December 21, 2014 in Grand Lodge
May 17, 2015 in Grand Lodge
My brothers and sisters: It will be my privilege to serve as Grand Master of California for the next year. Thank you for your confidence, placing me in this position. I look forward to working with newly elected Rebekah Assembly President Donna Morrison, Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, Grand Warden Dave Reed, the Grand Lodge Board of Directors, and each of you in the coming year. I am especially delighted that Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, Grand Warden Dave Reed, and I are on the same page when it comes to a vision for the future of our Order.
Since I first ran for the position of Grand Warden, I’ve made no secret of my vision for this Order. I’m really a pretty simple guy, and so I’ve focused, and will continue to focus, on two things: (1) Stopping the 70-year decline in our membership. I will continue to suggest ways to increase Lodge membership, and I will do all in my power to facilitate and support our growth. (2) Returning to the great principles of this Order: friendship, love and truth. We are just too small and too few to continue the bickering and back-biting that I’ve seen. I will not tolerate it. Teddy Roosevelt used to say that the best thing the President has is a bully pulpit – and the same is true for the Grand Master – I intend to use the bully pulpit – with the spoken word and the written word – to move this Order forward.
My tenure as your Grand Master will be different. I extend the hand of friendship to each of you. I truly love this Order and what it stands for. And I will always tell you the truth, no matter how painful it may be. And here’s the truth: Our Order is diminishing with declining membership and closures and consolidations of Lodges. Slowly withering away, piece by piece, because we have talked for 70 years about our declining numbers, but we have done precious little besides talk. Let me give you just one statistic. In 1860, when we first started keeping statistics, the number of dues-paying Odd Fellows in California, was 5,370. As of December 31, 2014, we had 4,252 dues-paying members in California. Yes – we had more members in 1860 than we do today. Well, the time for talking is over. We have to be bold. We can’t be afraid to take big steps. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. And you can’t attract young men and women to Odd Fellowship in 2015 by behaving like we’re living in 1945. To thrive in this new Century, our Lodges must become three-dimensional: We must focus not only on the great history and ritual of this Order, but we must also remember to have some fun in our Lodge experience, and we must open our Lodges to our communities to do good works in those communities.
This speech will be short. Because we don’t have time for fluff. We need to get back to the business of strengthening, building and growing Odd Fellowship. So, when you look at the Itinerary of the Rebekah President and the Grand Master for the coming year, you will not see a flower, or a song, or a hymn, or an emblem, or a motto, or a bird, reptile, amphibian or mammal for that matter. We’ve kept it simple. We’ve only chosen watchwords, colors and projects. Our watchwords are Evolution and Change. Because if we don’t evolve with the 21st Century and if we don’t change the trajectory of our membership declines, this Order will diminish and may very well die. We can’t continue losing members and closing Lodges. It’s just not sustainable. And we can’t hide the truth that many of our Lodges can barely muster quorums for meetings. The history of our great Order is one of occasional evolution and change – it seems to happen every few decades – and brothers and sisters, you and I are about to embark on another such era. Our chosen colors are black and white. Because truth is black and white. You either tell the truth and face reality, or you are dissembling, evading, pretending, or just plain lying. My projects are “helping others to help themselves” – and so I am focusing on the Culinary Academy at RCS which trains foster kids to work, our member benefits program which helps Odd Fellows and Rebekahs overcome temporary financial obstacles, and the IOOF Educational Foundation which helps men and women get the education they need to help themselves.
And as your Grand Master, I will be visiting Lodges, but I won’t be bringing buttons or coins or pins. Instead, I have written a second book about the future of our Order which focuses on my vision to increase membership and to get back to the basics of friendship, love and truth. This book is entitled “The Future of Odd Fellowship – Evolution and Change”, and will be available starting today for any brother or sister to purchase at $10 – and every penny of the proceeds will be contributed to support Odd Fellows charities which help people to help themselves: the Culinary Program at the Rebekah Children’s Home, the Odd Fellows Member Benefits program, and the Educational Foundation. The book, itself, is full of information to help members and Lodge re-focus on ways to increase membership and on ways to get along in the Lodge room as true brothers and sisters in a fraternal organization.
Today I will distribute a list of my committee appointments for 2015-16. This year I did something different. In April I sent a letter to each Lodge in the jurisdiction, and requested that members interested in serving on a committee contact me directly. My goal was to expand the universe of members on these committees. For too long, our Grand Lodge committees have operated in a closed universe, with the same people serving again and again, year after year. Nothing wrong with experience, of course. But I also wanted to give some of our newer members the opportunity to serve. You will notice that I have created some new special committees, including a Code Revision Committee and a Public Relations Committee – because our Code is in dire need up modernization and our Order needs a focused effort to reach out to members of the public. There will also be a renewed emphasis on a re-charged Membership Committee under the leadership of Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, and we are bringing back the think tank and engine of new ideas that is the Dedicated Members for Change Committee under the leadership of Past Grand Master Rick Boyles.
