I.O.O.F. YOUTH: IS THERE HOPE FOR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF OUR YOUTH BRANCHES?
By Louie Blake S. Sarmiento
Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Past Grand, I.O.O.F. Watchdog Lodge No.1, Dumaguete, Philippines
Public Relations Coordinator, I.O.O.F. Sovereign Grand Lodge (2012-2014)
Revitalization Committee member, I.O.O.F. Sovereign Grand Lodge (2012-2014)
During the Golden Age of Fraternalism, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) was an innovator in the field of fraternity and charity. In 1851, the I.O.O.F. became the first fraternal organization in North America to accept women when it adopted the Rebekah Degree. In 1863,the I.O.O.F. became a major trendsetter and was the predecessor of the Social Security System when the organization adopted a clear schedule of guaranteed benefits over the haphazard ways of granting financial assistance previously followed by most fraternal organizations. Sometime in 1868, several Odd Fellows began initiating people in a fun degree based on oriental traditions known as the “Oriental Order of Humility” – a group which predated the Masonic Shriners. When many were left as widows and orphans due to the effects of war,the I.O.O.F. also became the first fraternal organization to build homes for the widows, orphans and elderly beginning in 1870. Did you know that the I.O.O.F. was also the first fraternal organization which attempted to form branches for the youth?
Due to widespread wars in the past, a number of boys and girls in Europe and North America were growing up without fathers. The organization saw problems of increasing juvenile delinquency and the growing of an international moral breakdown.As a result, several members of the I.O.O.F. attempted to establish clubs or branches for the youth. The I.O.O.F. wanted to project an atmosphere that it is a family-oriented Fraternity and encourages all family members to join. At first, informal clubs were formed for sons and daughters of Odd Fellows until a more formal structure mirroring the adult Lodges were adopted. The communal goal of establishing youth branches was to teach children and youth how Lodges operate, the democratic process, leadership abilities, poise, social grace and community service. The youth branches provided boys and girls with a social support system with other boys and girls of their age bracket and a moral guide as taught in the initiations. It has also been pondered upon that these young people are an important part of the organization’s “Present” because they will eventually find involvement with Odd Fellowship meaningful and enriching so they will become an important part of its “Future” by joining the adult lodges. Indeed, many of the dedicated leaders in the Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodges today began as members of these youth branches.
Regretfully, the youth groups under the I.O.O.F. failed to grow and develop into an international youth organization. There are many reasons. One is presumably because the I.O.O.F. in the continents of Europe, North America and Australia failed to coordinate with each other to form one cohesive international youth organization. Instead, I.O.O.F. national governing bodies in one country developed their own youth organizations without any formal connection or synchronization with other youth groups in other countries. And when membership in fraternal organizations in general began to decline, many youth branches disappeared together with the adult lodges.
Below is a list of organizations for the youth formed by I.O.O.F. members, some still exist today while some eventually went out of existence.
The first attempt to establish a branch for sons and daughters of Odd Fellows began in Copenhagen, Denmark, when a club called “Esperanca” was established in 1887. The name is derived from the Latin word “Sperantia” which means “Hope”. For an unknown reason, this youth club ceased to exist after few years of existence.
In 1911, a new club for sons and daughters of Odd Fellows was formed in Denmark called “Fremtiden” club, a Danish word which means “The Future”. The club was co-ed, consisting of boys and girls. Their purpose was to assist sons and daughters of Odd Fellows who come to Copenhagen to pursue their education and to help the adult lodges in their charitable programs. Little is known whether this club still exists today.
In 1933, another group for the youth was formed in Denmark called “Herd” but eventually ceased to exist during World War II.
Young Odd Fellows Club and other European Youth Clubs
In the Netherlands, Jonge (Young) Odd Fellows Club was formed in 1918. Other countries like Norway and Sweden also attempted to form groups for the youth. Sadly, very little is known about these European youth clubs. It seems that these groups did not flourish, perhaps no longer exist today, or exist in very small numbers.
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
In 1898, the I.O.O.F. of Australia was the first to introduce the idea of Junior Lodges. The group was first organized with a crude organizational structure until a more formal structure paralleling the lodge system was established in 1901. For a period of time, these Junior Lodges flourished in Australia but began to vanish at the advent of World War II. Sadly, there are no known Junior Lodges in Australia and New Zealand today.
