at once, but rather bit by bit until we have found ourselves in a place where many members don’t even know what our aims and principles are, let alone work to carry them out in their communities. Our governments and other non-profit organizations have stepped in to play a larger role in providing a social safety net and as they have increasingly let us off the hook, we’ve looked elsewhere for our purpose, focusing primarily on social events and writing checks for charitable donations to other organizations. While these are laudable projects for us to engage in, they cannot be all that we are or we are not truly Odd Fellows.
In my quest to understand what happened to us, I recently read the book “A Young Man’s Benefit” by George Emery and J.C. Herbert Emery (1999), two academics who studied the history of mutual aid in our Order. This book is out-of-print so I will summarize part of what I have learned from it, though I do recommend it for those able to get their hands on a copy. The authors studied records from grand lodges and local lodges primarily in Canada and used statistical methodologies to demonstrate that our system of paid sick benefits remained a viable and compelling option for our members up through the 1920’s. This was true even while we gradually removed these and other benefits from our Order beginning in 1890. In the era before industrial insurance or medical benefits, a major risk for young workers was loss of income due to illness or incapacity. Those young workers rarely had enough savings on hand to cover the loss of their income in those situations. The book powerfully argues that the benefits provided by membership in the Odd Fellows attracted younger members to our Order.
If we had programs that attracted younger members to join us while fulfilling our core mission, why did we eliminate these programs? Here, the authors make a very simple point: though the younger members of our Order were the ones who derived the most benefit from the programs, they were not the members with the power to decide what course we would take. Rather, much like today, it would take many years for an Odd Fellow to move through the chairs and eventually reach the Grand Lodge or Sovereign Grand Lodge level. The members who gained enough seniority to have an influence of our policies were older and had less need of the pecuniary benefits our Order provided. Rather, they saw the social benefits as being the most essential part of their own experiences as Odd Fellows and they were willing to sacrifice anything else that potentially detracted from that focus. I don’t think it’s difficult to see how these diverging interests between our leadership and our regular members brought us to the position we are in today.
I do not believe that the end of this story has been written yet, however. A century has passed and that which was old is new again. Once more, we find ourselves in a time when our society is struggling with the burden of how to support its vulnerable members. Many people today, young and old alike, are living paycheck to paycheck and if they become sick they need to make a difficult choice between continuing to work through their illness or not being able to pay their bills. Some are on the verge of not being able to put a roof over their heads or food on their tables. While we have unemployment insurance and other government programs to help, it’s not enough. People in our communities are suffering and deprivation is all around us. Especially in light of the health and economic catastrophes unleashed by COVID-19 these last few months, the world needs us more than ever.
There are bright spots out there where our Order is pitching in. It has been heart-warming to see the lodges and grand lodges which have banded together to help bring groceries to brothers and sisters unable to safely leave their homes or to give disaster relief grants in some cases. We can definitely do more, however. Obviously, it’s not realistic for us to immediately return to providing guaranteed sick benefits to all lodge members who need them, because those complex programs took years to build up. If we choose to make it a priority, however, we can start down that path.
In the earlier 19th century, our Order’s benefits were dispensed through voluntary collections at our meetings or involuntary assessments levied on the members on an as-needed basis. If we can’t afford to promise every member a set amount, maybe we can at least begin by contributing what we are able to. Some lodges do have sufficient investments to really step in and provide substantial relief to their members and they should consider establishing a Relief Committee to figure out the best way to do this based on their own finances and the needs of the members. There is not one precise formula which will work for everyone, but we at least need to start having the conversation.
Mutual relief shouldn’t just be a term we use when we talk about our past, but also when we talk about the future. If we can find it in ourselves to support each other once again then perhaps we will all merit to hear the trumpet-tongue of resurrection calling us back into the world.
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
These are tough times for all of humanity. Today, the human race faces an enemy that does not discriminate – all human beings are now the target of a virus that preys on people, sickening and killing them. And as the old saying goes: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. History tells us that it is precisely during tough times when Odd Fellows get tough.