My Grand Lodge Officers reflect evolution and change, as well. In the entire history of Odd Fellowship in California, only two women have ever served as Grand Lodge Officers. You will note that the majority of the Grand Lodge Officers that I have selected are women. Equal treatment of all Odd Fellows is very important to me, and I expect to every Lodge and every member of this Order. I am very pleased to announce my appointed Grand Lodge Officers – a strong team for 2015-16: Grand Marshal Nancy Johnson, Grand Conductor David Fleck, Grand Chaplain Rita Cooper. Grand Color Bearer Lawrence “Stark” Dagesse, Grand Guardian Lea Rosenberg, Grand Herald Anita Donnell, and Grand Instructor Neil Allen.
Some of the changes will be symbolic. For example, incoming President Donna Morrison and I have decided that we are not going to have a dozen separate receptions for our Grand Lodge and Rebekah Assembly Officers. Instead, we will work hand-in-hand to have one very large and festive joint reception for all officers. We also are not going to have that expensive Hawaiian Cruise that only a handful of members can afford – instead we are going to have a wine country bus trip – a fun and inexpensive excursion right here in California. Other changes will be very substantive. For example, our Code is replete with inconsistencies, archaic requirements, and ancient dogma which don’t fit the realities of today. In the coming year you will see proposals to simplify and modernize our Code.
In closing, remember this: Our ritual says that “Odd Fellowship is Progressive”. The Constitution of the Sovereign Grand Lodge says, “The rules and regulations set forth in the Constitution and Code of General Laws shall be liberally construed. The chief concern shall be following the spirit of the law and good of Odd Fellowship rather than harshly enforcing rules to the letter of the law.” That, brothers and sisters, shall be one of the hallmarks of my year as your Grand Master. We will work together to re-vitalize and re-energize this great Order. And we will do so in a progressive spirit, following the spirit of our laws and the good of Odd Fellowship rather than a harsh enforcement of rules. In this regard, I will be issuing a number of dispensations throughout my year – as the Code authorizes me to do as Grand Master – which will facilitate the opening of our Lodges to the world around us, a renewed emphasis on having some fun, and the recruitment of new members to join our Order.
In friendship, love and truth, we will take this journey of evolution and change together. I will leave you with the story I heard many years ago – it has stayed with me – of two stonecutters. They were asked what they were doing. The first one said, “I’m cutting this stone into blocks.” The second one said, “I’m on a team building a great cathedral.” Let’s work together – like that second stonecutter – to re-build this great fraternal order.
May 12, 2015 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The 163rd Annual Grand Lodge Session officially begins tomorrow, May 13, 2015, in Modesto. As I pack my papers and bags in preparation for the session, I can’t help but reflect back on my experiences in this Order. I am a relatively new member, having joined just over 11 years ago. And it has certainly been an interesting experience for me and for my family. I joined the Order in early 2004. By 2005, I had reviewed Journals and reports generated by Grand Lodge and had come to the startling conclusion that Odd Fellowship was a diminishing, and potentially dying, Order.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, let me offer some statistics reflecting the paid membership (as of December 31) of California Odd Fellows over the past few decades:
1950 – 29,096
1960 – 21,744
1970 – 14,027
1980 – 10,151
1990 – 7,617
2000 – 5,846
2010 – 4,994
And here’s some more shocking facts. At the end of 2014, our paid membership was only 4,252, less than our membership in 1860 – we had 5,370 members in 1860. And it is noteworthy that the drop in membership from 2000 to 2014 (just 14 years) was 1,594 members – we lost almost 30% of the Order in the last 14 years. The decline has been substantial and it is absolutely unsustainable. Our Number 1 issue in this Order is this steady decline in membership. It is the elephant in our Lodge room. For anyone to ignore this would be to ignore reality.
The decline was and is very distressing to me as I felt then, as I feel now, that Odd Fellowship’s history and message were important ones for our age. So, I endeavored, starting in the latter part of 2005 to transform my own Lodge – Davis #169 – essentially, using my own Lodge as a “laboratory” to show what an Odd Fellows Lodge could do in the 21st Century to grow and prosper. At the beginning of this experiment, my Lodge had about 20 members, most of whom did not come to meetings. I daresay it was similar in this regard to many (perhaps most) Odd Fellows Lodges today. We proceeded to evolve into a three dimensional Lodge. We emphasized three things: (1) The rich history, record and ritual of Odd Fellowship – the things which made us uniquely Odd Fellows; (2) Opening the doors and windows of our Lodge to the community, and involving ourselves in active local and charitable projects to benefit our town; and (3) Remembering that we are a fraternal order, so we endeavored to have some fun activities for the members, including activities which brought fraternal benefits to the members and their families. The result is that instead of losing members, we have grown over 1,000% in those 10 years. Our current membership is 230, and we have 27 applications for membership pending. I imagine that this is what Odd Fellows Lodges were like in the 1800’s – they were the center of the community and everyone who was anyone wanted to join. The Lodges did not do any active “recruiting” for members – they let their activities and public presence do their “recruiting” for them.
