Volume LVIIMay 2010Number 2

20th Century Renaissance Leaders
Set Path for 21st Century Renaissance

Edgar A. Tennis

The Masonic fraternity has historically consisted of great men who, through their strong beliefs, undying efforts and courage to make difficult decisions, create the driving forces that evoke changes in our society.

When Bro. Edgar A. Tennis, Lamberton Lodge No. 371, now Tennis Lodge No. 371, Thompsontown, served as Grand Master in 1902, he proposed to create a home for indigent brethren and their aged wives, widows and orphaned children with free admission. The idea would revolutionize the face of Pennsylvania Freemasonry and turn it into a leader among American Masonic fraternities.

At a time when state care for the poor and elderly consisted of little more than a dilapidated roof to sleep under, Bro. Tennis wanted the home to "not only soothe the pangs of wounded sensibility and the deeper pangs of wounded affection, but ... make glad the cottage of the poor and smooth the pillows of suffering."

On June 3, 1903, a committee of District Deputy Grand Masters reported that out of 324 lodges, 281 favored establishing homes under the Grand Lodge's management. Three months later, the brethren agreed to establish a Masonic home. In December 1906, the Committee on Masonic Homes was created, but little forward motion was enacted until the Grand Lodge learned it would receive approximately $1.04 million from Bro. Thomas R. Patton, Union Lodge No. 121, now Pilgrim Lodge No. 712, Philadelphia, to invest and use for the future construction of a boarding school for male orphans.

In 1908, Grand Master George B. Orlady, Mount Moriah Lodge No. 300, Huntingdon, praised the fraternity's progress: "... within a short time, this home and school will be a sacred place for Pennsylvania Masons, and will be the largest enterprise of its kind in the United States, if not the entire world, and it will be in every respect of equal magnitude with this exceptional temple in Philadelphia."

The committee evaluated dozens of properties before choosing the Elizabethtown location in 1909 for its 966.741 fertile acres, adjacent train station, proximity to local lodges and cities, and spring water supply. About 1,500 spectators visited the Masonic Homes on May 25, 1910, for a flag raising ceremony to open the Masonic Homes. Exactly one month later, the first resident, Bro. William M. Geesaman, Cumberland Valley Lodge No. 315, Shippensburg, moved into a renovated building on the property, the Guest House.

Grand Master Bro. George W. Guthrie, Franklin Lodge No. 221, Pittsburgh, who was distinguished as one of the most admired Grand Masters by Wayne A. Huss in his book, "The Master Builders," called for "no holding back" in regard to the development of the Masonic Homes. In a competition to design the Masonic Homes, Messrs. Zantzinger, Borie and Medary, of Philadelphia, submitted the best plan and were chosen as its architects. Bro. Clarence C. Zantzinger, one of the firm's partners, belonged to Lodge No. 610, now University Lodge No. 51, Philadelphia.

George B. Orlady

The plan included a large main building - Grand Lodge Hall - with Elizabethan-English Gothic architecture. The building made an impressive administrative headquarters and residence for up to 175 people. In the plan, cottages, with the same style of architecture, fanned out from the Grand Lodge Hall, and a chapel, school and hospital completed the design which created the effect of an eightacre "village" for about 700 people.

On Sept. 26, 1911, Bro. Guthrie conducted the cornerstone laying ceremonies for the Grand Lodge Hall. The date was already significant because it marked the 125th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's independence from the Grand Lodge of England.

During the next 98 years, the community grew astronomically and expanded far beyond the founders' original visions. As the Masonic Village celebrates its centennial, it remembers the men, like Bro. Tennis, Bro. Patton, Bro. Orlady, Bro. Guthrie and members of the Committee on Masonic Homes, whose revolutionary ideas molded the Masonic Village into what it has become.

The Masonic Village has grown from 11 residents in 1910 to more than 1,700 residents in 2010. More than 18,000 men, women and children have received care there throughout its history. The Masonic Villages now includes five locations - all with their own unique services and atmospheres. The scope of services offered is virtually limitless with the help of medical personnel, interdisciplinary staff, community partnerships and an extensive Outreach Program.

Maintaining a consistently strong and constantly growing Masonic community requires building on past experiences and a commitment to making revolutionary decisions and changes based on current and proposed future needs.

When the economy dipped in 2007, many companies and organizations laid off workers. Masonic Village leadership took a different route and focused on two values:

  • Do not negatively affect care and services for residents.
  • Take care of the staff.

Leadership asked employees, residents, volunteers and anyone related to the Masonic Villages for cost containment and revenue enhancement ideas. In three days, the leadership team expanded from a handful of people to several thousand with hundreds of ideas.

But change is not easy. People have made sacrifices to help in the cost containment efforts, from reducing overtime to turning down their thermostats, to foregoing salary increases. Each extra effort helps provide opportunities for the Masonic Village to grow and impact more people. The poor economic climate resulted in a culture change that helped to fortify the Masonic Villages by refocusing goals on maximizing spending to best provide for its current and future employees and residents.

As the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown celebrates its centennial in the wake of a recovering economy, it shares a common experience with the fraternity as it embarks on a 21st Century Masonic Renaissance. As Bro. Tennis expressed in 1903 upon his retirement as Grand Master, "Let each of the 65,000 Masons in this jurisdiction understand that he can never have any real interest in this enterprise until he has made sacrifices for it, since no real good or benefit do we ever receive, which has not caused some other one a pang or tear. All that is good on earth or in Heaven is the outcome of sacrifice."

Living out new ideas, whether at the Masonic Village or as a Mason, will take courage, effort and trust in a higher mission, but as leaders emerge and others follow their examples, the benefits that will befall future generations will be due to the hard work put forth today.

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