"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, March 16, 2024

One Score, Five Years and a Couple of Days Ago...

by Christopher Hodapp

On Thursday night, Worshipful Brother Nathan Brindle and I were given our commemorative 25-year pins by the Master, officers and brethren of Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in Indianapolis. I guess the whole city was in on this event—just about the time we got pinned, the Civil Defense klaxon out in the lodge parking lot belted out a one-note fanfare for five solid minutes, followed by a half-hour of spectacular Stürm und Drang-like thunder and lightening. All that was missing was the accompaniment of Thus Sprach Zarathustra on the Wurlitzer.

Why is it I can never find a comb when I need one?
Nathan, on the other hand, NEVER needs one.

So. One score, five years and a couple of days ago... 

It was a Saturday in 1999, and two days short of the 'Ides of March' when Nathan and I were passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, and raised as Master Masons at an 'All Degree Day' at Calvin W. Prather Lodge 717 on Haverstick Road in Indianapolis. 

I remember the day. Vividly. Just as every Freemason remembers his raising.

(This is where the picture suddenly goes all spooky and wavy, accompanied by the sweeping strumming of a harp, heralding the coming of a flashback.)

•   •   •

The surprise cake at my 40th birthday party in 1998 was a bit premature -
my EA degree would come later that week. But friends were already in on it.

Forty is a huge bellwether as life boundaries go. For the first time in my life, I had just bought my first Chrysler (deemed the Official Automaker to the Elderly back in the 80s and 90s), and it had two sets of golf clubs in the trunk, which was spacious enough to conceal several bodies. I had just been prescribed my first high blood pressure pills and found a gray hair in sprouting in my beard. A Midlife Crisis was certain to happen at any second. And so I joined the Masons. I later found out that 40 is almost exactly the average age at which most Masons have historically decided to join. 

Except for Nathan's balding pate, we looked enough 
alike in 1998 that Masons who couldn't remember which was which 
just referred to us interchangeably as Brindapp.

I had originally contacted the Grand Lodge of Indiana seeking membership through its website—one of only five US grand lodges that had such a newfangled thing at the time. The face behind the website answering these early Internet requests turned out to be RW Roger S. VanGorden, who would become Grand Master in 2002-03. He was also a Past Master of Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in Indianapolis. 

(Note: My lodge's odd name comes from a wide hook-shaped bend in the nearby White River that encircles this northside Indianapolis village; hence, 'a broad ripple.' It started life as a weekend holiday area, with an amusement park and boating on the river, but soon became one of the city's first true suburbs in the early 20th century. Today, Broad Ripple Village is loaded with restaurants, shops and nightclubs, and the recent addition of hundreds of new apartments.) 

Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in 1998.

Unbeknownst to us, Roger had a reason to point me and Nathan in Ripple's direction. Quite simply, Broad Ripple Lodge was a mess. They'd lost members and officers, current officers weren't doing their jobs properly (or at all), their 200 members were staying away in droves, their finances were a wreck, and the Grand Master was about to name a special deputy to investigate and find out "What in hell goes on at Broad Ripple??!!" They needed all the help they could get. So he sent us there. 

My initiation as an Entered Apprentice at Ripple came just three days after my birthday, and Nathan followed in January. For our Entered Apprentice degrees, Ripple had put out a distress call to other lodges for assistance in filling parts and giving the lectures. By the January meeting, there was a whole new slate of elected officers—many of them young and quite new to the fraternity—but the lodge still never could find enough of its own members to complete our FC and MM degrees. Meanwhile, the Grand Lodge special deputy delivered the news that the Grand Master was within an inch of yanking their charter from the wall. In the coming months, five of the lodge officers resigned, left town, or just disappeared. 

Already by February, Nathan and I were getting nervous about Ripple's future. We began visiting nearby Calvin Prather Lodge 717 for their Saturday breakfasts and got to know their officers, just in case we needed to find a different lodge. They seemed popular, stable, and they were the home lodge of the Grand Master in 2000, Robert E. Hancock. We figured at least THIS lodge wouldn't lose its charter anytime soon.

