I recently attended an Independent Order of Odd Fellows reception to honor the newly-elected Grand Master of California – Brother Fred Dolling. The reception was held in the lovely little hamlet of Knights Ferry, Brother Fred’s home town and the locus of his Lodge, Stanislaus #170. The town is in the Central Valley of California, not really close to any metropolitan area of California. And yet the community center venue for the reception was packed. Odd Fellows and Rebekahs traveled from every crevice of California to attend, bring greetings, and honor Fred. In addition, most of his home town Brothers and Sisters attended and worked the event with smiles on their faces.

Why? Because Brother Fred exemplifies all the finest qualities of an Odd Fellow. In many ways, he is the best of us (although I am sure he would be embarrassed to hear me say that). He holds all degrees of Odd Fellowship in all our units, but he didn’t just punch his ticket. He is a true Odd Fellow and the guests who attended the reception clearly recognized this. He doesn’t just talk the talk – he walks the walk. Friendship, love, and truth – he lives these words of our Order. He doesn’t just say “Dave” when he talks to me – he will say “Brother Dave” and he really means it. And he does this with everyone. It’s Sister Sue or Brother Ernie. It may sound old-fashioned and even contrived to the ears of a stranger – but from Fred’s mouth it is the real deal. When he calls you “Brother” or “Sister” he sincerely means it. We are fraternal Brothers and Sisters, and he is not embarrassed to express it. To Fred, it’s real.

Members sense the sincerity and the honesty. The watchwords of the Encampment fit him as well. Faith, hope and charity. In many ways, Fred seems like a man from another century – but he’s not an old-fashioned man. He just holds traditional values. Nothing wrong with that. The values of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope and charity are, frankly timeless. Members see him as a man with no personal agenda – he is an Odd Fellow and wants to do what is best for his fraternity. Fred is also an active member of the Patriarchs Militant (in fact, he serves as Deputy Department Commander) and the aura of leadership, honor, duty, and fairness surrounds him. If Fred were called upon to adjudicate a matter relating to a member or a Lodge, I’m confident that the member and the Lodge would trust Fred to do the right thing. And we sense that if a member were verbally attacked or wronged in his presence, Fred would do what he could to put it all right.

These are challenging times for the Odd Fellows – just as the times are challenging for all fraternal orders. Membership has been declining and continues to decline. At the same time as our current members are aging, it’s becoming harder and harder to bring younger members into our Order. The median age of our members continues to eke upwards into the 60’s and 70’s. There are forces at play to make the Odd Fellows less sectarian while other forces wish to increase the religious references in our ritual. I sense that Fred is not a partisan in these philosophical debates, but rather wishes to adhere to the traditions that make us uniquely Odd Fellows while recognizing that the coming generations desire more community involvement and social justice.

It was such a pleasure for me to see members from Fred’s Lodge and Odd Fellows and Rebekahs from throughout California come up to Fred to shake his hand or pat him on the back. He is a humble and self-effacing man, not out for personal glory or power. Just trying to do the right thing, and leading not by force of will, but rather by way of mutual respect. When it was time for Fred to give a speech at his reception, his words were simple, from the heart, brief and meaningful. In my years in the Order, I’ve heard other Grand Masters speak for close to an hour, and not say nearly as much as Fred did in five minutes.

To find a model of a true Odd Fellow, we need look no further than the current Grand Master of California: Fred Dolling.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Jurisdiction of California

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