Odd Fellows promote friendship, love, truth

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No one really knows how it all began, but its roots are in the Holy Bible and among its members were Wyatt Earp, once a deputy sheriff in Kootenai County, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and aviator Charles Lindberg. They all belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF).

Some say the Odd Fellows was founded in the Trade Guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe, or perhaps even earlier to ancient times. The History of the Society book says, "Although no formal records exist, historians have advanced the theory that an Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1452 by knights who were said to have met at the pub named 'Boulogne-sur-Mer' in London and formed a fraternity."

Other scholarship says the Order most likely started in the 1600s.

The aim of the Odd Fellows and their women's group Rebekahs is to be Good Samaritans and help those in need, "to make the world a better place in which to live, seeking to improve and elevate the character of mankind."

In Renaissance-era England, life was precarious-fraught with danger, little medical infrastructure, widespread poverty, almost no opportunity for social advancement and for most - especially the uneducated, lower-class elderly and handicapped. It was a life of unending toil and misery. Private and government social welfare programs were virtually non-existent.

Then came the emergence of benevolent - or "friendly" - societies, and Odd Fellows was one of them.

Its unusual name was derived because, "In 17th century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. Those who belonged to such an organization were called Odd Fellows."

There was no ritual in the early lodges in England. They were social gathering places for workingmen and where aid and shelter was given to those seeking work - similar to today's trade unions.

Several types of charitable societies started at roughly the same time, some focusing on social problems, while others morphed into insurance cooperatives and banking - the roots of savings and loan banks and credit unions. Odd Fellows initially concentrated on helping widows and orphans, covering burial expenses, visiting the sick and elderly, "relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan," among other charitable acts. Today's outreach is much larger and worldwide.

Odd Fellows came to America in 1819, organized in Baltimore by Thomas Wildey (first Grand Master, later called "Grand Sire") and four members of the Order from England. In 1843, the American group set up a separate governing system from the English and changed the name to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Forty-five years later after arriving in America, the first IOOF lodge opened in Idaho on March 14, 1864, in Idaho City.

Through a training program (earning "degrees"), activities and by good example, they provide a framework for promoting personal and social development. The goal is "to improve and elevate every person to a higher, nobler plane; to extend sympathy and aid to those in need, making their burdens lighter, relieving the darkness of despair; to war against vice in every form, and to be a great moral power and influence for the good of humanity."

Their mantra is friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.

"We are the family of Odd Fellowship, composed of Men, Women, and Youth (starting at age eight), believing in a supreme being, the creator and preserver of the universe, who have come together in our local communities having the same beliefs and values as others, that; Friendship, Love and Truth are the basic guidelines that we need to follow in our daily lives."

Despite this altruistic purpose, the Odd Fellows are also targets of other benevolent organizations, including churches - due mostly to the group's connections with the Freemasons. Their secret rituals, organizational structure and ceremonial apparel mirror similar benevolent societies that are better known for their Masonic roots such as the Shriners, Order of the Eastern Star, and Knights of Pythias.

William J. Whalen's Handbook of Secret Organizations mentions use of Masonic symbols such as skull and crossbones, scythe, scales, hourglass, coffin, all-seeing eye (on the One Dollar Bill), the three chain links - Friendship, Love, Truth-and others.

Odd Fellows members undergo secret rituals during initiation, and as they progress through the degree ranks of the society.

Members are required to believe in a Supreme Being who is described as the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and the Bible is used - though one Lodge source says, "Odd Fellowship is not a religious institution."

The Catholic Church has long forbidden its members, under Canon Law, to join Masonic organizations because of their quasi-religious practices, including having chaplains, altars, high priests and ritual services such as funerals. The Catholics - as well as many Protestants - oppose Masonic teaching that says Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all equal before God.

Protestant churches in America are not united in their stance toward Freemasonry. The Orthodox Church of America however firmly states: "It is forbidden for an Orthodox Christian to be a member of the Masonic Fraternity because many of its teachings stand in direct conflict with those of Orthodox Christianity."

