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Masonic Fraternity, Oldest in Area First Instituted at Bailey Station
Daily News Democrat, Festus, MO - May 22, 1950
Transcribed by Lisa K. Gendron
(Editor's Note - This is one of a series of articles concerned with the fraternal life of the cities of Festus and Crystal City. In these articles there is considered the history of the various orders organized in the area, not including those known as "insurance orders." All data is gathered from various lodge records, and from statements of members who have actual knowledge of the past history.)
The old saying is that years mellow good furniture, and that usage makes it more beautiful and adaptable. Perhaps that is true, and it might be applied to the long and interesting life of Shikinah Lodge, No. 256, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.
The beginning of this lodge date from 1867, when it started work under dispensation. It was chartered in 1868, with eleven names on the charter. At that time it was located at Bailey station, some two and a half miles west of what is now Festus, where few traces remain. Then, it was said, in addition to a few scattered dwellings, a railway station, and a couple of stores, there stood the lodge hall - a truly rural lodge.
Charter members were William S. Post, C. G. Warne, C. F. Lee, I. N. McNutt, S. W. Crawford, John Wiatt, J. M. Bailey, M. M. Cannon, D. L. Deyo, D. H. Dorman, and J. B. O'Bannon.
All of these men are gone. The last charter member to die was C. F. Lee, who passed away nearly 20 years ago at 101 years of age.
As the years passed the fortunes of the lodge grew, though in a few instances waned somewhat as conditions changed. After more than a quarter of a century of service, Shekinah Lodge took on a new vigourous life, and members in sufficiency enough to warrant its removal to Festus.
It was in 1894 that the lodge was permanently located in Festus and the present Masonic Temple constructed. Apparently the only reason for building in Festus at the time was that it seemed there was "more coming and going" than in Crystal City, though the glass works were in operation.
The Shekinah Lodge Masonic Hall stands today, and is the most spacious and commodious hall in the city. It is used by several other organizations which have no suitable quarters of their own. It has been frequently refurnished and renovated to keep it in condition. According to some of the older members, if there was any mortgages on the property all were paid off before ten years of ownership by the lodge.
Shekinah Lodge - a "Blue Lodge," covering only the first three degrees of Masonry has remained intact through the 82 years of its existence. Through its officers chairs and members seats have come and gone, many men deeply interested in the Masonic Order and its teachings. A student once said that to many who become members, the lodge serves as both church and state as they follow its precepts. While there has never been any of the higher units of Masonry organized in the area - Royal Arch, Knights Templar, etc., many from here have been affiliated with the 32nd degree of Scottish Rite in St. Louis.
At least one member of the local lodge, H. H. Balsiger, a Past Master of the lodge, has attained the 33rd degree, the highest honor Masonry can bestow on a member. Another, J. F. Jennings, was honored by being named Knight Commander of the Court of Honor, an honorary degree conferred for meritorious services, standing above the 32nd degree.
Past Masters of the lodge now deceased include: W. S. Post, D. J. Marquis, F B. Kennett, C. F. Lee, C. G. Warne, J. N. McNutt, W. A. Foster, Jas. Houghton, J. C. Snedden, F. W. Brickey, G. N. Allen, R. C. Moore, John Burton, John Keating, Henry Stumpf, A. A. Smith, D. B. Frost, M. W. McNutt, Hugh Glen, C. S. Wheeler, E. P. Malone, John Vinyard, E. L. Fast, A. L. Freese, T. B. Cromwell, C. W. Kemp, Sr., and F. C. Pfotenhauer. These names appeared on a recent program of the installation of officers held January 11, 1949.
Those former Past Masters now living, according to the program are: E. Kerruish, J. F. Colin, F. W. Schleuter, R. C. Hopkins, E. A. Santschi, R. C. Colin, B. Hattershire, J. E. Jennings, H. H. Balsiger, Thomas McKee, J. L. Moore, C. A. Juncker, C. H. Colin, Jos. Bennett, H. L. Sheakley, Byrl DeGeare, J. V. DeGeare, W. R. Skaggs, W. D. Wheatley, George W. Bennett, George W. Evans, G. A. Gross, H. J. Miller, W. B. Gwinn, John Becker, Williams Yererotto, Charles F. Winford, Mitchell Smith, O. R. Manners, and C. Freeman Ogle.
Many of the foregoing men held the office of Worshipful Master for more than one year.
The annual installation of officers has always been one of the "big" affairs in the area. For many years it has been staged as a public installation, and frequently the crowds have been so large that it was necessary to adjourn to the old Opera House to care for the visitors. But Shekinah Lodge has never been much of an "eating lodge." Many similar organizations have gone to considerable length to be on the banquet side, but not so Shekinah. The annual installation is usually held in January.
Membership of the local lodge hovers near the 300 mark. Present officers are: J. Earl Landes, Worshipful Master; C. A. Temm, Senior Warden; Fred Cocher, Junior Warden; W. W. Bradley, Treasurer; Byrl DeGeare, Secretary; Julian Gordon, Senior Deacon, Monroe Propst, Junior Deacon; Alden Lashley, Senior Steward; Chalmers Self, Junior Steward; Roy Wampler, Marshal; Leslie Church, Tyler; J. F. Colin, Chaplin; and Trustees - W. D. Wheatley, Chairman; C. F. Juncker, George W. Evans, Fred Schuleter, and Mitchell Smith.
Two of the older members of the local lodge are John F. Colin, 833 Moore Street, and F. W. Schleuter, 24 Jefferson Avenue. Mr. Colin became a member of the lodge in 1907 and Mr. Schleuter, about 1912. Both are Past Masters of the Lodge, and have taken part in most of the Masonic activities of the area, in various capacities.
Mr. Colin, whose 44 years of Masonry set lightly on him has taken great pride in his memory of the ritualistic work. For many terms he has officiated as Chaplain of the Lodge - in fact so many he cannot now recall how many terms he has served in that capacity. During that time he has officiated at countless Masonic funerals, but declined to give any estimate as to number except that he remembered at least 15.
He said that Shekinah Lodge has a valuable relic in an apron presented to the lodge by Judge John Conn of Rush Tower many years ago. This apron was the property of Judge Conn's grandfather, and with it a letter attesting the fact that George Washington had worn it for a new moments when he presided in a lodge, where the old gentleman sat. Unfortunately, the letter giving details has been lost though the apron is still in possession of the lodge.
Four of Mr. Colin's sons are members of the same lodge, and he is believed to be the elder member of the organization here as Masonic services apply.
Mr. Schlueter said that he had followed the organization closely and had attended many lodges not only in Missouri, but in adjoining states.
Both men are still active in Shekinah Lodge.