From our very origins as a fraternal order, Odd Fellowship started as a way to care for members during difficult times. In the 1800’s there were no systems in place for welfare, social security, health insurance, job placement or job protection. There were no insurance companies (except for businesses or the very wealthy), or government programs for health care, for sick benefits, for death benefits, for burials, or to care for widows and orphans. So, Odd Fellowship stepped up and stepped in. The history of the Order shows that we opened hospitals (not only for Odd Fellows but for the public at large), retirement homes, orphanages, and cemeteries. If a man of those days did not belong to a fraternal order, sickness and death meant poverty for the family. And so from this background grew the great admonitions of our Order to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, educate the orphan, and bury the dead.
Over the decades and centuries, tragedy would befall communities – in the form of a contagious illness, epidemics, fires, floods and earthquakes, food shortages, and wars. And over those decades and centuries, Odd Fellows stood in the front lines of defense of their brothers and sisters, and the community at large. And this great tradition of helping, of trying to elevate the character of mankind, continues to this day. We find ourselves face-to-face with the visage of a deadly virus that feeds on human beings. It is a worldwide plague – a pandemic – and before it runs its course, it will have impacted everyone on this planet.
In the face of tragedy and turmoil, it is inspiring to see members of our Order step up to help brothers and sisters, and to lend assistance to members of the the greater community. Every day I hear stories of Lodge members checking on the welfare of other members – particularly the most senior members – by phone, email, Facebook, Zoom or otherwise. Every day I hear about Lodges and Lodge members volunteering to help at local food banks, delivering food and supplies to folks who are home-bound, sewing masks for first responders and health care workers.
In the finest traditions of our Order, Odd Fellows are stepping up – strong and tough – to help each other, help the community, and help humanity.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
A couple of weeks ago I listed some things that my own Lodge – Davis, California #169 – was doing during the corona virus crisis to help members, help the community, help our Lodge tenants, and implement the use of video technology to “meet”. I invited other Lodges to send in their ideas. Here are some that I have received.
During virtually every crisis over the last 200 years, Odd Fellows have stepped up to help each other, and also to reach out into the greater community. We continue to do what we can to fulfill the great admonition of Odd Fellowship: “To elevate the character of man.”
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Greetings and thank you for continuing your tireless publication of the DMC Newsletter!
After reading this latest issue I want to share another aspect of this new reality we face, rents from our tenants. Most lodges have tenants and benefit from the revenue stream of their rents. Ocean View Lodge has two tenants who run lively and successful businesses in our building, they are partners we want to support in the terrible financial situation they find themselves in because we want them to survive.
We instituted a plan of rent relief which we feel is mutually beneficial. We have divided the rent into equal thirds. One third is due as usual, One third is deferred until a later date and one third is forgiven as our charitable contribution. The deferred third may possibly be recovered via SBA loans/grants, a benefit to both tenant and landlord.
FYI in FLT, Joe Brennan
Ocean View Lodge, Secretary
Nice communication. Since you asked….
Bay View Lodge 109 in Redwood City is conducting our regular twice per month meetings via Zoom. In fact, we’ve had a couple members join the Zoom meetings that typically never come to the in-person meetings! We’ve also made two emergency donations to local organizations who are specifically helping the homeless in our area to stay safe and preferably get off the streets during this time: Street Life Ministries and St. Anthony’s Padua Dining Room. Finally, we were able to secure 2,500 sugical face masks and donated to PAMF Sutter Health Medical Center in San Carlos. That Medical Center, incidentally, has as its top administrator our Brother and current Vice Grand Raymond Fellers. We are so proud of Raymond! He is working very long hours, and he led the effort to create a drive through testing and respitory clinic — set-up in two days — serving the greater SF Peninsula community. Raymond is truly one of the front line heros here locally.
