Although many of you are aware of my deep concern for the survival of our Fellowship due to the steady decline of our membership and the loss of Lodges, let me hasten to say that I believe that we can stop the erosion of the Order and brighten this beacon of Friendship, Love and Truth. I have a vision of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs growing again and re-establishing itself in our Lodges’ respective communities as a force for civic goodwill, social cohesion, personal support and relevance in the world we live in today.
The basis for this optimistic vision is not just wistful thinking but rather the quality of many of the people we have in our Fellowship, people who understand the challenge our Order faces and have taken steps and given the leadership that has made a difference.
An example of this kind of thoughtful leadership that has led to a Lodge’s resurgence has been the work of Brother Dave Rosenberg and his team at Davis Lodge # 169 which promoted the Fellowship and their Lodge with imaginative events such as live music nights with local bands, local business expos, and even a chocolate festival, promotions that attract hundreds and have led to a steady increase in applicants and Lodge membership, with 39 new members this year alone! They have made the IOOF the place to be in Davis.
Another example of the spirit and effort that has invigorated a Lodge comes from Brother Peter Seller’s Yerba Buena Lodge # 15. Their promotional efforts revolve around arranged overnight excursions to destinations such as Disneyland, the Bodie ghost town, Columbia State Park’s early California preserved town, and others. In addition they do monthly social events such as Giants games, museum tours and dinners and their annual, very popular, Day at the Races. These things stimulate the interest and participation of existing members and bring in at least 10 new members every year.
My own Home Lodge, Morse Lodge # 257, regular promotional efforts include events with a delicious multi-cultural flavor such as “Fiesta Mexicana”, the “Polynesian Luau” Party, and the “Vita Bella Italian Night” dinner and dance. These things and the welcoming atmosphere of the Lodge regularly bring in up to a half-dozen new numbers.
Certainly the most dramatic example of the spirit and effort that will lead to the resurgence of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs is the incredible job being done by Sister Roberta Prosk and her Float Committee in creating the fabulous Rose Parade float every year that gives us national and international exposure in an elite setting.
These are just a few of the people and programs that can, to copy a phrase, “Make the Odd Fellows Great Again”. Now let me hasten to say that I believe the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, though troubled by membership decline, ARE ALREADY GREAT! We are great because of our people and our principles.
I believe that this painfully documented decline can and will be reversed because our Order offers something particularly relevant and valuable in to today’s world. It is widely recognized by social scientists and medical professionals and so reported in the media, that social isolation, alienation and chronic loneliness are serious and rising problem in our society. The substitution of electronic communication and entertainment for human contact is part of the problem. “Friends” for many means keyboard strokes rather than human faces, human touch, human conversation. Sad.
Our Fellowship has an answer for this: our fellowship. The first clue is in the first word of our motto: Friendship. When the IOOF was rising to its peak a century ago, in addition to being a social safety net, it offered an environment, a place, people and programs for friendship and fun. And the de-humanizing of today’s technically-advanced but socially repressed America offers a major opportunity for rebuilding the Odd Fellow/Rebekah franchise because our Lodges can give that which is missing in so many lives today. Now, more than ever, the world needs us.
So I believe the IOOF can return as a growing and vital part of 21st century life in California because of the ideas, energy and commitment like those I mentioned, and because of the social life we can provide. I believe we can reach out with imaginative efforts to those who value our values and would be enriched by our environment of Friendship, Love and Truth, and fun! Among other things, I think we should promote the idea and slogan: “Odd Fellows have more fun!”
I believe my vision is founded in reality and that we will rebuild the Order. We will do it together, and though it will be hard work we will have fun doing it.