Grand Master’s Report to the Craft – June 10th, 2011

Grand Master’s Report

M .W. Joseph B. Harker

My brothers, last June I was deeply humbled but honored to be elected and installed as your Grand Master, I remain equally humbled and honored   today.  It has been a privilege to serve OUR Grand Lodge these past twelve months as your Grand Master.  Additionally, it was a joy to serve with these fine 2010-11 Grand Lodge Officers.   To your Lodges we pledged our support, additionally; we pledged our support to York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shrine, Eastern Star, Amaranth, Daughters of the Nile, and other Masonic appendent bodies as well as our youth organizations.  To that end, I or another Grand Lodge officer attended nearly every event for which we received timely notification.  Your Grand Lodge Officers’ approached this past year as a team that is in place to serve the brothers, lodges and all Masonic affiliates of this great jurisdiction. I want you to know that we did our very best to uphold the duties of the office to which we were elected or appointed and installed.   The work of all organizations is important and appreciated by us and all whom they served.

Before I go further into this report I must first publically make some “Thank-You’s”; First to my Lady Mary whom I counted on for a host of things these past 10 years, to numerous to mention.  To my family and friends for understanding when I was not in attendance at birthdays, weddings, reunions, etc over these past several years, especially the last couple of years.  To my late parents John T. and Doris M. Harker, their involvement in Blue Lodge, Shrine, and Eastern Star provide me the background to want to join the fraternity.  To DGM Davey L White, Jr., your friendship and council I will treasure for the rest of my life. As you have always been there for me, I to will be there for you.  To SGW Dennis Siewert, JGW Daniel Slavik, SGD William Beetcher, JGD Frank Struble, SGS Don Hensiak and JGS Arby Humphrey, I will be there for you as well.  To GS Michael Dewolf PGM and GT John Benedict, your dedication and service to our fraternity is without question an asset to all and far too often taken for granted.  To our GC, GL, GM, GT, each and every DD, AA, DL, DC your dedication and efforts are truly admirable.  To Brother Richard Rygh our Masonic Journal editor thank you. To all Boards and Committees we thank you.  We must thank our Past Grand Masters for their past leadership, assistance, and encouragement this past year.  Last but certainly not least, we must thank our Grand Lodge Office staff of Jan, Alicia, Cheryl, Erika, and Bill.  What a crew.   I was in the Grand Lodge office several hours each week with rare exception and sometimes several days a week.   I witnessed their dedication and efforts.   M.W. Brother Mike, Grand Secretary along with Right Worshipful Brother John, Grand Treasure spent a considerable amount of time and energy negotiating very favorable terms of coverage and premium costs for our lodges and the Grand Lodge insurance protection including Grand Lodge employee health insurance benefits.  These two Brothers were also tasked with maintaining our compliance of Government regulations.  These two items required considerable time and effort.  My brothers, do you know how fortunate you and I are to have an office staff so capable and knowledgeable.

The past three years I have had the opportunity to travel to the North American Conference of Grand Masters and Grand Secretaries.  This year your jurisdiction was represented by DGM, SGW, JGW, GS, and myself.   This conference provides many opportunities to exchange information and ideas with other Grand Lodge Officers from various Jurisdictions.  We learned many useful things from these men and by attending many informative breakout sessions that were offered.  When time allowed, we sat in on portions of the Grand Secretary’s conference and it is very apparent that we are so very lucky to have M.W. Michael A. Dewolf, P.G.M., and Grand Secretary serving our jurisdiction.

I attended the Annual Communication of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Inc Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin.  In March we again enjoyed a sold-out (approx. 350 attendees) 8th Annual Combined Table Lodge.   It is always a joy to be with these brothers and I am looking forward to joining them again this coming Monday for this year’s communication.  Thank you MW Bro Earl.  My Lady Mary and I travelled to Toronto for the Imperial Shrine Annual Session in support of Baja, Tripoli and Zor Shriners.  Thank-you for including us.  I travelled to Sioux City, IA for the Midwest Shrine Association Summer Session with Zor Shriners.  WB William Beetcher and I traveled to Sioux Falls, SD for the Midwest Conference of Grand Lodges.  We enjoyed our experience at the Scottish Rite Supreme Council Session in Philadelphia.  I again had the pleasure to travel to Sioux City, IA along with RW Bro Davey and Bro Jerry Potter for the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Iowa where we  witnessed the installation of MWGM Bro Craig Davis.   Just recently my Lady and I travelled to Indianapolis for the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Indiana.

