Please join me on a little trip in the Odd Fellows’ time machine.
Let’s visit America in 1919, 100 years ago. In 1919 you could get a dozen eggs for 34 cents, a quart of milk cost 9 cents, and a loaf of bread cost 6 cents. First class postage stamps cost 2 cents and a gallon of gas was only 12 cents. Typical yearly take-home pay was $687. Very few people had cars, but you could buy one for around $500. And an average house cost $3,500. On January 6, 1919, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, died in his sleep at the age of 60. On January 16, the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, went into effect authorizing prohibition. In February, Oregon placed a 1 cent tax on gasoline, becoming the first state to do so. And Congress established the Grand Canyon as a national park. In May a race riot broke out in Charleston, South Carolina, and three black men died. UCLA was established in May, as well, becoming the southern branch of the University of California system. In June, the Congress approved the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing suffrage to women. In July, the US Army sent the first convoy of motor vehicles across the continental United States – the motorcade arrived in San Francisco in September
In 1919 social security didn’t exist and many elderly lived in poverty conditions. Americans in 1919 spent one-third of their income on food. And food wasn’t particularly good or healthy. The average American ate 11.5 pounds of lard and 14 pounds of chicken per year. (In 2019, Americans are expected to consume 57 pounds of chicken and 1.5 pounds of lard per year.) Half of all families lived in rural areas or in towns with populations less than 2,500. The average household was crowded, with more than four people (today it’s less than 2.5 people in a household). Owning homes was a rarity in 1919 – there were about four times as many renters as homeowners 100 years ago. (Today, more than 60% own their own home.) In 1919, only 100 million people lived in the USA and more than half were under 25. A century later, the population has more than tripled, and the share of people under 25 has fallen to one-third. Meanwhile, the share of people over 65 has tripled from 5% to 15%.
In 1919, hardly anyone drove cars. People generally walked, rode horses, and occasionally took the trolley. There was very little commuting. People generally lived close to their work and typically walked to work. Men wore blue serge suits to work, and women wore long dresses or long skirts. Entertainment was the player piano or the photograph. Fraternal Orders, including Odd Fellows, were flourishing across the country.
Now, let’s come back to reality in 2019. In 2019 America is a completely different place than it was in 1919. America in 2019 is a place that folks in 1919 could not even imagine: a place of airplanes, fast cars, computers, laptops, cell phones, smart watches, equal rights for women, credit and debit cars, maternity leave, movies, television, refrigerators, washers-dryers, bikinis, etc. etc. And yet, there are Odd Fellows who believe that if the Order would only go back to the way we operated in 1919, all would be well and we would grow again. That bit of whimsy makes no sense. To flourish and grow, Odd Fellowship needs to evolve and change. Only then will the men and women of the 21st Century be attracted to Odd Fellowship. The landscape of America is littered with the corpses of fraternal orders that rigidly refused to change. Odd Fellowship must evolve with the times.
One cannot attract the electric car generation to a horse-and-buggy Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
A few days ago I received an email from a member of a Lodge in another State, seeking answers. I will not reveal the identity of the state or the member’s true name to preserve confidentiality. This member – whom I shall call “Chris” – had joined this Lodge about one year ago, and was perplexed. Seems like virtually all the remaining members of the Lodge were fairly new, and (with the exception of one elderly member residing in a nursing home) there was no member who had any historical memory of the Lodge nor could give any guidance to Chris. When the new members gather for a meeting, less than 10 show up. They have ritual books, but they don’t have knowledge of even the most rudimentary aspects of Odd Fellowship – such as what are the various Lodge officer’s duties and responsibilities. When I asked Chris for a copy of the Bylaws of the Lodge, Chris seemed genuinely flummoxed and had no knowledge of them.
Kudos to Chris trying to make heads or tails of Chris’ Lodge and Odd Fellowship. But how in the world did this Lodge devolve into its present state? The answer, to me, is both simple and sad.
The generation of members of this Lodge that preceded Chris were, frankly, selfish. These members did not plan for the future. Apparently, their only concern was enjoying their Lodge experience in the present. Nothing wrong with that, per se. Everyone should enjoy their Lodge experience – otherwise, why do it? But there is more to Odd Fellowship than the present. Just like there is more to Odd Fellowship than the past. Don’t misunderstand my point: both past and present are important. But, the equation is incomplete without consideration of the future.
The generation of Odd Fellows who occupied that Lodge prior to the arrival of Chris did not plan for the future. They made two mistakes that could very well prove fatal to that Lodge. First, they failed to bring new members into the Lodge who represented different ages and different generations. Second, they failed to let goof the reins of power. Each one, by itself, is a horrible miscalculation. Together, they present an almost insurmountable impediment to the future viability of the Lodge. By failing to bring in younger members, and members representing different generations, the old members did not create a future and steady stream of active members. Bringing in only members of their own generation and age-group probably felt very comfortable to the older members – but as these members “age out” of Odd Fellowship (by incapacity or retirement or death) they all tend to age out at about the same time, leaving the leadership of the Lodge in the lurch. And when older members hold on tightly to all the key offices of the Lodge, they effectively cut out the education and progress of the younger members. They have failed to educate, teach and elevate the character of the newer members. The older members may have benefited the Lodge for an interim period, but in the long run they have created a Lodge that lacks knowledge and that has no successor generation of leaders. Shame on these older members for choosing their own comfort over the welfare of the Order.