Then one Saturday morning, Prather's Past Master Cliff Lewis mentioned that GM Hancock was experimenting with the notion of "one day classes," wherein a group of initiates could experience the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees all together. He suggested we ask Broad Ripple to participate in that event so that at least we'd be able to finally complete our FC and MM degrees. He also mentioned that Broad Ripple's WB Donald C. Seeley was one of the finest ritualists in town when it came to the Worshipful Masters' parts. And so, that was our solution.

Former temple of Calvin Prather Lodge 717

It was a very long day for all involved, as Don insisted that his two Broad Ripple candidates (the two of us) would each have our MM work done individually, all the way through, and not as part of the large group of Prather's candidates—that was his pound of flesh, in return for conferring all of the degrees that day. He would sit in the East and go through the entire Master Mason degree separately for me, then for Nathan, and then all over again for a third time for the other candidates in a bunch. The Prather organizers grumpily agreed, because they didn't have anyone at the time nearly as proficient as Don to replace him. So Nathan and I became sort of one-day degree hybrids—we took the FC as a group, but our MM's separately.

I despise the term, but if one day classes make "McMasons," 
then Nathan and I were special grill orders.

A family friend of many years, Richard Finch, who hadn't been inside of a Masonic lodge for a very long time, made it a point to be there for me that day. It was amazing how many of my parents' friends turned out to be Freemasons, something I wasn't aware of until after I joined. So, too, were countless men I had admired as a child and a teenager. I would discover so many of them to be brethren decades after first encountering them. Most Masons will tell you the very same thing.

•   •   •

Prather's old lodge building in the Nora area of Indianapolis (actually their third home) is gone today, but the lodge still thrives on the city's east side. 

Gone, too, is James Lindsey, who had only been a Mason for a few months, but acted as the Senior Deacon for the day. 

So is Dave Bosworth, who cooked breakfast and gave all of us candidates crash courses in Masonic education between the breaks. He was actually the Grand Lodge Special Deputy who investigated Broad Ripple Lodge, and we became good friends for the next few years until his death.

PGM Bob Hancock
So is the gregarious Grand Master Robert E. Hancock (photo), who was promoting this one-day class program at the time, along with a lot of other 'crazy ideas,' to the chagrin of many disgruntled Indiana Masons. Little things like requiring business meetings to be opened on the EA degree so all lodge members could attend and participate. Reasonable outreach to invite honorable, worthy men to join instead of just hoping they would ask someday. Encouraging more mutual cooperation with Prince Hall brethren. And once a lodge meeting was closed, reopening the Bible at all times to the passage, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." He was right on so many things, yet the rank and file despised him for it at the time. ("Geez. Opening on the EA degree means ALL of our officers have to attend a stated meeting, AND it adds almost 5 minutes to the opening and closing! That's outrageous!") Every single one of his proposals that year was voted down by the grand lodge membership. And then, ironically, so many of those very same practices came to fruition in our grand lodge, after he was gone. 

"A prophet is without honor in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house..."

Gone, too, is WB David King, Prather's oldest living Past Master at the time. He had been the general contractor back in the 70s who had helped bring Prather's Nora building in for half of its estimated building cost. David gave the Middle Chamber lecture so movingly that day, so perfectly, and with such demonstrable understanding of the words of that long and complex ritual. I was astonished throughout the degree to hear it for the first time that afternoon. 
I was even more shocked to discover afterwards that David had gone almost completely blind at that point in his life, yet he led us through those 'winding stairs' to the Middle Chamber because he had done it with so many Masons before us. 