Stay safe and healthy,
Secretary, Bay View Lodge 109
I hope all is well. One of our new members, Oscar Ortega, runs a charity in a low income neighborhood. www.livedexperiences.org He has been feeding residents. We are supporting him with masks, gloves and donations. We have been reaching out via phone and text messages. We had our first Zoom meeting last Tuesday. We will have another one this Tuesday. These have been social type calls to catch up and see if anyone needs help.
I will send you some photos from Oscar’s operation.
Stay safe and healthy!!!
Oceanside Lodge #346
Morse Lodge #257 has communicated regularity with its members via email and phone encouraging its members to carry out a number of projects;
1. How to make one’s own Face mask Please follow this link for step-by-step instructions to sew a face mask. https://sarahmaker.com/how-to-sew-a-surgical-face-mask-for-hospitals-free-pattern/
2. Donating Blood as Blood Banks are facing shortages
3. Check in with our elderly neighbors. Offer to pick up their groceries or other essentials.
4. Will continue to donate to charities in this time of need, including the food pantry in SF’s Tenderloin District, which is still open.
5. For the Lodge’s ongoing project, continue collecting the following newspapers and old towels for the PHS/SPCA, personal care items for our Stockings for the Homeless Project, Coats, jackets and winter accessories for One Warm Coat, 9 inch aluminum pie pans for our Pie Baking for St. Anthony’s Dining Room project.
Berkeley Lodge #270 has conducted a successful regular business meeting (not using signs, password, gavel etc.) via Zoom video and has actively stayed in contact on a regular basis with its members via email and phone.
The seven (7) trustees of the Lodge have been especially active and to date has conducted two Zoom trustees meetings to ensure that the 47,000 sq ft building with its 24 tenants that include retail and office space remain sterile clean, well maintained and safe.
The Lodge Building is located one block from Berkeley downtown and the main campus of the University of California – Berkeley of which many of the Lodge’s retail tenants count on for their business.
The top priority is to try and ensure that the Lodge’s tenants stay in business and address their concerns. For those tenants ( primarily retail) who share the common area maintenance expenses, the lodge has agreed to not charge those fees until school comes back September 1st (value 10% per month).Four tenants requested a deferment of their rent for May which the Lodge has agreed to.
The Lodge has also encourage all tenants to sign up for the Federal Payroll Protection Program. SBA loans as well to seeking out City of Berkeley Grants being offered to small businesses. The Lodge Building also has a payroll and has filed for Federal Payroll Protection to mitigate the drop in rent anticipated for the coming months.
Rita Cooper, Trustee
Our new COVID Relief Committee is ready to help Odd Fellows. If you are a senior citizen or at risk, we are willing to purchase supplies for you. It is expected that payment will be made at the time of delivery.
Here is how you start:
1. Use request form. Fill out the simple request form and submit it. You will be asked to provide us your name, address, phone number, email address, and list of supplies needed. If you have a preferred grocery store, specify it. Typically, our volunteers will only go to one grocery store for you. If you prefer certain brands of supplies, specify. If no brand preference is given, the volunteer will use their discretion, which could include purchasing generic or store brands. If you request a prescription pickup, make sure the pharmacy has all the information they need and that the volunteer has any documentation they may need.
Another option: If you don’t want to use the form, send us an email with your list of supplies and preferences and contact information
2. Filling your request. Our goal is to fill each request within 24 hours. When we receive a request, we will connect you with a volunteer and they will call to confirm details. If you have not heard from me or a volunteer within two hours of your request submission, feel free to follow up by email or phone call to me.
3. Delivery of supplies. The volunteer will deliver your supplies to you and will collect payment for the purchases.
Want to volunteer? If you would like to volunteer, please contact me.
We are trying to take care of our Odd Fellow family. Thanks to the volunteers!