Your Grand Lodge Officers and I had the joy of officiating at or attending numerous Lodge installations, Masonic anniversary presentations, Lodge rededications and more especially degrees in the Lodges this past year.  Your Grand Lodge Officers always enjoy participating in these events.  I thank the local Lodge officers for understanding and making adjustments in their plans to accommodate our sometimes tight schedules.  I have compiled a spreadsheet listing nearly all of my travels and the events I attended.  This list is available to any one who may care to see it when we break for lunch or you may wait for it to be printed in the proceedings of this annual communication.  I did not keep track of the miles I travelled, the days I spent in the Grand Lodge office or at the Masonic Home.

The Wisconsin Masonic Home, Inc. by-laws were modified in May of 2010.  A major modification was to make the Grand Master the Chairman of the Board of Directors.  This change resulted in many hours of time being spent by the Grand Master in learning the day to day needs of our largest Masonic Charity.  It was an enjoyable and eye opening experience for which I am grateful.  It is rewarding that during this year there have been two state conducted inspections of the Skilled Nursing facility that were passed with flying colors.  The Staff of our Home is exceptional.

Three Pillars Campus opened its latest addition, the all new Hickory Suites Rehabilitation and Wellness Connection in Dousman.  In conjunction with the Annual Three Pillars picnic on Sunday 01 August 2010 a Cornerstone Ceremony was performed by the Grand Lodge officers.  The Grand Opening of the Rehab units was in December and Wellness Connection in January.  The Rehabilitation portion of this addition provides 14 private beds and Wellness Connection provides for our residents and an outreach into the community for those 55 and older to participate in wellness programs.   The “Caring to Grow” Capital Campaign continues to solicit donations.  My Lady Mary and I thank the Grand Lodge Officers for presenting a resting bench at the entrance to the Wellness Connection in our honor.  You will hear more about the Home later.

Membership continues to be an area in which we must concentrate our efforts.  I firmly believe that we are raising more Master Masons per year than there are Master Masons passing away.  Thus, one would think that we would be growing. However, there is an area where we must, at the Lodge level, do a better job and that is communicating with our brothers, especially those whom for whatever reason choose to resign or simply stop paying dues.  The Worshipful Master and/or Wardens should be (no must be) contacting these brothers before they are suspended.  I can not tell you how many former brothers have told me they are too embarrassed to request to be reinstated.  Maintain contact with brothers that live both locally and outside your normally boundaries.  A suggestion may be with a birthday card or Masonic anniversary card from the Lodge.   I am proud to report that there were 102 new Perpetual Membership Plan programs purchased this year.

During the fall of 2009 your Expenditures committee and Progressive Line Officers spent a great deal of time and effort to understand our operating expenses.  We reviewed the way that our annual budget was prepared which we found was based on the previous year’s budgets and not the actual expenditures.  This was corrected and we prepared a budget based upon the actual expenses over the past 3 years.  We are now completing the first year using this budgeting process and have discovered some areas for improvement.  We found early on that we had not allowed for some unexpected expenses that occurred and we were forced to make adjustments.  It disappoints me to report that we anticipate being slightly over budget.  We will know for sure when the audit is completed in August or September.   The Wisconsin Masonic Journal funding increased to improve the paper quality in your printed publication.  How many of you have gone to the Grand Lodge web site to see the Masonic Journal?  We made necessary exterior and plumbing repairs to our Grand Lodge Office building but we did not spend the amount budgeted.   Health insurance premiums and legal fees increased more than anticipated.