So is Ripple's then-Secretary Jerry Cowley, the ever cheerful, always optimistic, always outgoing promoter, defender and champion of Broad Ripple Lodge, who greeted every petitioner like a long-lost relative and was a constant fountain of suggestions to keep members coming back to lodge. Nothing ever phased him, and he was always the first to volunteer. Jerry made sure that the rest of us understood that we are all connected to each other, and to never stop inviting and welcoming every Mason we met, to remind ourselves and each other just what this fraternity is supposed to be about. When our lodge was teetering on closing, he always found a way to involve other lodges' members in our activities to shore us up until we could fix ourselves. And as we rebuilt, those very same visitors wound up enjoying our lodge even more than their own, often transferring to us, or becoming dual members. And that wouldn't have happened without Jerry.

So is our then-Treasurer Irv Sacks, the wise old Jewish uncle I never had, and whose warm humor and counsel I valued to the very end. Irv had the unique ability to gently stop arguments, or to encourage brand new members to try new programs and solutions while slipping in just the right amount of advice and caution, followed by a hilarious story.

So is Ripple's then-Senior Steward 'Big John' Gillis, whose sonorous, folksy voice the whole city of Indianapolis knew from his many years on radio stations WIBC and WNAP, often giving traffic reports from a helicopter high above the city. How shocked I was when it was him who appeared with his lavish mustache and lamb chop sideburns to "propound three important questions" to me!

Past Master Don Seeley is gone, too. I really never believed that would happen—he will be King Solomon for all eternity in my mind's eyes and ears, and each time I experience the degrees, it's his voice I always hear. During the MM degree, when a particular aspect of our obligation is demonstrated and explained, Don would look into a candidate's eyes, then softly say, as he turned and gestured to every single Mason in the room, "...and I will inform you, my Brother... That every. Single. Master. Mason... Is under a like obligation... To YOU." With such simple inflections and mannerisms, suddenly the weight and import and meaning of the fraternity's core teachings all became so clear, so embodied in that one, simple message.

And my old family friend Richard Finch is gone, too. He was maybe hardest of all, because Dick and his family have been part of my family for more than 50 years now. Because of our connection as Masonic brothers, I found myself standing in a remote southwest Pennsylvania churchyard five years ago, surrounded by members of his family and my own, beside a group of local Masons, where we laid him to rest beneath the silent clods of the valley.

fully realize that this sounds to outsiders and to younger men like a long, maudlin dirge of the dead—a cut-rate Hamlet despairing over a whole bowling team of deceased Yoricks. It might sound to the uninitiated that Freemasonry is little more than a slow march to the graveyard. Or the tar pit. Or both. But it's quite the contrary. 

Freemasonry teaches us to live and celebrate each day as if it were our very last one, to learn from, give to, and cherish each other, young and old. To build instead of tear down. To put aside whatever petty nonsense divides us as individuals, and instead unite to become something larger and better than ourselves. To learn from each other's differences and similarities, and to celebrate those differences, instead of recoiling from them, or branding each other as enemies. To leave the world a better place than we found it. Apart from houses of worship, there aren't a lot of institutions left in the world trying to keep that mission alive. 

But the big difference between a church and a Masonic lodge is that religion concerns itself with the afterlife and the disposition of the soul, while Freemasonry is concerned with mankind's life right here on Earth, gently teaching its members to be a better father, son, brother, husband, neighbor, worker or teacher. A better man than he might have otherwise been had he never knocked on a lodge door.

•   •   •

As for the rest of the story? After Broad Ripple continued to hemorrhage officers in 1999, Roger Vangorden would step in at the last second to be Worshipful Master in 2000. In case you're one of those Masons who sneers at 'One-Day McMasons' for being lazy underachievers, I was elected as Roger's Senior Warden, just over a year after my EA degree, and Nathan his Junior Warden. I became Master in 2001, just two years after my initiation, and Nathan followed the year after, during the first half of Roger's term as Grand Master. We were charter members when Lodge Vitruvian 767 opened Under Dispensation in 2001, becoming Indiana's first 'European observant-styled' lodge. Nathan served as Secretary for both lodges, and I'd become Vitruvian's third-serving Master in 2005. Grand Master Richard J. Elman recommended me to the For Dummies people to write a book about the Freemasons in November of 2004, and I'd serve as Master of Vitruvian in 2005. Nathan would eventually serve as Secretary of at least seven Masonic organizations, and became an active officer in the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite. And we've done a couple of other things here and there since then. 

