Masonic Widows: Tending to the women behind the brothers06.03.2019
Masonic Widows: Tending to the women behind the brothers
By Beth Grace
Carla Emerson never doubted that her husband was Mason material. After all, her father, grandfather and uncles all had made their own journey through the Craft.
She knew a good man when she saw one.
So, she was overjoyed when he decided to ask the question.
“I encouraged him to join,” she says. “I mentioned it to him off and on during the years of our marriage. … One day, he came home and said, ‘Guess what I did?’ He had gone to Bula Lodge (#409) in Burlington on a day when they had a meeting. He just walked up and talked to them.”
Brian liked what he heard. He was raised in 2009, and served in his lodge as junior deacon, senior deacon, steward and chaplain. He also was a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Greensboro.
He loved his brothers and they loved him.
His brothers were there for him when he was diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer and never left his side during the fight that followed. He was just 38 when he lost his battle with cancer on July 4, 2015.
Now, his brothers stand with Carla and their daughter, Ava, checking in on them regularly, calling to catch up, even though the two have since moved away from Burlington.
These caring men, it turns out, are her brothers, too.
“I honestly feel like I could call a half dozen of those men at any time and say I need help … and they would be there for me,” she says.
“When Brian was sick these men were always available for us. For example, they came and mowed our lawn. And kept mowing it for a long time. They did so much for us. It really solidified for me the message these men really did take their obligations seriously.”
The brothers of Bula are among North Carolina lodges that remember and keep their promise to contribute to relief for Master Masons, their widows and orphans. North Carolina isn’t alone -- several states have programs designed to assist widows. In general, those programs are usually endorsed by but not managed by the Grand Lodge.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Widows Guild is run by the Masonic Villages, the senior-living charity. The guild meets at group events throughout Pennsylvania and around the country. Widows who attend these events receive a Masonic Blue Slipper Pin and personalized membership card to the Widows’ Guild. On the back side of the membership card is the toll-free telephone number for the Pennsylvania Masonic Outreach program, with a list of the many services available to any widow of a Pennsylvania Mason.
The Blue Slipper pin, in use around the country, comes from the Old Testament book of Ruth. During the time of Boaz, next of kin were to look after the widow and offspring. In Ruth’s case, the next of kin refused to honor this requirement for Ruth, so Boaz agreed to take up the task. When Boaz met with the next of kin to seal the deal, the next of kin drew off his shoe and handed it to Boaz as a token for the bargain to take care of Ruth. Boaz held the shoe up for all to see as witnesses of the deal.
In North Carolina, lodges also sometimes “adopt” a widow as part of a program run through WhiteStone: A Masonic and Eastern Star Community.
WhiteStone Care and Wellness Center resident Ann Long is one of them. Her husband, Peter, a member of Charles M. Setzer #693, died many years ago at age 42. She also is the daughter of Past Grand Master Charles Harris, who served in 1957 and went on to serve as Grand Secretary from 1960 to 1975. She is a retired language arts and social studies teacher.
Mrs. Long says the lodge sends her a small check every month and keeps tabs on her health and well-being. The brothers have been good friends through the rough times – her son passed away at 42 – the same age as his father – some years ago.
“The Lord helps you through the hard times,” she says. “And these brothers have been there for me.”
She rooms with another Masonic widow, Minnie Rae West. Her husband, Johnny Robert West, died in 2003. He was a 55-year Mason and a member of Doric #568. They moved into WhiteStone together after he retired, and both made lots of friends at WhiteStone.
The lodge has kept in touch with her for years.
“I know that if I were to call and ask them for help, they would be there for me,” she says.
Down the road from the Care and Wellness Center, Mary Speidel points lovingly across the living room of her WhiteStone cottage to a portrait of her late husband, Frederick. A past Grand Commander of the Knights Templar, he also was a member of Raleigh $500. He passed away in 1998.
She says being the widow of an active Mason means she has many fond memories of her husband’s journey through an organization that he loved.
But she an all of the women interviewed for this story said the connection is stronger than that. All of the women have wonderful memories of friendships they made among other wives during those years.
Some of those relationships remain strong; others are now just wonderful memories.
But all of the women say those friendships sustained them through a time of great loss. And all worry about those widows who never hear from their lodges.
Recent Grand Masters have in their district meetings implored lodges to keep in touch with brothers who no longer attend and with widows who supported their husbands in their Freemasonry.
Some lodges took that to heart and stepped up their programs aimed to bring lost members and widow back into the fold.
The brothers of Cannon Memorial #626 in Kannapolis started by updating their list of brothers and widows. It wasn’t easy work. They checked public records, obituaries, and interviewed friends, family and sisters of the Eastern Star. Form that work, they identified 13 widows.
They wasted no time in getting to work. They invited the women for their regular family events and invented a new one – a family and widows’ picnic. Some of the widows were not receptive to the invitations, says former lodge secretary Thomas A. VanEtten Sr.
“Moving into 2019, we saw the need to create a special committee,” he says. “The Widow’s Outreach Committee is comprised of three brothers. It has been tasked with reaching out to our 13 widows on a quarterly basis, and then exchanging lists. Basically, if I have four names in Q1, I will hand my list to another committee member in Q2 and take his list. This approach provides the ladies multiple points of contact within the lodge. The committee uses this personalized method to create bonds, make the ladies aware of our upcoming events and remind the ladies that we (as a Lodge) are here to help.”
He says that because of this new level of engagement, two widows have reached out for assistance with home-maintenance tasks, and one contacted them just to say thank you for checking in on her.
“The Brothers gladly showed up to help, even setting follow-up dates,” he says.
Keeping in touch with our Masonic widows falls directly in line with the promise brothers make when they are raised.
“We can never, ever forget that we obligate ourselves to take care of our widows,” says Grand Master Dwight “Mack” Sigmon. They not only supported their husbands as they spent countless hours working within the Craft, they also support the fraternity in their wills and with generous gifts in honor of their husbands. That keeps Masonry – and the memory of their beloved husbands – strong.
The Grand Master says his lodge, Catawba #248 in Newton, makes a point of remembering widows and visits with 18-20 every year. They make special visits on the holidays and invite them to a ladies night. He fondly recalls a visit to one widow from his lodge who had little but wrote a $25 check for the Masonic Home for Children every year in gratitude.
Taking care of the women who have taken care of the brothers of the Craft shows real love in real time, GM Sigmon says.
“Do what you can for these wonderful women,” he says. “Start small. Start simply. But do something. Just … start.”