Rifle Lodge 126 in Rifle, Colorado (just down the road apiece from the town of Parachute) has been working with the Colorado Historical Society and their town council to help preserve their century-old lodge.
You gotta love Western U.S. town names.
For more than ten years, Brother Ron Roesener and others at Rifle Lodge have been dealing with the same problems so many other Masons have throughout the country. Shrinking membership, tighter money, and an aging building have all combined to take their toll on their Masonic hall that has been central to their town ever since 1914.
An article on the Post Independent website on Wednesday by reporter Kyle Mills interviewed Brother Roesener and explains his innovative hunt for resources outside the lodge for the last decade. It's well worth reading:
One step into the Masonic Lodge on Railroad Avenue is like a trip back in time, turning the clock back decades.
Craftsmanship and ornate wood details surround the old stairway and wrap-around the doorways. Two large classic Westinghouse stoves fill the small kitchen on the main floor.
For nearly a decade now Ron Roesener, a 32nd Degree Mason from Parachute, has been working to save the home to the Freemason Lodge No. 129 in Rifle.
Roesener said at one point in time the lodge had 378 members.
“We currently have about 50 members, a lot of whom are in nursing homes right now,” Roesener said. “We have enough that we can have bi-monthly meetings.”
With membership dipping over the years the lodge, which operates with the help of membership dues, has not been able to keep up with regular repairs.
Like many structures that are over a century old the building that houses the Masonic Lodge has fallen on hard time and is in need of updating and restoration.
“All the background and historical work I’ve done on it, at one time we owned most of the block the building is on,” Roesener said. “Having been opened in 1914 and in use since then on a regular basis, there has never been a time when it was shut down.”
A fourth-generation freemason, Roesener considers this a passion project.
He fought for two years to get historical recognition of the building from the city of Rifle.
Roesener is currently working with the Colorado Historical Society to secure grants to help with the project...
„Read the whole article HERE.
When our lodge halls have had such a preeminent place in a community for so long, our Masonic halls eventually become much more than just a crumbling old clubhouse where the cranky old men hang out once a month. Our walls often are filled with rarely seen photos of the most important and influential men from our communities - frequently the very men who founded and built our towns in the first place. Our records contain treasure troves for genealogists and historians alike. Frequently, our architecture is historically significant and well-preserved. Because of our infamous resistance to change, our rooms are often a time capsule of bygone days that have otherwise disappeared from the landscape.
Consequently, more and more historical and preservation societies are coming to the realization that the loss of a Masonic lodge means the loss of something so vital to preserving the fabric of their communities.
|Downtown Rifle, Colorado|
The Rifle Lodge and Brother Roesner make a perfect example. Thanks to his efforts, according to the article, the Colorado Historical Society has given the lodge $69,000 in preservation grants, and the county commissioners have kicked in another $10,000 from their discretionary funds.
For too long, we Masons have felt we can still do all this on our own until reality sets in and we discover the financial aspect of preserving an old lodge can be crushing. Especially if there were never any plans for the future. More lodges are deciding that it's not demeaning to go outside of the fraternity to help save the shared heritage of a lodge and the community in which it resides.
But as brethren who have gone in search of grants will tell you, it takes time, work, and most of all, building relationships with vast numbers of people who have only a vague idea of who the Masons are anymore. Most know we are somehow 'important' and 'have always been there', and many may know their grandfather or other family members were Masons. But you may find resistance from some donors and foundations who have their own personal quirks and objections to the fraternity. That means the brethren who represent your lodge on these missions need to be knowledgeable, respectful, personable, dogged, and most of all, impervious to hurt feelings when doors slam or phones hang up abruptly. Not just anyone can do it. And they need to arrive with a businesslike plan for the money they're asking for, not just "We're short of cash for the roof." That stuff closes out of town.
Most important is that we as Masons need to get back into the habit again of asking our own brethren for financial help for the lodge from ourselves - before we look elsewhere. Peer into your lodge records and you will find countless times in the past that a Brother left money or property to your lodge in his will, or made a large gift to the lodge to handle a big-ticket expense. A century ago it was as common as a case of the DTs. Brethren lined up to support the building of new Masonic temples left and right, all the way up through the '29 Depression and beyond - and they built magnificent ones for the Ages that we still have now, but are losing quickly. Unfortunately, you'd be hard pressed today to find such gifts or bequests in more than a handful of lodges in your state. That's because we stopped asking our own members and let our industrial-sized charities within the fraternity and appendant bodies overtake the responsibilities we have for our Mother lodge, first and foremost.
What's important when we DO go looking for financial support within or without our own membership is that we make sure we aren't just asking for spare cash to heat the lodge for a once-a-month meeting of cheap old men who never venture out into the neighborhood and take part in civic life anymore. If we want the help of our towns and local foundations and non-Masonic donors, they need something from us in return. They need to know that the lodge isn't just our private clubhouse and that we were just too cheap to pay to replace our own carpet for ourselves. Open your lodge to your community - for youth groups, social organizations, health fairs, weight loss groups, dance lessons, English classes for new immigrants, weekend swap meets and yard sales, blood drives, pitch-in suppers and cookouts, day-lounge for seniors, or anything else you can think of.
Welcome the whole community into your lodge, and soon you will find that they take ownership of it in their hearts, too.
They might just join the lodge.
And they might just decide the Masons and their hall are too vital to risk losing after all.