There were no requests for consolidations or mergers.   We did authorize the conferral of all three degrees on a candidate in a single day.  RW Davey White and I attended and assisted with the Degrees.  This brother now resides in Colorado but will maintain his Wisconsin membership.   A great success this year was the Fellowcraft Degree competition at the Madison Masonic Center.  Thank to the degree teams and most of all to our Grand Lecturer Ken Gorgen and the judges.

We had hoped that some of the youth groups would re-establish Assemblies, Bethels or Chapters but that did not happen. The good news is that this next year we could see maybe three DeMolay Chapters re-establish.  It is proven that youth exposed to Masonry will directly or indirectly add to our membership.  Your Grand Lodge through our investments and those of your Wisconsin Masonic Foundation continues to support Rainbow for Girls, Job’s Daughters and DeMolay.  During the past year Brother Al Iding, PGM has been selected by the Grand Master of DeMolay International to serve the next three years as the Executive Officer for DeMolay of Wisconsin.  Good luck in realizing your goals Brother Al.

Your Grand Lodge Executive committee, as a team, began monthly meetings in June or more often as required to handle all issues or concerns that came before us.  Most meetings were by teleconference or in conjunction with staff meetings.  Additionally, I want you all to know that the progressive line officers have been meeting at least once each and every month for several years now to coordinate and address issues for the betterment of our fraternity.  The position of Grand Master is not a ceremonial position but one that requires several years of experience and preparation.   I strongly believe in team work as a team will accomplish much more than any one individual can accomplish by himself. Additionally, this approach truly prepares our officers to be adequately equipped for the responsibility of leading our fraternity and its charities.   Thus, I trust that these two teams will continue to meet regularly.

I issued nearly 100 special dispensations for various reasons.  I attended a stated communication of a Lodge last September when the Master asked the Junior Warden how the plans were coming for their Past Master dinner the end of the month.  To which the JW rather sheepishly replied, “Worshipful Master, we have been dark, I forgot, I haven’t done anything”.   My Brothers we ask a new mason “What do you most desire?”  Light!  Why then do we go dark?  Why do we do it?  Just because that is the way it has always been done?  For the farmers?  How many farmers are here today?  My brothers it does not make sense to go dark!  Change it up. Meet outdoors or in your lower level.  You can request dispensation to move a meeting but you can not request dispensation to call a stated communication meeting, stated meetings occurrences and times must be in your bylaws. It is for this and requests for dispensations to hold special meetings to read and/or vote on a petition that I have asked Lodges to review their bylaws and consider meeting at least once per month each and every month of the year.  Several lodges have changed or rewritten their bylaws.  Some bylaws were last updated 50 or more years ago.  It is my hope that all Lodges will review their bylaws to see if they are relevant today.

I have been asked repeatedly “How has your year been going or gone”. To which my answer is always “Our year is going or gone quite well”.   My brothers, as I have said all year, this is “OUR” year.  This is “OUR” fraternity.  It is not my year.  It is OUR Year.  It is not what I would do in a single year that is going to make a difference but rather what we all have done and will continue to do that makes this fraternity the Greatest Fraternity in the World.  My brothers as stated in the installation ceremony last year “a Grand Master should be ever mindful that though elevated for the time being above his fellows, that he was elevated by them and to them he will return.”

“Never Forget” those three obligations you took at the Alter of Freemasonry and those charges given to you at the conclusion of each of your three degrees.  Reference them often for if you do you can not help but be a better Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Grand Father, Grandson, Uncle, Nephew, etc.  If you are that better person you can not help but feel good about yourself and thus you will be a better citizen.

You all know that at the closing of each and every meeting you hear those three simple little responses to the questions of how do we meet, act and part my brothers.  Those simple statements have meant a great deal to me ever since I joined Lodge.  When you open your mind to it there are any number of meanings in these little statements.  However, as you know one sticks out a little bit more to me. Let’s try IT!

How do we meet my brothers?  How act?  And Part upon the Square!!!

Thank you and may God Bless!!!