Fraternal Spotlight: Evart Masons

Supporting local families by providing child identification for families

This story is part of our Fraternal Spotlight, a feature designed to highlight the fraternal organizations in the Osceola County community. Organizations are chosen at random for interviews, in which we strive to share their history, mission and outreach with you, the reader. Look for this series each month.
EVART — When Mike Reske asked what it meant to be a Mason, he was told it meant to become a better man. Now, after a decade in the brotherhood, he knows that to be true. Reske, who will become the group’s “Senior Warden” in January, joined the fraternity in 2002 to follow in his father’s footsteps. “My dad was a Master Mason and it had always been in the back of my mind to one day be a Mason. I joined and I’ve never looked back,” he said. “I’ve gotten to meet some real nice guys and their families. It’s made me stop and think at times.” Masons, members of a fraternity formally known as Free and Accepted Masons, join together because there are things they want to do in the world and “inside their own minds,” according to the Grand Lodge of Michigan website. The first formal organization of Freemasonry was in 1717 in England, though stories exist of the group forming long before then. Masonry has been active in the United States for more than 250 years. “Nobody knows the exact history of it,” said Bill Wilder, who has been a Mason for 52 years, joining the Evart lodge when he was 24. “I was looking for an organization that was primarily for men, where I could go and relax and have fellowship with other men. I found it in the Masonic Lodge.” Individual groups of Masons are called lodges, which are in most sizable communities. About 13,200 lodges exist in the United States today. Locally, founded in 1873, the Evart lodge was first located on Main Street in Evart (where the First Baptist Church now sits.) In the 1890s, the lodge moved down the block and in the early 1940s moved to rooms above the former Bregenzers Hardware Store (today, Evart Family Optometrics). Today, the lodge meets in its own building on South Main Street. The Evart Lodge gives back to the community by participating in the Michigan Child ID Program, which provides identifying information such as a child’s height, weight, picture and voice recording to assist in searching if a child goes missing. The group facilitates the program at community events such as National Night Out in August and the Marion and Osceola County fairs. The Masonic family, including the Order of the Eastern Star and Job’s Daughters also sponsors the Evart Giving Tree and gives to the Sears Food Pantry. President-Elect Randy VanBuren said since becoming a Mason 31 years ago, he has benefited greatly by being part of a united effort to help the community. “We’ve built handicap ramps for people. The work is free. The lodge will furnish the material and the Masons help build the ramps,” he said. “It’s all about the enjoyment of helping someone.” Though religious in character, Freemasonry is not a religion. It was not created to take the place of religion, but requires its members to have a belief in the existence of a supreme being, teaching monotheism. “You must believe in God,” Wilder said. “You cannot be an atheist to be a Mason.” The group meets once each month for an organizational meeting and ceremonial session at the lodge. The group disagrees with rumors of a secret society. “Our membership is not a secret,” Wilder said. With a 43-member group, 12 of whom are active, the Evart Masonic Lodge invites new members to its organization. To be a Mason, individuals must be a male more than 19 years old with a clean record. “We do not ask a guy to join, he has to ask us,” Wilder said. “The reason is, you must show the initiative to ask us.” Bringing together men from all walks of life, Masons have held many positions in society. Notable Masons include George Washington, Gerald R. Ford, Benjamin Franklin and Harry Truman. Meant to be a way of life promoting kindness in the home, honesty in business, love for one another and above all, reverence and love for God, the Masons hope to encourage others to follow their lead in making the world a better place. “The country would be a lot better off if there were more Masons,” VanBuren said.