As an old sailor, I love a good “sea story”. Eighty-one years ago, a large number of our Masonic Brethren in the Sturgeon Bay area sailed on the Great Lakes. Their families wanted to have a special send-off meal together so, in March, before the sailors left for the upcoming season on the steamboats, the families gathered together for a dinner to bid the sailors farewell. It began quite simply with a free meal in one of the homes, grew to the point where they needed to use the lodge, and eventually, the meal was opened up to the public. A few weeks ago my Lady Cindy and I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Steamboat Dinner at Henry S. Baird Lodge No. 174 in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
Over the years the Steamboat Dinner evolved into an act of kindness project and a charity fundraiser. Now Masons, who are professional chefs, prepare the dinner and the net proceeds go to support charity and outreach in the Door and Kewaunee Counties. In addition, meals are given free of charge to those in need. As a matter of fact, members and friends of Henry S. Baird Lodge have paid for and donated well over 6,000 Steamboat Dinner tickets in the last 25 years. Approximately 50% of the meals are delivered directly to the doorstep for those who don’t drive. This year a total of 1,060 meals were served. Brothers, friends and community businesses purchased and donated 614 tickets, 402 meals were delivered by 15 teams throughout the 90-mile length of Door County, 313 Meals were dispensed through a make shift Drive-Thru, and 345 people ate in the dining room. Eighty Masons and OES members actively participated as workers.
The Henry S. Baird Lodge Steamboat Dinner is a magnificent example of Masonic charity at work in the community. As I witnessed our Masonic family working in cheerful harmony, it became clear to me why Charity is so important to Freemasonry.
Masonic charity does not just mean giving money, it also means giving a part of one’s self and of one’s time; something that is always in short supply. Giving unselfishly of our time or resources provides us with a warm glow of pleasure, makes us feel better about ourselves, and builds self-esteem. Some scientists even believe that giving to, or helping others, helps to relieve stress in the body and therefore may be beneficial to our health.
Just as an individual Mason reaps great benefit by performing charitable acts of kindness, when a Lodge comes together to perform acts of kindness in our community, the rewards are greatly magnified. As our Masonic family works in harmony on a charitable endeavor, it strengthens our ties, increases Lodge participation and retention, and helps the people in the community to value their local Lodge as they witness qualities of Freemasons.
There is another advantage of Freemasons actively working on charitable projects in the community. Recently, the Scottish Rite contracted with an Independent research and marketing firm, Cercone Brown Company, to conduct a national survey of 1,000 men, ages 21-65 who have never been Freemasons. Fewer than 30% of the non-masons surveyed were aware of the values of Freemasonry. To determine how best to communicate with men today, the research study provided non-masons with a series of statements about Freemasonry. When provided the statement “Freemasons do a lot of work for charities including holding and participating in various fundraisers within the community to promote charitable causes”, 49% said it improves my opinion of Freemasonry and nearly 80% of the men surveyed stated they may be interested in joining an organization that helps me become a better person while helping to improve the lives of others.
We shine Masonic light into the world through our charitable acts of kindness and that charity comes in many forms, both large and small. Whether it’s something simple like helping a single person in need, more complex like raising funds to support a community charity, or something as an enormous as a chain of 22 hospitals which provide free care to burned and crippled children, Freemasons regularly engage in charitable work as part of their Masonic membership.
A message we convey to every candidate for Freemasonry is that Charity is an essential part of our fraternity. In our Masonic degrees, we are admonished to have Faith in God, Hope in immortality and Charity to all mankind. We also learn that the form of a Lodge is an oblong square, extending from east to west and between the north and south, from the center to the surface, and from the earth to the highest heavens. It is said to be thus extensive to denote the universality of Masonry, and that Masonic Charity should be equally extensive.
This year, Lodges all across Wisconsin are shining the light of Masonry into their communities while taking advantage of our Wisconsin Masonic Foundation Acts of Kindness matching grants program to increase the impact of their charitable contributions. That is a very good thing for Freemasonry, and for our communities. By practicing Charity, Wisconsin Freemasons are “Showing the Way” to the rest of the world and we are all the richer for it!
L. Arby Humphrey