Owing to a lot of youth left without parents due the effects of World War I, a bill to form a branch for the youth was submitted to the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the I.O.O.F. in 1920.The following year, the I.O.O.F. in the United States and Canada started developing two separate groups for boys and girls to offer leadership and moral training among the youth, many of whom have lost their fathers during the war era.The goal was to provide the youth opportunity to be united together in friendship and to work together to promote service to others, to help one another, and to promote their own personal growth and development physically, mentally, morally and socially.At least two early attempts had been made to organize a youth branch for the boys and one effort to form a group for girls.
Loyal Sons of Odd Fellows
On November 21, 1921, a boys club for the youth called “Supreme Fireside, Loyal Sons of Odd Fellows” with a booklet and ritual was founded by one J.H. Stotler in Kansas City, Missouri.There are four degrees and each degree is devoted to a distinct lesson for the youth. The first degree teaches fraternity. The second degree places an emphasis on home and devotion to parents. The third degree teaches patriotism and devotion to flag and country. The fourth degree teaches the lesson of devotion to a Deity or God. In addition to these, there is another degree called the “Knight Degree” which is an honorary degree conferred based on actual service. The four degrees are secret while the knight degree can be conferred publicly in the presence of their parents, Rebekahs and Odd Fellows.This group eventually became the nucleus for the “Junior Odd Fellows Lodge”.
Sons of Wildey for Boys
On April 18, 1922, another group called “The Sons of Wildey for Boys”was formed in Bonham, Texas, organized by Odd Fellows for the youth but they claim that they are not totally connected to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.The group eventually ceased to exist when the Junior Odd Fellows Lodge was formally adopted by the Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Junior Odd Fellows Lodge
On September 20, 1922, the Junior Odd Fellows was officially approved by the Sovereign Grand Lodge.The local branch was first called as “Fireside”, presumably based on the concept of boys gathering around a campfire and sharing tales. In 1929, the name was changed to the current “Junior Lodge”. The State or Provincial governing body is called the “Grand Junior Lodge”.
The Junior Odd Fellows focus is on teaching boys the importance of exerting efforts to improve and develop character with emphasis on sound citizenship, patriotism, honesty and truthfulness.This branch is open to boys aging eight (8) to eighteen (18) years old but they may continue their membership up until age 21. The motto of the Junior Odd Fellows is “Honor, Fidelity and Loyalty”. The local elective officers in a Junior Lodge are the Chief Ruler, Deputy Ruler, Recorder, Accountant and Treasurer.
In 1950, there were 9,104 active Junior Odd Fellows in the United States and Canada and membership continued to grow until 1970. However, the number of members dramatically went down to 80 at the close of year 2013.
Theta Rho Girls
In 1929, the Sovereign Grand Lodge approved the formation of Junior Rebekah Lodges for girls.This group for young girls was ultimately named “Theta Rho Girls” in 1931. The local branch is called “club”. The State or Provincial governing body is called the “Theta Rho Assembly”.
Theta Rho has one degree which encourages the girls to exerteffort to improve oneself physically and mentally, build a character necessary for happiness in the home, and create an influence for good in the community. The degree seeks to teach unselfishness, morality, and patriotism; to encourage mental and physical development; to develop character; to promote sentiment that happiness is obtained only through service to God and man. And that obedience to law is necessary for preservation of government and protection of home and country.
This branch is open to girls aging eight (8) to eighteen (18) years old but they may continue their membership up until age 21. The motto of the Theta Rho Girls is “Happiness through service”. The local elective officers in a Theta Rho Girls Club are the President, Vice President, Recording Secretary, Financial Secretary and Treasurer.
In 1950, there were 24,303 active Theta Rho Girls in the United States.Like many youth organizations in the United States, Theta Rho membership decreased after 1970. As of 2013, there remain exactly 311 Theta Rho members in the United States and Canada.
United Youth Group
The decrease in membership in both the Junior Odd Fellows Lodge and Theta Rho Girls Club and the desire for a co-ed youth organization led to the formation of the “United Youth Group” sometime in the early 2000. One of the first successful United Youth Group was “UYG New Hope Lodge No.1” established on March 21, 2011 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
The United Youth Group is open to both boys and girls from ages eight (8) to eighteen (18) in a co-ed lodge setting and is basically a combination of the two youth branches. The boys and girls join together during meetings but they separate during initiations. The United Youth Group seeks to teach leadership and responsibility. In 2013, there were only 33 members of the United Youth Group.This number may have recently increased because some Odd Fellows and Rebekah lodges in the United States were able to establish new United Youth Groups, particularly located in Texas and Illinois.