I believe, in my heart, that the future of this Order will be secured if our Lodges become three-dimensional Lodges. And it is noteworthy that those Lodges that have become three-dimensional are the ones showing significant growth. The truth is inescapable. If we believe in “truth”, then we need look no further than that.
As I begin my journey to Modesto, I reflect back on my journey in Odd Fellows over the past 11 years. It has been an overwhelmingly positive trip. In fact, I can think of only three negative incidents I have experienced in those 11 years. Frankly, I appreciate even the negative experiences for the lessons I can learn from them. In fact, those three negative experiences have served as substantial motivation to me to move this Order forward.
The first “negative” occurred during a discussion I had, many years ago, with a rather conservative Brother. He was a gentleman whom I greatly respected, even though our views relating to the Order were rather different. We had quite a debate about IOOF – I emphasized my “three-dimensional” approach, and he focused on history and ritual as the sole components that would bring life back to the Order. I highlighted the evolution and change that had already occurred in Odd Fellowship and stressed the need for further change to save this Order. He kept arguing that if only Lodges would strictly adhere to the ritual and teachings, Lodges would begin to flourish again, and it was the failure of Lodges to strictly adhere that was leading to our diminution. This discussion went on and on, until at one point, he finally told me, “I would rather see this Order die, than change.” At that comment, I knew our debate was at an end, because I would rather see this Order change, than die. But this discussion taught me a great lesson: That there are those in the Order who strongly believe that the future of this Order is adherence to the past, that change is not welcomed, and if we just continue to do what we have done for the last 100 years, we will be just fine. They are content with the status quo. That was, and is, an important lesson for me.
The second “negative” happened during a Grand Lodge Session a couple of years ago. I am a fairly outgoing person, and I enjoy chatting with Brothers and Sisters, often extending my hand in friendship to shake hands. I said hello to a Brother during a recess and stuck my hand out in greeting. And the brother refused to shake my hand, saying to me, “You are the enemy.” I simply smiled and walked away. About an hour later, parenthetically, this Brother came up to me and – obviously having a change of heart – stuck out his hand and said, “I should have taken your hand. The hand of a Brother extended in friendship should always be taken in friendship.” We shook hands and that was that. But, again, this was an important lesson for me. I am viewed as an agent of change in this Order. I have long spoken and written about the need for our Order to evolve and change to become relevant again in the 21st Century. Clearly, this Brother reflected the view that I am “the enemy” because I espouse changes in the status quo. This incident taught me that the feelings run so deep and strong that a simple handshake was refused. That knowledge is a useful lesson.
The third and final “negative” was actually never spoken. It was, in fact, just the opposite. There is a Brother who has simply, over the years, refused to speak to me, or even acknowledge my presence. I would always say “hello” when I encountered him, but interestingly, he would never respond, and would look through me as if I were invisible. I had never had any words, or discussions with this Brother, and there was no incident between us. He simply would not recognize me as a person. I can only surmise, again, that it related to my efforts to bring evolution and change to Odd Fellowship. This incident taught me patience and tolerance. Good lessons.
So, as I prepare for the 163rd Grand Lodge Session, and my new role as incoming Grand Master for 2015-16, I come to the task with the benefit of many lessons – mostly positive, but some negative – which will serve me well in the coming year.
See you in Modesto.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
May 7, 2015 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the most successful membership development programs – by far – has been the Grand Lodge Membership Grant Program, under the auspices of the Membership Committee. The program was quite active during 2013-14, the year that Rick Boyles was Grand Master. It has been a lot less active in the current year. But I predict that the Membership Grant Program will be re-charged in the coming year, and it is certainly my hope that at least 20 Lodges will take advantage of it in 2015-16.
The program is simple, but effective. The program is all about growth of the Order – adding members to our Lodges. It has nothing to do with Grand Lodge or the Grand Master telling Lodges or members how they should grow. The program is completely dependent on local Lodges developing their own scenarios for growth. So, here’s how the membership grant program works. The Grand Lodge – through the Membership Committee – makes grants of up to $1,000 available to Lodges that wish to work on membership development. The applying Lodge need only develop a plan and an event or program focused on increasing its membership. The Grand Lodge does not dictate the plan, event or program. It’s completely up to the local Lodge to come up with a plan that works for that particular Lodge, focused on that particular community.
