Archive for Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fraternal reorder: Clubs, lodges face dwindling membership in modern world

The interior of the former Lawrence Freemasons site, the Scottish Rite Temple, 1001 Mass., is shown in this Journal-World file photo. The Lawrence Freemasons moved from the downtown location to a new site at 1601 W. 23rd St. in 2005, saying the new site would be easier to maintain.

The interior of the former Lawrence Freemasons site, the Scottish Rite Temple, 1001 Mass., is shown in this Journal-World file photo. The Lawrence Freemasons moved from the downtown location to a new site at 1601 W. 23rd St. in 2005, saying the new site would be easier to maintain.

January 10, 2010


Ask any member of the millennial generation - accustomed to fraternizing on Facebook, Twitter and smart phone apps - what Masons, Eagles and Knights of Columbus are, and he's likely to answer, "Some random bands on MySpace?"

That's just one of the problems facing local fraternal organizations whose very existence is being threatened by irrelevance in a modern world.

"Most American fraternal organizations reached a peak in membership in the early 1950s," explains Howard Duncan of the Lawrence Freemasons, part of an international club established "for mutual help and fellowship."

"It has been declining since then, Masonry among them."

"A lot of people got out of the military service in World War II and joined Masons and other fraternal groups - which is why it reached a boom. People who joined at that time are, like me, quite old and appearing in obituary columns."

Nationwide, membership in the Masons fell from more than 4 million in 1963 to about 1.6 million in 2005. That year, the average age was 62. Duncan says there are currently around 600 members in all of the Masonic groups in Lawrence, which is down considerably from decades past, although he wouldn't venture an estimate.

"Recently we've been pretty good about new members coming in, but membership right now is a lot lower than it was 10 years, 20 or 50 years ago."

Another challenge for the Masons is their ban on proactive, formalized recruiting.

"The Masons have a long-standing tradition that you do not recruit," Duncan explains. "One of the vows you take when you join the Masons was that you were not solicited. You joined of your own free will and accord."

From left, Dana Laudick and her parents, Doris Bateson and LeRoy Bateson, pose in the foyer of the Eagles Lodge, 1803 W. Sixth St. Like other local fraternal organizations, the Eagles have seen dwindling participation as younger generations fail to refill the membership ranks.

From left, Dana Laudick and her parents, Doris Bateson and LeRoy Bateson, pose in the foyer of the Eagles Lodge, 1803 W. Sixth St. Like other local fraternal organizations, the Eagles have seen dwindling participation as younger generations fail to refill the membership ranks.

Youthful unenthusiasm

Lacking a glitzy "This is not your grandfather's lodge" marketing campaign, what's a centuries-old men's club to do?

Duncan says, "We have to wait until someone expresses an interest, then go ahead and tell them about it."

The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization exclusive to practicing Catholic men, 18 years and older, recently retained a volunteer membership director who uses lists of new parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Church and word-of-mouth to find new blood.

Even so, member Joe Laframboise says his club's membership skews to the over-40 set. He blames a societal shift for the younger generation's lack of interest.

"When I was growing up - and I'm over 50 - we just had regular TV, for example," he points out. "There wasn't cable TV, the VCR and DVD hadn't come around yet. There are just so many other distractions, if you wish. You can do a lot of different things different ways - by yourself, in a group."

Laframboise cites the book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," written by Robert Putnam in 2000, who reported that the number of Americans attending club meetings has declined by 58 percent in just one generation. Two-parent working families and increased options for free-time activities are to blame, according to the author.

"People are just doing things by themselves on their computers, and they're not interested in belonging to a group," Laframboise says.

Doris Bateson, who with her husband, Leroy, has been active in the local Fraternal Order of Eagles since the '70s, says she is particularly disturbed by how the "Bowling Alone" problem affects Generation Y.

"The reason young people aren't getting involved is because they're not fraternally oriented. We're going to have to figure out a way to change that if we're going to survive," she says.

Bateson, who is a Past International President of FOE, believes the way to do that is to emphasize community service.

"Recently at (Aerie) 309, we've gotten more involved in community projects like the St. Patricks' Day parade and the Boys and Girls Club. The younger generation is joining because they want to be involved in community projects, and that's a good thing."

Still, Eagles membership is down - approximately 20 percent for women and 50 percent for men - since the Batesons helped build the current Eagles Lodge at 1803 W. Sixth St. The smoking ban, which went into effect in 2004, didn't help either.

"We lost 200 members with the smoking ban," says Leroy Bateson. "And bingo attendance dropped, too."

Mysteries revealed

Dana Laudick, 57, daughter of Leroy and Doris and FOE member, sees another reason for the organization's degeneration.

"Young people are more than willing to help, and they're great at participating in charitable fundraisers. But - and my mother will disagree with me because she's 80 and a charter member - the rituals that some of these organizations adhere to - the stuff that goes on at the meetings - these kids aren't at all interested in that. It's boring to them. It's dated. You've got a 15-20 minute ritual that they perform just to open a meeting. They're not going to sit through that."

She said her 22-year-old son recently joined the lodge, primarily to use the lounge where liquor prices are lower than bars around town.

"We may have to start doing things a little differently than we did 100 years ago in order to get the involvement and do good things for the community," Laudick says.

The rituals, which are often elaborate and shrouded in secrecy (although the Internet has forced some secret ceremonies out of the closet), have proven to be a double-edged sword, at least for the Masons.

Duncan says, "The mysteries of Masonry have been amplified far beyond what they are in movies - 'National Treasure,' for instance - and, of course, in Dan Brown's recent book, 'The Lost Symbol.' (The book) in fact, has sparked some interest."