They have failed Chris. And they have failed Odd Fellowship.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
By far the most important issue facing Odd Fellowship is our membership decline. This issue has faced us for three generations, and continues to vex us today. It is, and should be, the number one challenge for our Order, and it should be – without doubt – the number one issue facing our Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Yet, at SGL sessions, the issue of membership decline is barely mentioned, let alone addressed. It is the elephant (indeed, the mammoth) in the middle of our Odd Fellows’ living room. Yet the representatives at Sovereign don’t just tiptoe around it – they make believe it isn’t there. How does Sovereign address the membership issue? When the Chair of the SGL Membership Committee finally raised the flag of danger on membership declines and, in an article stated that our Order would die out unless we addressed it, he was roundly criticized by some for saying the Order was in trouble, and generally ignored by most at Sovereign.
Sovereign’s program to address membership declines is to issue nifty certificates to units that show a 2% increase in their membership. Let me explain why this 2% approach is simply an exercise in futility. Now, don’t get me wrong. Everyone likes to get a nifty certificate of recognition. But a 2% growth for a unit is nothing to cheer about, and it won’t solve the problem of our declines in membership. Let me give you two reasons why a 2% target is not a solution at all. Let’s start with a fairly large Lodge (by Odd Fellows standards) – say 50 members. If that Lodge were to add 1 member in a year, that Lodge has reached its goal and they would receive the 2% certificate. But it would take that Lodge some 50 years (a couple of generations) to add the members needed to replace the aging population of the Lodge. Yet that Lodge doesn’t have 50 years, particularly when the majority of its members are in their 70’s, 80’s or older. Let’s take a look at the small Lodge of 10 members. How in the world does a 2% growth rate even apply to such a Lodge? Do they meet their goal if they add 1 member every 5 years?
And the numbers from SGL bear out the dilemma we face. The latest statistics shared by SGL can be found in the Advance Reports of the Sovereign Grand Lodge dated 2017. The report, at page 196, shows that from December 31, 2015 to December 1, 2016, the following declines occurred: the number of Odd Fellows Lodges declined by 1.74%; the number of Rebekah Lodges declined by 4.51%; the number of Encampments declined by 3.81%; the number of Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries declined by 7.45%; the number of Cantons (PM) declined by 4.42%; the number of Ladies Auxiliaries (PM) declined by 3.80%. Spanning the same period of time, the membership numbers of Odd Fellows declined by 2.27%; the number of members of Rebekah Lodges declined 2.99%; Encampment membership dropped 1.84%; LEA dropped 6.48%; PM dropped 2.26%; LAPM dropped a staggering 9.21%. These are significant and troubling declines. We cannot sustain the Order with these declines. We don’t have 50 years.
The problem is clear. It has been clear for decades. The situation doesn’t improve when we ignore it or hope it will just fix itself and go away.
So, what’s the solution? Are we destined to join the hundreds of fraternal orders that have sprung up in North America over the centuries, functioned for awhile, and then faded away; are we destined to be an historical footnote? It doesn’t have to be this way. The solution is right before our very eyes. We just need to open our eyes to see it. The solution is reflected in a few Lodges around the country. While the Order has been diminishing for decades, there are a few Lodges that have bucked the trend. While the vast majority of Lodges are declining, these few Lodges – at the very same time – show net increases in membership year after year. The few Lodges that are showing net growth in membership year after year prove that Odd Fellowship is relevant and can attract the men and women of the 21st Century. These growing Lodges are laboratories of success. They point the way to the future.
Based on the success stories reflecting in these Lodges, here are my Seven Steps to Success for the future growth and progress of this Order:
1. Separate but equal branches for men and women are no longer appropriate or viable in the 21st Century. Branches must merge going forward. PM and LAPM; then LEA and Encampment; and finally Rebekahs and Odd Fellows. We must align into one Lodge with many degrees. This new paradigm is a process that can be accomplished within 5 years.
2. Sovereign Grand Lodge must restructure itself. It is grossly unfair to have this Order run by a small minority of members. Why should a jurisdiction with 200 members have the same voting power as a jurisdiction with over 2,000 members?
3. The Ritual of this Order must be updated and modernized. Odd Fellowship is supposed to be non-sectarian. The Ritual must become user-friendly to all genders, all races, and people of all faiths and beliefs.
4. Social meetings of the Lodge should be encouraged. Formal Lodge meetings with full ritual and regalia should be reduced to no less than four and no more than six per year.