I.O.O.F. Patriarchs Militant Cadet Corps
On September 17, 2016, the Grand Lodge of Virginia approved the formation of the I.O.O.F. Patriarchs Militant Cadet Corps for the Youth. This branch is connected to the Patriarchs Militant branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
The program aims to promote dignity and pride, teach the value of service to others, and prepare our youth to be useful citizens and help them grow into responsible adults and be a credit to their community. Its creed is: ”We the Cadet Corps are youth working together to reach out and do community service”. Its motto is: “Service is honor”.
Juvenile Odd Fellows Lodge
There seems to be some kind of membership growth in a youth branch in Cuba called “Juvenile Odd Fellows”.
However, the writer does not know much about its purposes, principles and organizational structure as of writing.
Defunct Youth Associations
In 1941, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows formed the Alpha Rho. The purpose was to allow the youth of both sexes an opportunity to cultivate understanding between the different sexes.This was one of the first attempts to form a co-ed fraternity. But because it was not yet generally acceptable for boys and girls to join together in one organization during this era, the Alpha Rho did not flourish. If it only received positive support, it could have been the first co-ed fraternity in the United States. As a result, the group went out of existence.
Zeta Lambda Tau
In 1976, Zeta Lambda Tau was adopted by the Sovereign Grand Lodge as a co-educational Social, Fraternal and Service organization for young men and women aging eighteen (18) to thirty-five (35) years old.The name is Greek for “Friendship, Love and Truth”. The local branch is called a “Chapter”.
The goal of the Sovereign Grand Lodge was to establish chapters inside colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. However, the plan did not also flourish because little support or attention to this branch was given by the subsequent Sovereign Grand Lodge officers and many Odd Fellow Lodges did not bother to establish chapters in colleges and universities in their area. If this program became successful, this branch could have been the recruiting ground for college students to join Odd Fellow and Rebekah Lodges today.
Many of the most dedicated members and leaders of Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodges in the United States and Canada today are those who started as members of either the Junior Odd Fellows or Theta Rho Girls during their younger years. Hence, it is a proven fact that having youth groups brings membership into the Odd Fellow and Rebekah Lodges and will help preserve the future of this Order. Sadly, statistics show that the existing youth branches are on the edge of extinction. The youth moving out of towns and cities to study college or to work somewhere else largely contributed to the decline. But the chief reason is mainly because majority of the Odd Fellow and Rebekah Lodges do not sponsor any youth organization. Many adult Lodges do not bother to exert any effort to gather enough boys and girls in their area to form a youth club or junior lodge while many failed continue to close because the adult advisers failed to develop activities that could spark the interest of the youth members.
The writer is of the opinion that the numerous youth organizations recommended by the Sovereign Grand also makes the idea of youth organizations complicated and less cohesive – Junior Odd Fellows, Theta Rho Girls or United Youth Group. There may be a need to re-study the youth organizations to make it more appealing. The writer humbly believes and recommends the following:
- That the I.O.O.F. leaders across the world, through the Sovereign Grand Lodge and the International Council, work together to finally develop “one cohesive international youth organization” of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows which must at least have similar purposes, principles, organizational structure and, of course, mutual recognition with each other. Other international fraternal orders have long since developed their own youth organization and these groups exist in numerous countries worldwide.
- A co-ed youth group might be the solution but the name “United Youth Group” seems to be unappealing and this new group founded in year 2000 may be less alluring to join. Most persons, particularly the youth, always consider the long history and traditions when joining an organization and, of course, the activities that it provides. How about reviving the “Esperanca Club” of 1887 and combining the teachings and structure of the Junior Odd Fellows and Theta to form a co-ed “International Order of Esperanca (Hope)”? Or how about making the Theta Rho of 1931 co-ed? Upon review, the Theta Rho Clubs seems to have more members throughout the history of the youth groups. One reason is probably because the purposes and the contents of its rituals seems to be more appealing than that of the Junior Odd Fellows. Mixing historical youth organizations than forming an entirely new one in competition with the other existing youth groups may create a likeable youth organization that can be established internationally.
- How about adding in the purposes and teachings relevant advocacies such as developing international friendships, avoiding vices, respect for diversity, tolerance and understanding among people from different nations and races?
- How about making this Youth Degree an honorary degree which can be conferred annually to the participants of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs Youth Pilgrimage Program?
- Noting that in some areas the number of youth are not enough to form a Youth Club or Junior Lodge, how about empowering the Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodge itself to confer the Youth Degree to their sons and daughters? Sons and daughters of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are the “Hope” for the future.