"There's not a lot of mystery," he adds. "What's secret is the means by which we recognize one another, in case unusual help is to be requested. To that extent, it's secret. But some of our meetings are open - installations and award ceremonies are open to the public."

Future shock

So, what does the future look like for local lodges?

Leroy Bateson worries about the Eagles but doesn't think the organization is looking at extinction anytime soon.

"I won't go as far as to say it won't be around at all because in places like California and Ohio, it's going strong. But in the state of Kansas, we had 43 aeries in 1992, and now we're down to 30."

Laframboise says, "Knights are here to serve, not to be served, and that's what we will continue to do."

"There is not even the slightest seed of a doubt in my mind that Masonry will survive," Duncan asserts. "It has done so for more than a millennium. I do not worry about the survival of Masons in Lawrence or the rest of Kansas, even though continuance will necessitate changes."


anon1958 8 years, 4 months ago

Something that was parodied by the Flintstones on television during the sixties should obviously have passed on a at least 30 years ago. How lame can you be to be parodied by a cartoon during the same era that the Smothers brothers were too controversial for the American public?

Note: No disrespect for the Smothers brothers meant, they were way ahead of their time.

Kip Patzel 8 years, 4 months ago

Yes it is sad to see the free masons and scotish rite have membership troubles, however trying to make ends meet by charging crazy out of line dues and fees to younger members in these hard times doesn't help nor does it make members of the younger generation want to join or even afford to join. It shouldn't be about the dues and the fees and until this changes the fellowship will continue to drop off. If things don't change, the few members that are all older and retired members will continue to age and pass on and the fellowhip will probably pass away with time.

jayhawkgrandma 8 years, 4 months ago

I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been a Rainbow Girl throughout Junior High and High School and definitely feel like the organization helped to mold me into being a better person today. However, now that my granddaughters want to become Jobs Daughters and their mother thinks it's a cult and is upset at them joining. Sure there are some secret handshakes, and passwords, but in no way is any group associated with Freemasons and Eastern Stars a cult. I think more kids should join organizations like that. Maybe it would keep more kids off the streets and keep them from getting in trouble.

Sleepyhead 8 years, 4 months ago

I've thought about joining the Eagles as I would be a 3rd generation (Grandpa was a member for like 50 years!) and I always felt like I "belonged there" as a child growing up in Ohio. Heck, that's where our family got started as it is where Grandpa met grandma a long time ago.

What is holding me back are all the commitments to a "Supreme Being" in their rituals and texts. I would love the camaraderie and the public service aspects of becoming a member but I just can't get past someone judging me on what I do or do not believe in up above and basing my membership acceptance on it.

Truth, Equality, etc etc is all great but the religious stuff has to go if they truly want to offer modern-times equality or else the Eagles may go the way of the dinosaurs.

These are my personal feelings here, so please bash away, LJW readers! I can't speak as to the other orders described in this article, though.

LadyJ 8 years, 4 months ago

So does the Masons allow African Americans now? Back in the 40's and 50's they had to have their own separate organization. Their building wasn't near as fancy as the temple downtown.

50YearResident 8 years, 4 months ago

Fraternal Organizations are just like Bridge Clubs, you seldom see anyone younger than 50 joining and most members are in their 70's and 80's. It's a dieing past time. As soon as the older generation is gone the clubs will be gone also. We can blame it on the new era of computers and cell phones. Times change and so do the people.

Kontum1972 8 years, 4 months ago

Joe Walsh is still a member of the Eagles....and he is from Kansas.

madman 8 years, 4 months ago

I was a Job's Daughter growing-up and I loved it. The organization is very small in numbers now. It helped me a lot with leadership skills and public speaking. Many of the skills that I use daily I attribute to my time spent in Job's.

There are so many things for young people to be involved in now though, and not enough time for everything.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 4 months ago

Those little circles haven't disappeared. They've just been obscured by ever-increasing (overlapping) radii.

(Thinking about changing my name to secantial_babblers_encapsulated.)

ralphralph 8 years, 4 months ago

Thoughts on causes of decline ...

Eagles: In Kansas, you used to have to join a "private club" to drink in a club, especially on Sunday. The easing of those rules in many places has made it possible to imbibe without joining anything.

Masons: Kind of creepy. They have an incredible history, but just give a lot of people the willies. Shriners, despite the dreaded Fez, do amazing things through their children's hospitals, and if you visited one of those hospitals your odds of joining Masons and becoming a Shriner would go up substantially.

All of Them: bad PR. Young people are programmed from birth to shop and use electronic devices, often simultaneously. You cannot compete (and the Masons won't even try) if your message is that people should sacrifice their time, talent and money for the benefit of others, rather than buying stuff or paying someone else to amuse them. Young people are shallow, self-centered consumerists, for the most part, and thoughts of something deep or difficult are a bit much for them.

loosecaboose 8 years, 4 months ago

We Masons did not recruit in the past, be we do now. In fact as a member of the Kansas Grand Lodge Membership committee, I have conducted Friends of Masons presentations at the Lawrence Lodges. Those presentations are recruiting efforts. Masonry in Kansas is starting to grow again, our Lodge here in Baldwin is a good example. For very many years, some Masonic Lodges in Kansas have had black brothers as members. In the 1990's even more efforts were made to do away with discrimination in membership. We all believe in a Supreme Creator, that is a part of Masonry. We do not tell brothers how to worship. or what religion to belong to.

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