Volume LIVNovember 2007Number 4

"The Biggest Small Lodge You've Ever Seen"
- Ronald A. Aungst, Sr., R.W. Grand Master

How could a relatively small lodge with a membership of 131 possibly make a difference?

If you really want to find out, plan a visit to Western Star Lodge No. 304, located in the 25th Masonic District in Albion, and you'll see for yourself.

Recruiting volunteers is often a challenge for any lodge. And with 131 brethren, Western Star Lodge could share the same dilemma - but they don't. Instead, they roll up their sleeves and jump right on in.

Take their fund raising efforts, for example. The brothers of Western Star Lodge host only one event each year, but they do it with zest, vigor and a little help from their friends. When the Albion Fair rolls into town each September, the lodge sets up their tent right next to the grand stand. It's one of the most popular hot spots at the fair, and the endeavor requires all of the lodge members' participation, as well as help from the local DeMolay, Rainbow and Order of the Eastern Star groups to set-up, tear down and serve food from Tuesday to Saturday. But their efforts pay off - in less than one week, they raise about enough to cover their expenses for the year. "The community loves what we do at the fair," said Bro. Kim Jeffreys, P.D.D.G.M. of District 25. "They ask for us to come back every year."

The lodge is active within its local Masonic family, as well as in the local community, by supporting a myriad of groups and events. The lodge supports the Rainbow Girls Assembly No. 8 in Erie, both financially and through the provision of leadership. The same is true of the Erie Chapter of DeMolay. "Our lodge provides adult leadership because our kids are active in the Masonic Youth groups," Bro. Jeffreys said. Several members and their ladies are on the advisory boards. Jacob Palo, son of Bro. Dennis L. Palo, is currently the State Master Counselor for Pennsylvania DeMolay, and several other members' sons are serving in State Appointed offices. Eastern Star Chapter No. 22 meets in the lodge building and they all work together, like a true family of Freemasonry.

The local Boy Scout troop was started by Bro. Dennis L. Palo in December 2000, and symbolically, the troop even shares the same number (304) as the lodge. The brethren support the troop both with man-power in the form of leaders, and financially. As a result, the lodge has actually gained more members because fathers of the scouts, after experiencing the Eagle Scout Award presentations by District Deputy Grand Master Bro. Jack E. Flaugh, have inquired about membership. In fact, Bro. Flaugh has been asked to present the awards in other areas because of the positive impression he has made on those in attendance.

"It's like an unspoken, unofficial reciprocity agreement [with various fraternal and community groups]," Bro. Jeffreys said. "They give us support because we support them."

The lodge also has supported the Northwestern High School marching band in its fund raising efforts by allowing their spaghetti dinner to be held in the lodge building. The brethren help the girls' high school softball team both financially and with fund raisers, as well.

For the past several years, the lodge has worked with the Albion Sportsmen's Club to sponsor a local fishing derby for kids under 12, which exposes them to fishing by providing the rods, bait, tackle, food and prizes. The lodge also hosts a regular blood drive in the lodge building as part of the Masonic Blood Donor program, thanks to Chairman Bro. Terry L. Barton Sr.; in fact, it's such a well-known event that when the lodge building was under renovation for its 150th anniversary, a local church offered for the event to be held there, instead.

This year, on September 11, the lodge teamed with the French Creek Boy Scout Council, Washington Trail District, to host the 6th Annual Patriots Day Awards. Approximately 100 people from Erie, Crawford, Venango, Mercer and Warren counties attended this event in the lodge room. The event was covered by local news media.

So how did the lodge get started with all of these programs? Well, many of them began when the matching grant program was put into place during R.W. Past Grand Master James L. Ernette's term. The first thing the lodge did was to adopt a park that was neglected, and worked with the VFW to improve the landscaping, repair benches and erect a new flag pole. The lodge was able to provide half the funding for the effort, and drew rave reviews from the community.

"We've gotten such positive feedback that now we look for opportunities to participate in other projects, because we enjoy it," Bro. Jeffreys said.

And that's how the enthusiasm has remained strong. "If someone is willing to be a leader, wants to take a project on and find a way to fund it, our brothers get behind it," Bro. Jeffreys said. "It's not unusual to have a brother stand up [at lodge] to make a request, and take up a collection right there."

Another major advantage the lodge enjoys is location, location, location! Since the lodge building sits at the entrance to a number of schools in the Northwestern School District, every school bus and many parents drive by it on a daily basis. This helps to increase the lodge's visibility, and was especially advantageous when the lodge erected a new sign for its 150th anniversary this year. The brethren held a two-hour open house before the celebratory banquet to showcase the activities the lodge supports.

Indeed, the building is a functional focal point in the community. Because of its proximity and the positive relationships built over the years, the lodge has partnered with the school district to provide a meeting place for special education events, and is the designated meeting place for the school in the event of an evacuation. The lodge also is available for rent by the members for special events such as receptions and class reunions, which has earned it positive media attention.

"I guess what makes [the lodge] so active is that we do a variety of things there's enough to choose from that anyone can find something to be interested in," Bro. John R. Beatty, Worshipful Master, said.

Perhaps that is the key to the lodge's success, and why Grand Master Aungst recently deemed it, "The biggest small lodge you've ever seen."

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