How We Saved The Lodge In Wenatchee
By Toby Hanson, PGM
Sometimes we get the win; sometimes the last-second pass is caught in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. One of those occasions was in November 2022 in Wenatchee, Washington as Prosperity Lodge #301 was revived with a new group of members. It’s not difficult or costly but it does take time and dedication. Here’s the process we followed to make it happen.
Everything seemed like it was going along well for Prosperity Lodge #301. The lodge was saved from extinction in 2019 with support from the Grand Lodge of Washington. They helped the lodge find some former members willing to come back, an associate member from another lodge who moved to the area, and a new member who had never belonged to the Odd Fellows before. Everything seemed to be going well until Covid reared its ugly head. That wasn’t the only problem, however. Personality conflicts and disputes over the meeting time and other issues started tearing the lodge apart. When the meetings stopped in March 2020 the lodge looked like it was done for.
Two years later, in spring 2022, Covid had retreated enough that the Grand Lodge needed to make a decision about the future of the lodge. They had two choices: give up on the lodge, sell the building, and put an end to the history of Odd Fellowship in that part of the state going back to the late 19th Century or put in some time and money to see if they could revive the lodge and get some new people interested in joining the Order and taking on the challenge of building and running the lodge. The Grand Lodge decided it was worth the investment to try and save the lodge by finding some new people.
To start the process, I contacted one of the former members to see if there was any interest in reviving the lodge. Fortunately, he was very amenable to the idea and we worked together to get everything set up. Knowing that there was local interest made it much easier to get started and make contacts in the community. Following that I talked with the Grand Master and Grand Secretary to make sure the Grand Lodge would be on board with the plan we had developed.
The basic plan was to generate some publicity for the lodge, hold an Open House at the building to meet with prospective interested members, collect the information of those prospective members, and then schedule a Degree Day and training for the new members if we could get enough of them together. For the publicity phase, I wrote up press releases and sent them to every newspaper, blog, radio station, cable network, or other media outlet I could find in the area. I worked with the former member to put announcements on Facebook, Reddit, and other social media networks to let as many people know about the lodge as possible. In all the information we sent out we made sure our contact information was clear and easy to find and we shared the date for the Open House.
At the Open House we had a handful of people from the community come by and ask questions about the lodge. Having the space prepared was very important. A disorganized, messy, dirty hall tells people that the building has been neglected and may be more of a challenge than what they want to take on. The Grand Secretary, another Past Grand Master, and I showed up early to get the hall cleaned up and organized. We had a nice selection of historical items like regalia, prints, and other fraternal items on display to prompt questions from the visitors and give us an opportunity to engage with them and ask questions. I’m proud to say that all of the people who came to the Open House were sufficiently interested that they ended up joining the lodge.
Another part of the plan was to talk to members of other lodges to see if any of them knew of anyone who might like to join the restarted lodge in Wenatchee. That turned out to be a great help as we got one person who joined the lodge from that contact. Another person came to the lodge because he had belonged to a lodge in a different part of the state and had recently moved to that area. Never underestimate the power of asking people if they know of anyone who might be a good Odd Fellow.
The day of revival arrived. Grand Lodge provided pastries and coffee in the morning before we started and pizza at lunch time. We gathered in the Wenatchee Odd Fellows Hall with members from surrounding lodges to perform the Initiation and Three Degrees. After the Third Degree we had lunch and then we had the new lodge members elect officers for the ensuing term, we installed them into their offices, and we trained the new officers for those jobs. At the end of the day we turned the keys to the hall over to the new group and were very satisfied with the results of the day.
Reviving a lodge with some new members isn’t difficult or expensive, as I mentioned above. However, it does take time. The first step is to research the area and find out where the pool of potential members would come from. With unlimited resources it would be possible to canvass an area with infinite advertisements. However, the better idea is to get local information and target the message to those most interested. Learn to write press releases (there are several samples available on the Internet) and send them to newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, blogs, cable TV systems, and any other means of mass communication that will take press releases. Although those outlets may not choose to publicize the first event for which they get releases, they may very well share the third or fourth. People who work in media tend to think something is important if they see it repeatedly.
Social media is another important way of getting members out for a lodge. When researching where to find new members, look for groups targeted to the area where the lodge is located. It does no good to look for all of Utah if the lodge in question is located in Spanish Fork. People in Ogden aren’t likely to drive to Spanish Fork just for a meeting (and, besides; Ogden already has a lodge). Twitter uses hashtags to organize tweets in many ways, including by geography. Looks for tweets about the location of the lodge. Reddit has subreddits dedicated to various areas. Join the subreddit for the area with the lodge and start interacting so you can learn what the culture of that subreddit is like. Facebook has groups dedicated to various places in just the same way. Join the group or groups for the area you want to find members in. Instagram is very similar to Twitter with its use of hashtags. Take pictures of the lodge hall and tag them with the appropriate hashtags for that area so people will know that the lodge is looking for new members. Publicize the lodge on social media and let people know they can join for a very enriching experience.
A very valuable method to find new members which we did not use in Wenatchee is to contact groups that might have an interest in using the building. All kinds of groups might have an interest in having a place to meet for their activities: game clubs, knitting circles, sewing groups, theater companies, dance studios, music teachers, etc. Start looking for other groups to contact and network with to see if they would be interested in joining the lodge to keep it going. By sustaining the lodge, they would be ensuring that they would have a future place for their group to meet. After all, the roots of Odd Fellowship are beneficial in nature: people joined in the past not for any esoteric reasons but for the benefits they could gain. There’s no reason not to leverage that long-standing tradition to gain membership in our modern era.
Even groups that don’t necessarily need space to meet or hold events can be good resources for finding new members. Historical societies are often interested in fraternalism and sometimes even have a few Odd Fellows and other artifacts in their collection. Call them up and find out if there are any common, overlapping interests that could lead some of them to join. Maybe prominent early citizens were Odd Fellows or Rebekahs and they would like to know more about what that meant? Historical societies are also often staffed by people in the community who are well-connected and can talk about the lodge in many different circumstances and with different groups of people. Other community groups like booster clubs, volunteer fire departments, improvement associations, and the like can be great places to promote the lodge and find a new group of members.
There are probably many more ideas than what I’ve presented here. I don’t doubt that other successful approaches to reviving lodges have been used in the past and will be used in the future. What happened in Wenatchee should, however, serve as a reminder of a few things: 1. even if a lodge revival fails once or twice it’s not worth giving up on; 2. there are a lot of people who would be interested in joining a lodge if they only knew that it existed; and 3. reviving lodges is definitely possible with a minimum of expense and a few people dedicated to the idea. I would love nothing more than for the Heart In Hand Blog to be overrun with more stories like what happened in Wenatchee. Odd Fellowship is enduring and has a timeless appeal; there’s no reason we shouldn’t be trying to spread that appeal as far and widely as possible.
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