The early Mormon Church started out having close ties with the Masons, with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young being members of both. However, the relationship soured after 1844.

"Bad feeling between Mormons and Masons lingered for over a century," says the LDS Endowment. "A Masonic lodge founded in Utah refused to admit Latter-day Saints until 1984; for its part, the LDS Church has enjoined its members against belonging to 'secret societies' since the beginning of the 20th century."

Despite this opposition, Odd Fellows has survived and continues its charitable works today - counterbalancing philosophical differences - enjoying praise from numerous mainstream Christian sources for their Good Samaritan legacy, according to IOOF literature.

They were the first fraternal organization in the U.S. to establish homes for senior members and for orphaned children. Sadly, government regulations today have prevented the IOOF from providing senior and orphan care, as well as their historic cemetery and burial services. Nevertheless, they have adapted-taking up new benevolent causes.

Odd Fellows probably peaked in 1915, claiming 3,400,000 members. The Great Depression cut that in half and membership continued to decline to a low of a quarter-million in 1970, before bouncing back and doubling in the next 25 years (though auxiliary memberships may be included in the data).

There are almost a quarter million members in America today, with some 650 in Idaho, and more than 600,000 worldwide.

Late in the 1800s, steamboats were a major form of transportation on Lake Coeur d'Alene. Peder C. Sorenson from Norway built the first ship, called the Amelia Wheaton. He was later joined by fellow Norwegian Peter W. Johnson, an Odd Fellows member, and they built half the steamboats on the lake.

Pete eventually bought out his partner and branched out into the dredging business and lumber. The water between Third Street and Independence Point was too shallow for the steamboats, so Pete dredged it out. The silt was deposited where the Coeur d'Alene Resort now stands.

Pete Johnson became a wealthy man, served two terms in the Idaho Senate, and was Grand Patriarch of the Idaho Odd Fellows.

He and his wife Augusta, president of the Rebekahs, built a beautiful home at 622 Coeur d'Alene Ave., and looked forward to happy senior years. It was not to be. His wife died and his investments collapsed. Bills piled up and his friend H.W. Fintzel, also an Odd Fellows member, compassionately paid the mortgage on his house, but eventually it was lost anyway. Shortly thereafter, Pete was destitute.

Then another Odd Fellows friend originally from Switzerland stepped in to help, in the charitable spirit of the organization. "I haven't much, but what I have I want to share with you. As long as Fred Ryser has a roof over his head, Pete Johnson will never want for anything." He kept his word.

Odd Fellows claims to be "A world-wide force that stands for all that is noblest and highest."

In these tumultuous economic, political and social times, we need the "noblest and highest."

Syd Albright is a writer/journalist/biographer living in Post Falls. Contact him at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

Odd Fellows are everywhere

Today, the IOOF has lodges throughout the USA and most of the rest of the world, including Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Cuba, New Zealand, Austria, Finland, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Puerto Rico, Chile, Czech Republic, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Philippines.

Other notable IOOF members...

... include presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, the "Great Commoner;" U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, actor Charlie Chaplin and Old West outlaw Jesse James.

Odd Fellows/Rebekah good works

* World Hunger and Disaster Fund

* Arthritis Foundation

* Research chair at John Hopkins University School of Medicine

* Environmental preservation projects

* Facilities and activities for the Youth and Seniors

* Student loans and scholarships

* Local Lodge charitable projects

The IOOF Mission

* To elevate the character of mankind by promoting friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.

* To help make the world a better place by helping the community, the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and each other.

* To promote international goodwill through universal fraternity, believing that all are brothers and sisters regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank or station.

For further information

To locate the nearest Odd Fellows and Rebekahs in Idaho, contact Ken Averill at (208) 459-2091 or email: grandlodgeidaho@hotmail.com.

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