February 01, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
One of the best kept secrets around Lake Orion these days is the fact Orion Lodge No. 46 of the Freemasons just celebrated its 160th anniversary.
The men of the fraternal organization who run the local lodge are not upset that the event went largely unnoticed, for they assume a pretty understated profile.
Few people know they own the building downtown that houses Tesori Gifts and Computer Solutions. A nondescript entrance off Broadway Street takes members to the second floor where they host their meetings, dinners and events.
Sit down with them, however, and they eagerly talk about the history of the Masons, the Orion Lodge and their many activities that benefit children in the area.
"There is this misconception that we're a secret society, but that's not true," said Lodge member and Lake Orion resident James Kee, who has been a Mason for 36 years. "People just need to ask and we'll tell you what we're all about."
The Freemasons date back hundreds of years to colonial England. They played a key role in the birth of this country, when colonists were fighting for their independence.
Mason lodges are now found throughout the world. Their ranks include George Washington, Ben Franklin and many other prominent figures in the early history of this country, as well as a long list of explorers and astronauts, musicians, actors, business leaders, educators, medical pioneers, politicians and famous journalists.
Orion Lodge No. 46 currently has more than 140 members spread all around the country. A number of prominent men in Lake Orion's history have been Masons.
According to member Don Crawford, a 35-year Mason and former Lake Orion resident, the only requirement to be part of the group is that one believes in a "supreme being".
"We don't care what religion you practice," he said. "But we don't accept atheists. You have to believe in a supreme being that has an influence on your life and behavior. We want good men."
Being a good man includes a commitment to one's family, the Masons say. In fact, a man's family obligations come first over the Masons', said Crawford. When a person applies to join the organization, if he is married Lodge representatives ask the man's wife about this dedication.
Lake Orion resident and 30-year Mason Butch Welch thinks his "brothers" are some of the best men in the community. When his wife passed away, he remembered the Masons playing a key role in helping him with the loss.
"I've got to know many men here and have a lot of respect for them," he said. "They are the type of persons I want to be."
Welch added he has visited a number of other Mason lodges around the county and state, but his hometown lodge is his favorite, saying it is "imbedded in me like a church."
While the Masons are a strictly male fraternity, the spinoff Eastern Stars includes both men and women as members. Youth groups include the Rainbow Girls, Jobe's Daughters and DeMolay (for young men). The Masons' wives often join them for special events.
Current Lodge Master Jim Hecker, a four-year member, joined the Masons because he also wanted to get more involved in community activities, especially those benefiting children.
Orion Lodge No. 46 hosts a Christmas party each year for underprivileged kids from around Oakland County. The event takes place in downtown Lake Orion and features presents, a holiday meal and other activities.
Crawford laughs at the memory of playing Santa a couple of years ago. One of the kids did not believe he was the real Saint Nick but, when she received the exact gift she was asking for Christmas, the girl was shocked and apologized.
The Masons' Beacon Project provides school supplies to elementary students each year. They would like to get more involved in the local school district, Kee said, since so many of their members live here.
In recent years, Lodge No. 46 also has made donations to the Lake Orion Police Department for a defibulator and night vision equipment, Oakland County Sheriff's K9 Unit and to the Orion Veterans Memorial. This month, the Masons are teaming with Pee Wee Patch to host a special Child ID Program signup to help children if they are lost.
The Masons also have a college scholarship program that awards at least one $1,500 scholarship annually, matched by the Michigan Grand Lodge. Anyone can apply. Applications are found at the lodge, with a February 29 deadline.
Hecker also noted that on a national level the Masons contribute millions of dollars annually to the Shriners hospitals.
Kee said the biggest challenge facing the Masons today is attracting members. The state organization has launched a marketing campaign in recent years.
Free and accepted men are all welcome, no matter their race or religion, Crawford said. "There's no room for discrimination here."
The Masons hold their monthly business meetings on the first Tuesday of each month. They host regular dinners and gatherings on the other Tuesdays.
"We may not have a fancy kitchen, but we have a really good cook," Kee said.