And Broad Ripple Lodge? It would soon become one of the top lodges in the state when it came to activities, stability, proficiency, and creating lifelong friendships among its members. Less than five years after we almost lost our charter, the state's Grand Lecturer said at our Lodge of Instruction that he'd absolutely place Broad Ripple Lodge among the best he'd ever inspected, and enjoyed visiting more than any other. So maybe joining at its worst made us all stronger, more determined to get it right. 

That's because we had great role models to learn from. 

The lodge room that day back at Prather in 1999 was packed with Masons of all ages. And lots of them went on to remain active and to become leaders in the fraternity in the coming years. But it was a function of the demographics of a fraternity of mature men who overwhelmingly did as I did, and didn't join until their 40s and later. Yes, there were plenty of young men that day, but the wise, older Past Masters who were running the show had more than twenty years of Masonic experience on me then. And it's a full quarter of a century later now. Prather's Past Master Cliff Lewis tells me he will soon receive his 50 year pin, yet he looks to me just as he did at that breakfast so long ago.

My friend, WB Jeff Naylor once lamented, “When you're young, all you ever want to be is older. No one ever explains that the price you pay for that is in the numbers of people you lose who were important in your life.”

And yet, with all of those friends and brothers who were there that day now gone, you would think this is some maudlin, weepy lament over the past. It's not. 
Each of us is the sum total of our experiences and those who shaped our character. Every single one of those men taught me important lessons about Masonry, and people, and life itself. Lessons I never would have learned in a hundred years on my own without men like them, and countless others. 

The central metaphor of Freemasonry is its very premise. Each one of us is capable of being a Temple to God, and we choose to make our ourselves worthy or not. But that Temple isn't built by us alone. It's built, stone by stone, with the help of all those around us, everyone we encounter. Especially Brother Masons, fellow craftsmen engaged in building, not tearing down.

Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry has been the greatest life-changing experience of my 65 years on Earth, and I say that without exaggeration. In 25 years of membership, I have traveled all over the world and met and gotten to know quite literally thousands of men from every walk of life. Every sort of profession. Every economic level. Every race, color, nationality, education, personality, temperament, religion, and every other brand of classification humans beings cook up to categorize and file away strangers we normally don't know or would never otherwise associate with on a bet. Those tribal distinctions that we all arbitrarily use to ignore the people around us are meaningless when it comes to basic human coexistence. That's what being "on the level" is all about, which has been one of the primary principles of Freemasonry from its very beginning.

That 'Undiscovered Country from whose bourn no traveler returns' always seems just out of reach—as Hamlet said, it "puzzles the will." None of us need be in any hurry to actually get there. But such an amazing journey it has all been so far, with the greatest crowd of traveling companions it's ever been my privilege to know. As Cunard used to advertise its shipboard vacations, "Getting there is half the fun!"

I can't wait to see what comes next. Check in with me in 2049, when I get my 50 year pin. I'll only be 90 by then. Perhaps I'll be less inclined to ramble. But don't bet on it.


  1. What a wonderful article. Thanks for sharing your experiences and some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

  2. Great story. You should write a book.

  3. I always enjoy the Masonic prose of Brother Chris. I hope to attend your 50th!

  4. Don’t you mean 1 score and 5 years?

    1. That's what comes of pretending to be 'clever' at 3AM. I get off by 3 scores...

  5. A lot of names there from time gone by. We would likely have failed without all of them. To absent friends and brothers.

    And all that above? Wouldn't change a word. Always an honor being with you, Chris. Even if the air-raid siren went off in the middle of it :)


  6. A wonderful piece, Brother, and the remembrances did, indeed, bring a tear, as I reflect upon those in my own travels of soon-to-be-50 years. But it's never about grief (not for very long anyway) and always about gratitude.


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