I have just returned from the California Grand Lodge Sessions held, for the first time, in Visalia – deep in the Central Valley. About 200 voting representatives attended as delegates from their Lodges from throughout California, including 11 Past Grand Masters. This was the 165th annual gathering, and as usual, it was interesting, energetic and vibrant. I would like to sketch for you some of the highlights and low-lights of the session:
* Dave Reed, from my own Lodge Davis #169, was elected as Grand Master of California for the coming term. We congratulate Dave and wish him – on behalf of all of us – a productive and active term. Also, we congratulate Mel Astrahan in his election as Deputy Grand Master, and Jamie Jepson, the newly elected Grand Warden. Three strong candidates ran for the position of Grand Warden, and Jamie was elected.
* Once again, we had a good turnout of representatives from throughout California, but on the other hand 46 of our 116 Lodges did not send even one representative. That’s 40% of our Lodges not represented. Not a good sign, and not a good trend. How can a member complain about actions of the Grand Lodge when the member’s Lodge doesn’t send a delegate to the decision-making entity? These 46 Lodges seem disconnected from the greater Order, and seem to be focused just on their own Lodge. We hope that many of these unrepresented Lodges start sending representatives in the future.
* Some great news was revealed in the report of the Grand Secretary. According to the 2016 annual reports submitted by Lodges, in 2016 Odd Fellowship in California showed a net GAIN in membership. Specifically, on January 1, 2016, our records showed 4,449 members, and on December 31, 2016, our records showed membership at 4,539. That is a net GAIN of 90 members. While 90 is not a huge number, it is an increase of about 2%, and more importantly, it is an INCREASE in membership, not a decline. Our Order has shown, since World War II, an almost constant net loss in membership. In 2016, we broke that downward spiral to show a net gain. We hope this path continues upward in the coming years. I am especially proud of this new path because it occurred in the year when I served as Grand Master for the first half and Peter Sellars served as Grand Master in the second half. My main goal as GM was focused on membership, and certainly all the work we invested in DMC was directed toward increasing membership.
* This Grand Lodge was Peter Sellars’ final act as Grand Master. He was a strong GM and he ran a fair and productive session. It was a remarkably busy session with the largest number of bills and resolutions that I have ever seen. We got through them all. I served as Parliamentarian for the session, and I was busy throughout. I have never seen so many motions to table, motions to reconsider, motions to postpone indefinitely, etc., in my life. And was the vote to be a majority vote, 2/3 vote, 3/4 vote or 4/5 vote? Notwithstanding all the parliamentary maneuvering, we got through it all. I am sure all delegates were delighted that we used electronic voting, that I had suggested three years ago, and which we have implemented with success. Without the electronic voting, we would have been in sessions for an extra day!
* There were many controversial issues before the Grand Lodge, including the requests of several Lodges to have their loans forgiven. In the end, the grand body denied all the requests, but I predict that the Grand Lodge Board of Directors will make efforts over the next few months to work with these Lodges and find ways to give them financial relief.
* The Sovereign Grand Lodge representative to sessions was Sovereign Grand Warden Doug Pittman, a generous, gracious and well-spoken gentleman. He even got into the dunking booth (a good sport, indeed) during Friday fun night, to help raise money for Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. We wish him well in his continued travels and in the coming years as he moves up the ladder. In other news, the Grand Lodge coalesced around the candidacy of Barry Prock to be elected Sovereign Grand Warden this year. We wish Barry every success as Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions.
* The DMC event at sessions was “Friendship Evening”, which was very popular on Thursday evening at the convention center. Over 150 Odd Fellows and Rebekahs attended. I remember back 5 years ago when DMC first formed, the Grand Master would not allow us on the program or even allow our event to take place at the convention site. We had to get the word out by word of mouth, and gathered at a local Mexican restaurant. How times have changed. The good news is that the goal of DMC has become the goal of the Order – increasing membership is our imperative.
* Finally, a personal word. When I first started attended Grand Lodge Sessions about 6 or 7 years ago, I was the only one from my own Lodge to attend as a representative. This year, my Odd Fellows Lodge had 7 representatives, and my Rebekah Lodge had 3 representatives. On the Odd Fellows side, my Lodge saw several of its members elected and appointed: Dave Reed as Grand Master, Bob Schelen as Grand Chaplain, Jean-Paul Montreuil as Grand Herald, myself elected to the Grand Lodge Board of Directors, Tony Pruitt elected to the Foundation Board. On the Rebekah side, Diana Schmiegel is the new Marshal and Lea Rosenberg is the District Deputy President for District #14. This should stand as encouragement for every Lodge to start sending representatives to Grand Lodge. Much can be achieved. But, you gotta be there.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master