"Friendship, Love and Truth"
"To Improve and Elevate
the Character of Man"
The Orcas Island
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Mt. Constitution Lodge #88Written by Fred Enge
In Baltimore, Maryland, 1817, five men set upon the task of establishing a men's organization similar to the one they left behind in Europe before their immigration to America. The European "club" was called "The Manchester Unity" and at that time had been serving most European communities for about 200 years. The Baltimore men changed the name for the new organization to Odd Fellows but kept the general principal to: "Uplift the character of mankind."
The new Odd Fellows pledged to uphold these four basic charges: (1) visit the sick, (2) comfort the widow, (3) educate the orphan and (4) bury the dead. Early 19th century America was filled with challenges. Life was tough, often lawless or desperate. Medicine was still crude and in a primitive stage. Life expectancy was about 45 to 50. There were lots of sickness, orphaned kids, widows and plenty of graves to dig. Odd Fellows gave dignity to struggling families and provided support to the needy. When lodges were built Odd Fellows often purchased additional land to provide the local community with a cemetery.
Membership grew fast. Each new state established a grand lodge to offer guidance for all new local lodges. At one time in the state of Washington, there were over 400 lodges serving their local communities. The number 88 on our lodge building indicates the sequence in which the lodge was issued a charter. The historical date in our charter is February 7, 1891. The list of Orcas men that joined our lodge in those early years is quite long and impressive; Rev. S.R.S. Gray, the first minister of the Episcopal Church, Jessie and Karl Templin, E.B. Gibson, A.G. McKay, R.S. Dickson, Burton and Robert Kimple, Palme Stearns, Carl Weber, L. B. Larson, Nova, A.B. and Wesley Langell, Felix and Bill Norton just to name a small few. The actual number of members is vague. Records kept in the local hall were destroyed in a total wipeout fire of the original building in 1950 or 1951.
Typical of men's fraternal groups across the nation, memberships took a major nose dive right around the time everyone was buying TV's and staying at home. The membership, at that time, was getting older and less capable of serving their community in the way they had in the past. There were no new members and those that had served for many years were moving away for health reasons or filling up our local cemeteries. Our lodge dwindled to a mere 6 members. The bylaws of Odd Fellowship require a membership of at least 5 to keep the charter, considered to be the quorum that was necessary to vote on plans in guiding the direction of the lodge.
Five of the six members met twice a month to pay the bills and plan the rental schedules. Our community had grown to expect the lodge to provide them a warm, secure space for dances, parties, fairs and many other community events. This old guard held on to the building and its charter for 15 years without a single new member and without ever closing their doors to the public. They constantly worried about what they should do about lodge survival, often thinking they should sell out, conclude a piece of local history and give up the charter.
In 1980, when I moved to Orcas Island, I quickly wove myself into the social fabric of the island and made some wonderful friends. By the mid 80's, we were occasionally gathering at each other's properties for some potluck and music and often to take time to help our new friends in some type of work party. One such gathering took place in the mid 1980's at Joe Goodrich's place. We burned a heap of forest debris, moved many sheets of drywall and then sat and listened to Joe share a proposal that was offered to him by a recent encounter with five old Odd Fellows.
Joe's main source of income is his service business of cleaning rugs and power washing roofs and decks. Joe had served the Odd Fellow's hall a couple of times cleaning off the moss on the roof. The old Odd Fellows had heard that Joe and several other younger men were gathering and enjoying each other's company, so they suggested to Joe that all of us join the Odd Fellows. About a dozen of us met a few weeks later at George Post's home to discuss the possibility of joining the lodge.
At about that same time, David Densmore, (a current member) had overheard one of the senior members speaking about the despair they were facing regarding a lack of membership. It was likely they would be forced to sell the building. Walter Henderson took it upon himself to investigate the various aspects of Odd Fellowship and found some old books that described lodge activities and what was required of men to become members.
It took about 4 months for us to decide. Walter brought up the first enlightened look at what the opportunity and obligations might be. He also looked into its history, both locally and internationally. Our big question was, do we want our names attached to this unusual men's fraternal organization? Walter was skeptical at first, stating that we need to really look at all the consequences before we sign on the dotted line but later was in agreement to go ahead and join.
After much debating, 27 of us decided it would be a good thing to join and have a common meeting place centrally located on the island. I believe the one main thing that brought us to a "yes" vote to join Odd Fellows was the very simple motto represented by the symbol on the building of three links of chain representing Friendship, Love and Truth. We felt if we can keep it that simple, allow these three words to become the principal strengths of our union, then how could we go wrong.
We were initiated and guided by the five wonderful senior members of the lodge, Leroy Lady, Russ Slocombe, Mitchell Snook, Pete Peterson and Ed Lavender. They took the time during the following year to show us how things got done and how the building was managed.
Thirteen years later we've maintained and developed a much stronger appreciation for our connection through Friendship, Love and Truth. We have watched how it has pulled us together during times when friendship was needed or when performing community services, designing the Halloween dance program or the Fourth of July/April Fool's parade, working with a small gang of firewood providers, or just hanging out with friends, giving of ourselves to spirited causes and enjoying the process we go through.
Since 1989, we have initiated over 140 men, provided services within the community such as clearing after a storm, donating firewood, building a wheelchair ramp, helping with moving and storage for families in need and maintaining the lodge building to provide extremely reasonable rental rates to various island activities and small music/craft/art/body movement businesses.
We are currently making much needed repairs to the lodge building including new roofing, insulation, upgrading our kitchen, adding better bathroom facilities on the dance hall floor and possibly a deck off the water side of the hall.The renovations will make our building, already an amazing community resource, more so.
In the past, our kitchen has been a springboard for small businesses to test the local market and provide a food service unique to our island population. With new equipment and work space we will be able to attract an even greater use of this public facility and help keep a great Orcas landmark alive and healthy. We are currently booking future wedding receptions and private parties, expanding our daily and evening use for classes, rehearsals, crafts marketing and theater use.
For more information about the Odd Fellows, please contact us.
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