There has been a Death in the Family
|Death Notices of a Commandery|
By Tom Hendrickson-Past Grand Master Grand Lodge of Minnesota
Today, I had to assume the role of a Mortician-Funeral Director. It’s a job that I never wanted to do, as I don’t much like anything about funerals, nevertheless it is a job that had to be done.
Today’s funeral is a simple yet very sad event. There are no beautiful flower arrangements to set up. There is no organist or piano players to contact nor any special songs to be selected. No Clergy or program to worry about. No hearse or funeral coach to wash and wax. No need to make sure that the boxes of tissues are strategically placed, and no coffee to make.
The lid of the coffin had been closed and sealed ahead of my arrival. Really, all that is left for me is to do is to make a few calls, to provide comfort and council and mail out the death notice.
This death that I speak of is not the death of a human being, but instead the death of a Masonic organization, Constantine Commandery #20 of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Minnesota.
Its demise came to no great surprise as it had suffered from a long lingering illness of declining membership. The closing of Constantine Commandery is an end of an era, it had a good life, nevertheless, you mourn its loss.
Out of respect I would like to take a moment to eulogize to honor those who started Constantine Commandery and sustained it through the years.
The Commandery Story Here…………….
On October 1, 1887, Grand Commander Thomas Montgomery issued a dispensation to eleven Sir Knights who had requested to open and work a Commandery of Knights Templar at Crookston, Polk County Minnesota.
Their petition was recommended by the nearest Commandery, Palestine, #14 at Fergus Falls, one hundred and ten miles away.
Grand Commander Montgomery appointed Thomas C. Shapleigh as E.C. Sidney F. Markham as G, and Charles H. Mix as C.G.
The only concern of the Grand Commander was that he would be unable to visit due to Crookston was three hundred and fifty miles from his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This new Commandery in Crookston Minnesota became known as Constantine Commandery #14. In their first year they quickly grew to twenty-four Sir Knights. These men were among the pioneers to that far Northwest corner of Minnesota. They were Farmers, Craftsmen, Business Owners, and Venture Capitalists. Looking into the history books I can see that they had a willingness to endure hardship in order to explore new places or try new things. They had a shared vision of developing a community that would grow with human social and cultural development. Organization would be needed to bring industry and government. They were civic minded. They built churches, created a cemetery, established a fire department. Many went on to become Mayor and a few to become State Senators.
Here are a few who have interesting stories to be told.
Was the Mayor of Crookston, businessman, Past Grand Master of Minnesota Masons 1906, Past Grand High Priest of Royal Arch Masons, and Grand Commander Knights Templar 1918.
Edmund M. Walsh
A Tinsmith by trade, a member of the City Council, Mayor of Crookston, County Auditor, Clerk of Court, and organized the first telephone company to serve the region.
Andrew D. Stephens
Engaged in Real Estate, he started his own Bank. He was so successful he went on to owning six other banks in the region with one in Minneapolis. He served two terms as Mayor and was elected to the Minnesota State Senate where he served two terms.
Charles Henry Mix
He came to Minnesota in 1852. He worked as a clerk at the Winnebago Agency at Long Prairie. In 1854 he was a Secretary to the Territorial Governor, Willis Gorman. From 1855-1861 he was a trader and Agent to the Winnebago Indians at Blue Earth Agency.
In 1862 he enlisted in Company A, First Independent Battalion Minnesota Volunteer Calvary to participate in the U.S.-Dakota War. He was stationed at Pembina and Commandant of Fort Abercrombie Dakota Territory in 1864.
He moved to Crookston and his remaining years of his career was with the railroad St. Paul-Minneapolis-Manitoba Line. He became Mayor in 1905.
Charles Mix took a very active role in the Commandery. He was the third person to sign the petition for the formation of the new Commandery. He was the Commander from 1890 to 1893 and again in 1903. He was the Generalissimo in 1889 and the Captain General from 1901 to 1902 and again from 1904 to 1909. He died while in office on December 15, 1909.
His Knight Templar Sword and Scabbard have been preserved and may be viewed at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
Thru the years Constantine continued to grow and was very active. It did better than most Masonic bodies during the economic depression and during WW I. Surprisingly, they knighted twenty new Sir Knights in 1943 during WWII.
The last Commander was Leo Luettjohann. Leo stated that in the 1990s the Commandery was very busy. They hosted an annual Christmas Observance that was attended by the Commanderies from Thief River Falls and Fergus Falls. The Sir Knights always brought their ladies. The dinner must have been an elegant affair with the Sir Knights in uniform and the ladies in their fancy dresses and gowns.
The Sir Knights enjoyed practicing receiving the Grand Commander and Officers on their official visits.
The Commandery was very active in raising funds and sending the local Pastors on the Holy land Pilgrimage.
One of Crookston’s Commandery prized possession is on display in the Masonic Lodge. It is the Officer Jewels for the Constantine Officers made by Tom Morris. Tom was a pioneer to the area, and a Charter member of the Commandery. He became the Grand Master of Minnesota Masons in 1906, Grand High Priest of Royal Arch Masons, and Grand Commander of Knights Templar Minnesota 1918. He started a jewelry business in Crookston. Today if you go to where his store used to be. You will find it to be an Attorney’s office. When you walk in you will see a black and white checkerboard floor with the name Morris inlaid.
Crookston is a community that is in the far Northwest corner of Minnesota that’s only 25 miles from Grand Forks North Dakota, and one hundred miles from the Canadian border. 1960 was the start of a declining era for the region. The major economy was agriculture, and most people earned their living directly or indirectly from agriculture. The young people have left the area seeking careers and well-paying job in larger communities, leaving an aging population. A telephone interview with the Publisher of the “Crookston Times” the regions daily newspaper, Don Forney, confirmed this “Ya that’s pretty much right. The Baby Boomers either went off to war or college and found good jobs and didn’t come back. There was only a few that came back to farm.”
My analogy is that a Lodge, Chapter, Commandery or any Masonic Body is like a living thing, it has a life of its own that has a life process. This is a process of inception, growth and in due time death. Masonic organizations may have different life spans so one lodge may live for 200 to 300 years while another may only last for 25 to 50 years. Generally, the Lodge or Masonic body will experience its birth, a period of growth, a period of stabilization, and then a period of declining membership that can lead to its demise. The time frame for this process is uniquely different for each case. Generally, it happens when lodge or Masonic body loses its purpose and/or loses those two or three “spark plugs” who can attract new members and generate interest that encourages the existing members to attend.
Constantine Commanderies demise was due to aging membership, members who left the town to be closer to relatives in distance cities or that members left the state. Those who did remained had health issues or a spouse who had health issues or they could not drive to the meetings any longer. Some just lost interest due to years of inactivity.
What makes this eulogy sadder is that Constantine is not an isolated case. There are many lodges, Chapters, Councils or Commanderies that are in similar situations and are struggling to even hold a meeting.
Every member who stops coming to a meeting, every member who demits, every member who doesn’t pay their dues, is another precious drop of blood of the organization that is wasted. Eventually the organization is another drop closer to death. The life’s blood of any Masonic organization is its membership.
If you love your masonic organizations and value your membership the best thing you can do is to help them continue. Find a good candidate to join but then make them feel welcome and get them engaged. Help him learn and accept our ways. Every new member is a new transfusion of life into your organization.
If not, I guess you can give me a call. I can help you prepare the death notice and write the obituary. I know it’s not a job anyone wants to do, but if we do not make positive changes regarding membership, it may be something that the rest of us may have to do.