Fading Fraternities

In early June our church handbell choir has a gig in Jamestown, ND at a regional convention of the Eastern Star.  Our director is active in the Eastern Star, hence our invitation to provide entertainment.  My grandmother was a member of the Eastern Star, as my grandfather was a Shriner.  I always thought of the Eastern Star as the old ladies who swept up behind the Shriners and Masons.  Our handbell director insists that they are quite independent of the Shriners.   I sometimes accompanied my grandmother when she cleaned and straightened up the Masonic Lodge in town. She didn’t seem too independent to me, but perhaps times have changed.

I note that today in history in 1819, the Oddfellows were founded. My grandfather belonged to the Oddfellows, too, as was my Uncle Harvey. I have my grandfather’s Oddfellow sword. It is very sharp and you could run someone through with it.  My father was a Mason, but in late life left the Lodge because he thought some of his fellow Masons had been rude to my mother.  The men in my mother’s family never joined fraternal groups, as that was frowned upon by the Missouri  Synod Lutheran Church.

In our town we have the usual fraternal groups such as the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, the Rotary, and the Optimists.  In Winnipeg I noticed a sign for an interesting group called the Zontas, I never figured out what they did.  Fraternal groups are fading.  We have a big Elks Club building here that sports a restaurant, bar, and space for parties and receptions,  The Elks decided they couldn’t keep it going as it was, and leased out the entire top floor, including the restaurant and bar areas to the local  Apostolic Pentecostal Church. I think it is a delightful combination. The Elks will carry on and drink and eat in the basement, while the Pentecostals will pray and repent upstairs.

Did you have family members who belonged to fraternal organizations? Make up a fraternal organization that you would be willing to join. 


40 thoughts on “Fading Fraternities”

  1. My Dad belonged to the American Legion. Other than the members-only bar, I’m not sure if membership provided any other activities or benefits. His brother, my uncle, was a Mason. He seemed to think being a Mason would afford him special privileges but I can’t imagine what those would be. That was something he seemed to need to imagine.
    I have a couple of friends who are Masons. I don’t know why. Any group that embraces secret rituals seems unforgivably silly to me and groups of exclusively men tend toward fatuous self-congratulation in my limited experience.

    As for fraternal organizations for myself, I have never and would not want to belong to any group that restricted its membership in any way.


  2. My father’s mother was a Moose. She had a photo of herself posing with other Moose women, a sort of panorama photo in which she posed with about fifty fellow Moose members. She was a tiny figure in that photo. Her husband, my grandfather, had a similar photo of his work group. He posed standing in front of their giant printing plant with about a hundred co-workers.

    When I think of my grandparents I realize it was a point of pride for them to belong to a large group. Though they were tiny faces in those photos, they seemed honored to be members of larger groups.

    I can’t imagine a young person today being proud of being a small presence within a large group like that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think millenials don’t identify with groups like service clubs.

    My dad attended one meeting of the Kiwanees in Ames. He went because his boss told him to go, for his boss was proud of being a Kiwanee. Dad found the group rituals so silly he couldn’t even fake sharing them. He never went back (and his boss never forgave him for that).


    1. I don’t think that quite a fair description of the Kiwanis, Steve. It’s basically a service organization dedicated to improving the lives of children – in their own communities and throughout the world.

      While I have never been a member, though I was invited to join, I have attended several of their meetings with friends who were. There are no weird or secret rituals involved. I always found the Kiwanis reliable partners when I was working as a fund raiser at the school.


      1. I’m not offering an opinion of Kiwani or any other group. People working together to promote a healthy and happy society are doing good work. I just said my father was turned off by group rituals in that particular Kiwani organization. Dad had low tolerance for group activity all his life, and his experience with group activity in the military only inflamed his dislike for groups.


        1. Here’s another thought. I’ll bet the service clubs in central Iowa in the Fifties were less serious about service and more fond of secret handshakes, club songs and other stuff that promoted group bonding. Service clubs back then probably were much more about entertaining rituals than clubs today would be.


        2. Seems a little like apples and oranges. If PJ was invited to join Kiwanis, it is not, by definition, a fraternal organization, although maybe the chapter in Iowa structured itself that way. There’s a big difference between service organizations and fraternal ones.


        3. Originally Kiwanis membership was restricted to men. That changed in 1987. The same is true of a lot of other “fraternal” or service organizations, such as Jaycees, Rotary and Lions. When I was invited to join Kiwanis, the particular “club” or group that invited me, had no female members. One of the reasons I didn’t join, although I enjoyed the members in the group, was that a lot of the wives of the members objected to female membership. Apparently they felt threatened by their husbands hanging out with women in their spare time, for surely most of them already worked with women.


        4. Bill, what do you think is the distinction between “fraternal” and “service” organizations – apart from membership? I think many “fraternal” organizations have morphed into “service” organizations without really changing the focus of their mission.


        5. As I said before, fraternal indicates an organization of men. If a group defines itself solely by its gender, I don’t expect much from them. Traditionally, the fraternal organizations didn’t stop with excluding women. They also were not open to the “wrong sorts” of men. So if their eye was on exclusivity, it wasn’t on service.