5. Lodges must become part of their communities, not isolated and shut away from their communities. Lodges must reach out to undertake community projects. Lodges must open their doors to the community from time to time, and must have distinctive signage so that the community knows this is a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
6. Lodge Halls must be places where turmoil and bickering is left behind. The Lodge experience should be enjoyable. Lodges should provide for an active social life and programs for members.
7. Lodge membership should reflect the community, in gender, ages, race and ethnic background. Every generation – from teenagers to those in their 90’s – should be reflected in the membership of the Lodge. Every Odd Fellows Lodge must have women as members. Twenty years after membership in Odd Fellows Lodges was opened to women, it is time for every Lodge to have women among its members. There is no longer any viable reason or excuse not to do so.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Two centuries of service is a long time, and it should be celebrated.
The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge will open the Lodge Hall to the community to recognize and celebrate the 200th anniversary of Odd Fellows coming to North America. The first Odd Fellows Lodge formed in April of 1819. So, Odd Fellows throughout the United States and Canada celebrate two centuries of existence and service in 2019. The Davis Lodge will host it’s anniversary party on Thursday, April 11, from 5:30 p.m. till 8 p.m. at the Lodge Hall, 415 Second Street, Downtown Davis. The community is invited.
“On April 11, we cordially invite members of the community to stop by to visit the Lodge Hall, and help us recognize this 200 year milestone,” said Kevin Sitz, Noble Grand of the Davis Lodge.
The Lodge Hall will be open to the public for the event. For those who wish to have dinner, there will be dinner available at 6:05 p.m. prepared by the Lodge chefs (dinner is $9 per person) , the Odd Fellows bar will be open, the big screen projection system will be running with slides of Odd Fellows events and projects, mini-tours will be available to view the Lodge Hall, a 10-minute lecture of the history of IOOF will be presented, and at 6:45 p.m. the Odd Fellows trivia master will challenge those in attendance with three quick rounds of trivia, with prizes for the winning tables. There is no charge to play trivia and all are invited.
“The first Odd Fellows Lodge started in Baltimore, Maryland in April of 1819, and then proceeded to sweep across the continent,” said Dave Rosenberg, a former Mayor of Davis, long-time Odd Fellow and Past Grand Master of Odd Fellows in California. “Hundreds of Lodges formed in every state and province. Ultimately, Odd Fellows came to California in 1849. The Davis Lodge was chartered in 1870 with its first Lodge on G Street. The Lodge Hall at its present location on Second Street was built in 1955. We have been a fixture in this community even before the City of Davis was chartered.”
Currently, the Davis Lodge has 306 members with 13 applicants for membership. Odd Fellows is a fraternal order open to men and women, and is non-political, non-sectarian, and dedicated to good works in the community. The Davis Lodge is the largest Odd Fellows Lodge in California, and is distinguished with its 52 committees, all dedicated to good works in the community or planning social activities for the members. The members of the Davis Lodge are almost equally divided, men and women, and range in age from 16 to 92.
Some of the more high profile events hosted by the Davis Odd Fellows include the Taste of Davis, Breakfast with Santa, the New Year’s Eve Party, Thursday Live! music at the Lodge, Odd Fellows Bingo, the Classic Film Festival, the Davis Chocolate Festival, Breakfast with the Bunny, the Picnic Day Pancake Breakfast, and many more. The Lodge has formed a new committee in 2019 to host a “Zombie Bike Ride” which will invite the community to set a Guinness World Record with the most people dressed as zombies on bicycles – an event for the entire community of all ages, planned for October (just in time for Halloween). The Lodge has a Community Support Committee which has provided funds and other support to a wide array of charitable and community organizations. In particular, the Lodge has supported foster children, as well as young adults who have aged out of the foster care system.
In celebration of the 200-year anniversary of IOOF, the Lodge members have undertaken a “Walk Around the World” effort, counting their collective steps walking around the earth. It will take 65,740,092 steps to traverse the planet. Currently 35 members are working on this project, and the group has hit the 10 million step mark.
Odd Fellowship is often called the three-links fraternity based on its symbol of three interlocking links, representing Friendship, Love and Truth – the bywords of the Order.
The trilogy is complete. Past Grand Master Dave Rosenberg has finished his third book in the “Future of Odd Fellowship” series, and it is available to order. The first book, published in 2012, was entitled The Future of Odd Fellowship – To Be or Not To Be, the second book, printed in 2015, was called The Future of Odd Fellowship – Evolution and Change, and the newest book is titled The Future of Odd Fellowship – The Next Century. This third book’s publication coincides with the 200th anniversary of Odd Fellowship in North America and will be available in April of 2019.
“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of books that have been written about Odd Fellowship,” said Rosenberg, “but all those books deal with the rich history of the Order. These three books are the only ones to my knowledge that contemplate the future of our fraternity.” The book encompasses 268 pages and contains 111 articles written by Rosenberg during the years 2015 through 2018.
The newest book can be ordered by writing to Rosenberg at his Lodge: Odd Fellows Lodge, 415 2nd Street, Davis CA 95616. Enclose a check for $15 for each book, payable to Dave Rosenberg, which covers the cost of printing and shipping.