In Westmoreland, the light in Masonry grows stronger

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I’m only a second-degree Mason so I don’t yet know what secret ingredient our lodge uses to make our baked beans so delicious. But I do know that our last Memorial Day Chicken BBQ fundraiser was so popular that we sold out in less than 90 minutes. This year we are making quite a bit more food, so never fear there’ll be plenty when you come to taste it for yourself.

For only $12 you’ll get a half-chicken, salt potatoes, homemade coleslaw, those famous baked beans, and a brownie. We’ll be grilling outside our lodge on the Westmoreland Village Green at 7277 Main St., and the sale starts at 11 a.m. Memorial Day, May 27.

In our early years, according to the book, “Westmoreland 200 Years,” the “dues were one shilling per meeting, plus one shilling per quarter,” that translates to about a nickel in modern currency. Costs are considerably higher now and our annual Chicken BBQ fundraiser is important to the survival of our 209-year-old Clinton-Hampton Lodge.

Until 1871 Westmoreland was known as Hampton, since our fraternity dates all the way back to 1810 it was called the Hampton Lodge. In more recent decades we merged with the Clinton lodge which gives up our present name, Clinton-Hampton Lodge #347.

Then Gov. DeWitt Clinton, whose accomplishments include building the Erie Canal, was one of our original Grand Officers. Our charter, which was signed by Gov. Clinton, still hangs on the wall opposite our main entrance. 

A respect for history is something shared by our newest recruits like Jay Fox who attended his first meeting last Thursday.

“Our first President was a Mason,” Fox reminded us. “Most of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Masons.” 

Fox said he’s always been drawn to Masonry and after attending our Open House last fall, he was surer than ever that pursuing membership was right for him. In addition to the history, he also likes the sense of brotherhood that he knows will come with being a Mason. 

Mick McFadden who has been a member of the lodge for 53 years echoed that sentiment when I asked why he was a Mason.

“It answers the question of what’s wrong with society today,” McFadden said. “This is a brotherhood of people helping each other out. If something happens to a Mason, they’d have brothers wherever they are.” 

All Masons are brothers, but for many of us there is also a legacy of fathers, grandfathers, and uncles who followed us into the craft.

Jason VanBenschoten is planning to join our lodge because deep familiar roots enhance the sense of fraternity.

“It’s all about tradition,” VenBenschoten explained. “My dad, and my grandfather were part of this lodge.”

That legacy passed down from grandfather, to father, to son, have always been an important part of Freemasonry. Shortly after I was initiated, I discovered that my great grandfather, Arthur Davies had been a member of the Saquoit Lodge over a century ago. He died long before I was born but when I posted a picture on Facebook wearing my white lambskin apron it meant a lot to me that one of my aunts commented on how proud my grandfather would have been. 

Scott Tarkowski had a similar experience. After joining in 2017 he discovered that his grandfather has been a Mason.  

“There’s so much history with the Masons,” Tarkowski marveled. “We’re an ancient fraternity and I feel like I’m part of that history now.”

I know what he means. When I am in lodge, I take part in the same rituals my great grandfather performed 100 years ago. Those rituals date back to the time of King Solomon. For centuries Masons have been called on to lead by example, and to hold each other to the highest standards. Our values like integrity, honesty, tolerance, philanthropy, and personal growth and responsibility are timeless, and are now more public as they should be. 

There are some who may think the Internet revealed our secrets, but our past lodge master, Bruce Warcup says, “It’s [about] more than a handshake and a secret password that you can find online.”

Our “secrets” give us a cache and certain exclusivity that is rare in our modern world where social media makes more of our lives public, and where anyone could be recorded at any time on cell phones. Watching YouTube videos about what may or may not go in lodges cannot convey the feeling of security and privacy a Mason feels when the lodge doors are officially closed at the start of a meeting. When you are in a room with your brothers and the ritual begins you feel the sacredness that comes from the deep connection to each other and to the past.

Our newest brother, John Pitera describes the lodge as “welcoming but mysterious.”

As Masons we are known for our hospitality which is why we are beginning to take a more open approach towards discussing what we do for our members, and for the community.

Warcup believes that talking about this is beneficial to the organization.  “It did us a favor by allowing us to open up more to our friends, our families, and our neighbors,” he says. “Now we’re getting younger people wanting to come in because they’re finding it interesting that Masonry is the oldest fraternal organization in the world.” 

Warcup announced at our last meeting that two of his grandsons were planning to continue their family’s tradition. Both plan to submit formal applications in time for a fall initiation.

“Our motto has always been to take good men and make them better,” Warcup told his grandsons. He believes that timelessness will help membership in our lodge rebound after hitting a lull since the 1990’s. 

Last year I followed my buddy Scott Tarkowski into the brotherhood, last month another of Scott’s friends, John Pitera was initiated. 

I asked Pitera what being a Mason meant to him. He replied, “It’s about brotherhood and becoming a better person by giving back to others in need.”

That succinct answer shows us we’re getting our messaging right. Our mysteries are preserved and cherished, but nothing gets in the way of reaching our hand out in friendship and brotherhood.

“The reasons for being a Mason haven’t changed since I became a member in 1966,” Mick McFadden says. “A lot of people would become members if they knew more about it.”

So, on Memorial Day when you stop by to pick up your Chicken BBQ maybe hang out for a while and get to know us. The food is great, but the friendship you’ll find is even better. 

Ron Klopfanstein will be answering questions about his experiences becoming a Mason on Friday morning at 7 a.m. on “Talk of the Town,” 100.7 FM. Call into the show at 315-624-0870 or text 315-624-0373. You can also contact him directly by calling/texting 315-886-2665, liking him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and following him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo

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