By Lee Reinsch
HOWARD – By the end of summer, the temporary home of Masonic organizations in Northeast Wisconsin inside the Beja Shrine Center, 1950 Bond Street, will become permanent.
That’s when the new 3,000-square-foot addition, which will house the Masonic library and museum, will enable what’s now merely the Beja Shrine Center to morph into the Northeast Wisconsin Masonic Center and Masonic Library and Museum.
The library will be home to one of the state’s largest collections of Masonic documents, and it will be open to the public for research.
The organizations may have a new address, but they hadn’t exactly been couch-surfing.
After the organizations sold the former Northeast Wisconsin Masonic Center, just across the way at 525 N. Taylor St., to Cup O’Joy live music venue, the group was at loose ends.
The group moved into the Taylor Street site in 1978 after a fire destroyed its location in downtown Green Bay.
Now the groups will all be together.
“We will all benefit by being together and sharing our activities,” said Beja Potentate Ben Rodgers at a groundbreaking ceremony April 9.
The building at 1950 Bond St. will house the Roosevelt, Washington, Des Peres, and Northeast Wisconsin Daylite Masonic Lodges; the Shriners, the Scottish Rite Valley of Green Bay, York Rite Bodies; the organization’s groups for women, the Daughters of the Nile, the Eastern Star, and Job’s Daughters; the young men’s group, DeMolay Chapter; and the Masonic Library and Museum.
Although all of these branches on the family tree may seem confusing to those not in the loop, it may help to know that all Shriners are Freemasons, but not all Freemasons are Shriners.
Freemasons can become Shriners if they wish, but these two terms are not interchangeable.
However, Freemason and Mason are frequently used in place of one another.
“We Masons are simply a group of men that believe in making a difference in the world through strong moral character and a charitable heart,” said Kenneth C. Gorgen, Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin.
Elton Gofoe, Senior Warden with Theodore Roosevelt Masonic Lodge 322 in Green Bay and recently installed last week as Thrice Illustrious Master with York Rite Warren Council No. 13, has been involved for 10 years.
He joined after he discovered his grandfather was a Mason.
“This is one place I can come to be seen and treated as an equal, just like everyone else,” Gofoe said.
Nic Schuh, Worshipful Master of Theodore Roosevelt Lodge, said the true secret of the Masonic brotherhood is one can go to a lodge anywhere in the world and feel welcome.
Ralph Papesh, a Mason for more than 40 years, said he’s privileged and proud to spend time with a group of likeminded positive people.
Rodgers said when he lived in North Dakota, he noticed a group of guys “that always looked like they were having fun” and wanted in.
The Shriners definitely make fun a priority.
Besides hosting the Beja Shrine Circus, the group brings its tiny bikes, crazy keystone cops to parades and public gatherings, and even has a clan of hillbillies.
Beja has a whole guild dedicated to scaring people, via the Green Bay Fear Halloween haunted house.
It’s not all fun and games, though.
Shriners who are firefighters lead the Stop Burn Injury program to promote burn awareness.
In addition to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the appendant Masonic bodies provide grants to benefit heart, eye and cancer research. They also provide resources for those with dyslexia.
In 2019, Masonic Lodges in Wisconsin awarded more than $85,000 in scholarships.
The Masons are believed to be linked to stonemasons’ guilds and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages that spread throughout the British Empire.
The first organization of lodges, called the Grand Lodge, formed in 1717 in England.
It made its way to this country by 1730, with Benjamin Franklin among those who helped establish it here.
George Washington became a Mason in 1753.
The Masons chartered in Green Bay before Wisconsin was Wisconsin.
In 1824, 10 men met at a home near the Fort Howard military base near Green Bay, when the state was part of the Michigan Territory.
That lodge, the Menominee Lodge, was active until 1830.
Local Masons resurfaced 18 years later, in 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state, to form Washington Lodge No. 21.
Henry S. Baird, who had served as Worshipful Grand Master of Menominee Lodge, served in the same capacity with Washington Lodge.
Green Bay’s Masonic presence has continued unabated since then.
One hypothesis for the organization’s longevity could be one of its cardinal rules: No talk of politics, religion or money allowed.
These days, that alone is worth the price of admission.