          A service organization, in my mind, is one with some area of service as its defining role and one that welcomes everyone interested in contributing to that service regardless of race, creed or gender.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. Judging from Renee’s initial question, I’m making the assumption that for our purposes in answering today’s question, she’s using the term “fraternal” to be interchangeable with “service” organization?


        7. I feel like I should apologize for being a smart ass, but really, if Renee wasn’t using the terms interchangeably for this blog, she was leaving out roughly half the baboons as possible responders. So I’ll stick with being a smart ass. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I meant them interchangeably. The fraternals have morphed into service organizations. Sorry I was unclear. Oh! Proper language is so important!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll admit, Renee, when I first read your question, I was a little confused. I actually looked up fraternal organizations to be sure my perception of what they were was correct. Guess that’s when I took the leap of faith and decided that you meant service organization, otherwise the question made no sense to me within the context of this blog.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my former co-workers at KPMG was very involved in Zonta. They had a strong presence in the Twin Cities at that time – mid eighties to early nineties – don’t know if they still do.


  3. I think my Dad belonged to the Knights of Columbus, as I think it was a Catholic group. Both my parents were active in the church, Boy & Girl Scouts leaders and other volunteer projects. I feel like a slacker compared to them. I just don’t like groups of people — well, actually — I just don’t like people, period. Of course, fellow baboons are the exception.

    Do we have a date for the next Blevins meeting? I keep meaning to attend for the sake of the food, but I don’t like driving a long distance.


  4. My dad was a Mason, but I have no idea what that meant. My mom was in P.E.O., and philanthropic sisterhood that gave scholarships, etc. She never would tell me what the letters stood for, though.

    I was in a sorority in college, and have been kind of embarrassed about it ever since… the common image was hard to reconcile while playing “California hippie”. It really wasn’t like the sororities of the movies, or some of them in the South, though. My dad thought it would be good for my study habits (true for Freshman year). I enjoyed many of the women there, learned some leadership skills, and my class of 12 now “reunes” every other year – we have much more in common than we did when in college. Agree with Bill about the silly rituals, but I gained a lot from the experience, I guess.


  5. Growing up, dad was a boy scout. Except for being a proud union member, I don’t think he ever joined anything. Too much of a rebel to want to be a member of anything, including the Lutheran Church. Native born Danes are automatically enrolled in the Lutheran Church, and when they come of age, pay church taxes. Dad viewed clergy of every stripe as leeches on society and cancelled his membership, didn’t wan’t his tax money supporting pastors who, in his view, didn’t work. Mom worried incessantly about this, where was she going to have him buried when he died? She took it for granted that they wouldn’t let him be buried in a Danish cemetery, and that he’d die first. He didn’t, and they were both buried in unmarked graves in Bispebjerg cemetery when they died, nine months apart.


      1. No, not because of the church, BiR, but because it’s becoming more and more common in Denmark to not mark individual graves with stones or other markers. After a generation or two, many traditional gravesites are no longer tended by families, and then it becomes the official burden of local authorities to take care of them. This, of course, costs money. So these days many people opt to be cremated and have their urns interred in a “memorial garden,” typically a big grassy area that’s easy to mow because there are no markers. I find it quite peaceful to visit mom and dad’s graves although I don’t know the precise spot where they were interred. Danes tend to be pretty unsentimental and practical people.

        I think I mentioned before on the trail that the last time I visited Stubbekøbing I was stunned to discover that the ancient graveyard had been seriously renovated. Gravesites of people I knew, even some of my own family, had been removed. Old gravestones, many of them broken, were unceremoniously piled behind the chapel. One resource for folks doing genealogical research gone in a heartbeat.

        I suspect that the people who live in Stubbekøbing had been part of the decision-making about the changes, and had had a period of time to come to grips with them, but I was saddened and almost in a state of shock. Couldn’t believe this had happened. But realistically, I haven’t lived there in a long, long time, so life goes on. You do what you have to do to adjust to the current realities.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that by far the most traditional organizations are churches. I have no real history or interest in being in that club, but have envied what I’ve observed to be a good way of being in a community of like-minded people who look out for one another. Too bad that the ticket for admission is something I don’t believe in.


  7. I understand the desire to club, to be in a group. But 1) why are they almost always male or female? 2) what does invented ritual do for people? I have come to dislike groups. They say fm makes you non social. I always was, but now I only really ever talk to family and one man here. I had a favorite coffee house where I waited for sandy when she was it her book club or circles in church. I felt st home there despite not talking to anyone. Went there yesterday for first time in two months. It had changed in many ways. Bad service, bad coffee. Crowded with loud goths and college kids, not studying, just being loud. So I lost that place.


  8. I know two masons well. Neither seems the type. Both make fun of the masons. Mt b-i-l is an Nth degree Shriner. Why does a very intelligent man memorize vast amounts of nonsense and fake history? I admire the Shriners hospital in Mpls. It does much good. Four friends have had their children there. So in the end good for them. They do no harm. One of America’s clubs are the conspiracy theorists who make much of groups like the masons. Which is the nuttier?

    Liked by 2 people

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