In the 2013-14 year, 21 Lodges received grants totaling $18,890. In the 2014-15 year, 6 Lodges received grants totaling $5,500.
How effective is the program? Very. My own Lodge received a grant in the 2013-14 year and then another grant in the 2014-15 year. The first grant was used to write, develop, lay out and publish a tri-fold brochure (complete with full color photos and narrative) all about IOOF and my own Lodge. We printed sufficient copies that it can be used for many years. The brochure is quite informative and user-friendly, and is handed to folks who visit the Lodge and/or express an interest in learning more about the Lodge. We have already handed out a considerable number of these brochures. In 2014-15, my Lodge received a second grant to help fund some events, including a 145th Lodge anniversary and community open house and the construction of a Lodge float for a local parade. The open house attracted over 100 community members, and the parade was viewed by thousands. Again, we used the brochures during the Lodge open house. The open house generated six applications for membership, with one more pending. And in the last year my Lodge has received almost 30 applications for membership.
An added benefit is that organizing the Lodge anniversary party and the local float construction provided Lodge members with some fun activities. The open house gave Lodge members an opportunity to give dozens of tours of the Lodge building and act as “docents”, talking about the history of the Order, showing members of the public the historic items in the Lodge Hall, and talking generally about IOOF and the local Lodge. The docents had a great time. And building that float was a hoot for the Float Committee. The members of the committee really bonded in the exercise, and had several potlucks and social gatherings during the design and construction phases. Both the open house and the Lodge float received a considerable amount of local publicity in the daily newspaper. And the float itself – featuring a huge red heart and helping arms extending outward to the community, won a prestigious award for the best theme design. All in all a win-win-win scenario for the Lodge and the community.
Lodges have used their imaginations to plan and put on local events that expose Odd Fellowship to the community. When community members are able to visit the Lodge and participate in Lodge activities, the ability of our Order to attract new blood is dramatically enhanced. For the past 50-plus years we have been operating behind closed doors as a secret society. That secrecy has done us a lot of harm. Our membership numbers in California have dropped from over 50,000 to about 4,000. It’s time to open those doors and windows to our communities. The Membership Grant Program is an important way to help our Lodges achieve higher visibility in our communities, and can only help us grow.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
May 5, 2015 in Grand Lodge
May 3, 2015 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Step into the Odd Fellows’ Time Machine with me for a moment, and let’s travel back 100 years, to America in 1915. How did things look in 1915?
The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
Only 14 per cent of homes had a bathtub.
Only 8 percent of homes had a telephone.
There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 MPH.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
The average US wage was about 25 cents an hour.
The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
More than 95% of births took place at home.
Automobile fuel was sold in drug stores.
Sugar cost 4 cents a pound.
Eggs were 14 cents a dozen.
Coffee was 15 cents a pound
The three leading causes of death were pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis, and diarrhea.
The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was under 50 people.
Two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write.
Only 6 per cent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
There were only about 250 reported murders in the entire USA.
Clearly, 1915 was a much simpler time and a much different time than 2015 – in almost every way.
And yet, there are still members of this Order who act as if they want us to continue operating our Order and our Lodges like we were living in 1915. And here’s another big difference: In 1915, there were 44,831 Odd Fellows in California. Today, we can barely must 4,000 members. Heck, there are high schools in this state that have more students enrolled than the entire membership of our California Order.
Our numbers have diminished by over 90% since 1915 – yet many Lodge adhere to a 1915 view of the world. Let me give you just one example of this. Odd Fellows in 1915 utilized the “unwritten work” and memorized large swaths of the ritual and the degrees. That was certainly impressive, but it was also a necessity for those times. That’s because, in 1915 precious few members of the Order could even read. Accordingly, rote memorization was required. Yet today, some Odd Fellows still believe it is imperative that new members memorize, memorize, memorize. It’s not. And it is simply off-putting to those potential new members. Other examples abound: Using tiny, hand-written membership cards, keeping laboriously hand-written minutes in a binder, strictly adhering to “dress codes” when no dress codes are indicated in our Codes, etc.
The world of 2015 is quite different from the world of 1915. Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millennial Generation move at a different pace than those of us who are part of the World War II Generation, or the Boomer Generation. The basic principals of our Order remain as valued and valuable as they were in 1915 or 1815 for that matter – friendship, love, truth, elevating the character of man, faith, hope, charity, universal justice are timeless. But if we as an Order are locked in a time warp behaving as if we were in 1915, we will never reach those new generations to impart the important lessons of Odd Fellowship.
It’s time for all members of this Order to start living in the present. To attract new members to our Order in 2015, we have to stop living as if it were 1915, or 1945 for that matter, and start living in 2015.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master