Building character, fellowship, fraternity
Dave Olson is the new Grand Master of the Minnesota Masons.
The Forest Lake resident and past master of Forest Lake Lodge 344 now presides over 150 lodges in Minnesota, totaling about 14,000 Masons.
As Grand Master, he is charged with setting the direction of the fraternity, helping the lodges however he can, and focusing on membership: bringing in new members, keeping current members, restoring past members.
In past years, Olson said, Minnesota had more Masons. “In the 1960s, we probably had 100 more lodges.” Many small towns that used to have lodges no longer provide manufacturing jobs, he said. “In southwest Minnesota, it’s pretty rural now, all agriculture.”
Masons have been in Minnesota since it became a U.S. territory in 1849, nine years before it achieved statehood. St. Paul Masons organized in the spring of 1849, Stillwater Masons in the fall of that same year.
The Forest Lake group has existed as an independent entity for 51 years. Before that they were part of the Lindstrom Masons.
Within a year of forming a separate group, they had a new building, the Forest Lake Masonic Lodge at 119 SE Eighth Ave. It was built mostly by their own hands, as the men hired out only those jobs that they didn’t have skills for.
Olson, who is retired now, also has a background in the skilled trades. He formerly worked for the city of St. Paul building inspection department, and before that was a sheet metal worker in construction.
He has been a Mason since 1976, at lodges in south Minneapolis and Forest Lake.
Olson calls the Masons a character-building fraternity. “We’re on a journey and continually trying to improve ourselves,” he said.
While on this journey, Masons travel through stages called degrees. To become a full member, a Mason advances through three degrees.
Olson began his work at the state level in 1989 as Custodian of the Ritual, a title he still holds. “I was helping lodges prepare for degree work,” he said.
The organization uses an orderly system to govern itself. Every lodge has a leader, and the 150 key leaders all have officers under them. The state level has the same seven officer positions as a local lodge.
To elect officers for the state organization, each lodge has three votes. But the Masons avoid politicking and campaigning by “going through the chairs.” Officers are part of a progressive line of succession, with the leaders (called “masters”) moving up one position every year.
“It’s a natural progression,” Olson said. “I had one person I could appoint to become part of the progression. In seven years this person will become the Grand Master, just as I knew seven years ago, if things went as expected, I would be Grand Master.”
You may have heard of the Masons in an American history course. Thirteen signers of the Constitution, many justices of the Supreme Court, and several U.S. presidents have been Masons, including George Washington.
The organization has a long and interesting history. No one knows just how old Freemasonry is, but some believe masonry rose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages.
Given their origins in the stonemason guilds, it makes sense that the Masons use architectural tools as symbols. With their focus on making good men better and supporting important causes, they use the symbols to portray moral lessons, Olson said.
Masons now represent many occupations, political ideologies and religious beliefs, with the one requirement that they believe in one God.
“Freemasonry is dedicated to the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God,” a Mason brochure reads. “It uses the tools and implements of ancient architectural craftsmen symbolically in a system of instruction designed to build character and moral values in its members. Masonry teaches that each person, through self-improvement and helping others, has an obligation to make a difference for good in the world.”
Dues at the Forest Lake Lodge, $75 per year, go to administration and building expenses. “That’s why we started doing breakfasts years ago: building expense,” Olson said.
The lodge holds three pancake breakfasts each year. Two support the lodge and the third is for Relay For Life, a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. This year’s Relay For Life breakfast was held in June. The fall breakfast will be held Sept. 29.
Members are given tickets to sell, but some choose to pay for the tickets themselves and then give them away. “We’ve got very generous men,” Olson said. “We don’t even know how much they give.”
The Masons multiply their gains by matching them at the lodge level, and then applying for another match from Masonic charities. This way $1,000 in pancake receipts becomes a $4,000 donation. Olson said the Forest Lake Masons have raised thousands of dollars for Relay For Life.
They also support high school scholarships, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and local food shelves.
The 14th annual golf outing for scholarships, with an $85 fee, will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Oneka Ridge Golf Club. Tee time is 1 p.m., followed by dinner and prizes at the Forest Lake lodge at 6 p.m.
Individuals also benefit from their largesse. When a lodge member is in need, for example, as a result of a fire, the others are eager to help.
Interested in becoming a Mason? Applicants must be “men of good character who believe in a supreme being.” A friend or acquaintance may invite someone to seek membership, but to join, a man must petition the lodge. The master of the lodge appoints a committee to visit the applicant before the lodge vote on his petition.
The Forest Lake Masonic Lodge meets the first Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at 119 SE Eighth Ave. in Forest Lake. The current Master is David Scott. For more information visit the www.forestlakemasons.com.