Davis Lodge #169
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I just received the message, below, from Brother Bill Murphy, who served as the Grand Master of the Jurisdiction of British Columbia. In these difficult and challenging times, it’s worthwhile to remember and reflect on how much the fraternity and friendship of Odd Fellowship means to each of us.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Sisters and Brothers,
A few weeks ago in our Columbia#2 Odd Fellows meeting our Chaplin, Eric Bramble said his opening prayer. In his prayer he mentioned how we are all pieces in the game of life. He compared it to the game of Jenga. The game where you have a tower of blocks and slowly remove one block at a time until it all falls down. A day or two later I went to a “celebration of life” for a friend who had just passed away. As the pictures of my friend were shown on the screen I started to feel as though a Jenga piece had been removed from my life. One less block. All week, Brother Eric’s words just kept resonating with me. As I get older, I am sure to see many more pieces fall from my pile of Jenga blocks. My friend Bryce is gone, John isn’t here anymore, Bruce is gone and Marion too. Any day now my wonderful father-in-law will soon pass. Each a little block pulled from the Jenga tower.
What helped build this wonderful pile of blocks that I call my life? I would have to say Odd Fellows had a huge impact. Without Odd Fellows I would have met neither Brother Gordie Moffat nor Brother Gordie Gale. Scotty, Jeff and Josh wouldn’t have been blocks in my life. Would I have never met Brother Alex, Andy, Jeremy or Stuart? Nope, not a one of them. How about Nic, Jon, Ian, Tim, Shad, Derek and all the other Brothers? None them either. The Members from Victoria#1, I wouldn’t know most of them either. And Sisters, Chelsey, Shaunessey, Twanya, Valerie. Jean and Debbie, would I have ever met any of them? Nope, not a one of them either. Nor any of the other wonderful Sisters. So you can see how Brother after Brother, Sister after Sister they have helped shape the pile of Jenga blocks that I call my life. Each and everyone of you has become a small but truly important piece. I may lean on you and should you need to, you can definitely lean on me. I thank you and Odd Fellows for each block. Without Odd Fellows my stack of blocks would be so much smaller. I would have never met men and women in Vancouver and Chilliwack, California and beyond that today I call my Brothers and Sisters. I wouldn’t have been able to help in my community without my Odd Fellows block. We are that bundle of sticks , but we are a stack of blocks too.
Each and every one of you, please stay strong because you are my strength and I love you for it.
In Fraternal Love.
Bro Bill Murphy
JPGM of GL of BC
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
We live in interesting times. COVID-19. Corona virus. Social distancing. Sheltering at home. These terms were not in our lexicon last December, but since last month they are terms that are imbedded in our brains and that have dramatically altered our lives. The terrible numbers change daily, but at the time I write this article, statistics show well over 1 million people on this planet have already contracted this virus, including more than 220,000 Americans. Worldwide over 54,000 people have died, including over 5,000 deaths in this country. In California, over 9,900 have the virus and the death toll is now over 200.
Yet we are not powerless. Those Governors and local leaders who have ordered or directed us – early in time – to shelter in place are to be commended. We all know the drill: stay home, keep at least 6-feet away from others not in your home, wash your hands with soap and warm water often, keep your hands away from your face. These are important rules to keep us safe and alive. These efforts will help flatten the curve of virus infections, will prevent the overwhelming of our health care systems, and will eventually get us through this scourge.
The COVID-19 crisis has not only affected us as individuals, but it has dramatically affected our fraternal order. Lodges have closed their doors, staff have been laid off, meetings have been canceled, events have been postponed. Yet, in the spirit of F-L-T, Lodge members can continue to stay engaged and connected. I wanted to use this DMC Newsletter to give you some ideas on what your Lodge members can do during this crisis to allow some semblance of connection and fraternity. Here are some things that my Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has implemented. (We have the advantage that all the members of our Lodge are connected, and use, email.) And I invite other Lodges and members to send along to me your ideas – which I will share in a future DMC Newsletter. Here is what we have done in the Davis Lodge:
* One of our members, Dave Reed, with the permission of our Noble Grand Diana Schmiegel, and in the best traditions of Odd Fellowship, formed a special “Covid Relief Committee” of members (with dozens of volunteers) who are available to help out older or disabled members who need groceries, medications, or supplies delivered. The volunteers will pick up and safely deliver the items to the member’s front doors.
* Another member, Stewart Savage, maintains and updates our Lodge website to keep members updated and informed. The Lodge has an excellent website with many pages of information online.
* Yet another member of the Lodge, Kevin Sitz, has instituted “virtual happy hours” every Monday and every Thursday at 6 p.m. Utilizing Zoom, members get together to see each other online, to chat, bring each other up-to-date, and make sure everyone is doing as well as can be expected. Last Zoom gathering had over 20 members participating.
* Three weeks ago, I started sending, via email, 10 trivia questions to all members (and applicants for membership). The next day, I sent another set plus answers to yesterday’s questions. And we continue it daily. It has proven to be a fun diversion, and helps to connect us.
* The Lodge has a full commercial kitchen on our first floor. We have rented it out to a local chef who is preparing very reasonably-priced meals that he and his wife deliver to your home. There is no delivery charge. This is a wonderful service not only to the public, but to Odd Fellows and Rebekahs.
* Two of our younger members maintain an online “Odd Bulletin Board” which connect members with items to buy, items to sell, and other products and services. This bulletin board is slowly morphing to identify online connections like our Zoom gatherings.
* One of our newer members – who is active with a local bike exchange – has offered free repairs of bikes every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. till noon for members who wish to go on bike rides while maintaining social distancing. Going on bike rides is good exercise and is still permitted notwithstanding sheltering at home.
* On April 11, 2020, our Lodge will celebrate the 150th anniversary of our chartering and institution. We have scheduled a special virtual anniversary party that afternoon, on Zoom, complete with a toast to our past, our present, and our future.
What is your Lodge doing in our current “reality”? Send me your thoughts and I will share them with the DMC list.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Most of us probably never connect the word “nobility” and Odd Fellows together, but sometimes I feel excited by seeing those among us who appear to derive great satisfaction in doing a lot for little or no pay.
Being a good Odd Fellow often calls for more than a handshake or smile. It often entails a difficult decision, an honest discussion, or efforts not delineated in any code book. Many lodges have at least one or two members who are constantly striving to make improvements, coordinate events, or manage communications between lodge members. Often, these are the very things we don’t see or simply take for granted. There are many members who have overseen certain events or other facets within the order for decades, and yet we only rarely even notice them. I’m sure each of us could think of dozens of members such as these.
The DMC has often talked about the diminishment of the order, and in many ways the order is diminishing, but some of this is inevitable, because the world itself is changing, evolving, becoming more urgent and yet also more private. How can any of us survive against this flow of the current of progress? One answer is to look at these heroic individuals who work tirelessly at their favorite events, who lead the charge to change, evolve, and yet retain the sanity of the order. It’s quite a dilemma, to stay true to the Odd Fellows tradition, and yet to attract new members. Some would call it impossible. But we can see from several examples that it is possible. If I were to name them individually, some would seem to be almost anti-change, or evolution, but by their struggles they make the case for an Odd Fellows future. Think of them yourself. We are all inspired by them, to both keep going, and to feel a bit more secure about our future.
Our order is like a family business, passed on for generations. Sometimes bejeweled, sometimes bedraggled. It’s not easy, pushing for a continuum, but it is something that can be larger than any of us, and yet it contains a bit of each of our souls. How do we ensure that our order continues? By honoring those who keep mushing on, by seeing that the world is not so bad if we see ourselves within it, and by helping those with the big work ethics and pure hearts by not being a hindrance. Clearly, we have survived as an order for many years, and we can survive for many more if we honor those who carry the load, who lead by example, and light the way with the brilliance of their leadership.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles