140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Friday, November 30, 2007

Visalia Masonic Lodge 150th Anniversary

Visalia Masonic lodge members and their wives will gather Saturday at the Holiday Inn to celebrate the lodge's 150th anniversary.

Also attending the sesquicentennial of Visalia-Mineral King Lodge No. 128 F. & A.M. will be Tulare Masons celebrating their club's 125th anniversary.

As a bonus, they'll all hold a reception for statewide Grand Master Richard Hopper of Visalia.

The Masons are a fraternal organization whose tenets are brotherly love, relief and truth. The Visalia lodge sponsors college scholarships, including for career technical education.

Bill Fulmer, the "worshipful master," or lodge president, said a spirit of fellowship keeps him coming to the Thursday meetings at the lodge's distinctive 1934 art deco building on Mineral King Avenue. Longtime local members include George Pope, Gus Weldon, William Wilson, Steve Gerrard and Gene Miller.

"It's not a religion," Hopper said, but members are encouraged to practice a religion. It's not a secret organization, either, but "we do have secret signs, words and modes of recognition."

Freemasonry traces its roots to the stone masons of the Middle Ages who built the cathedrals. Traditionally, Masonic lodges put into place the cornerstone of public buildings and schools. Today, it's a ceremonial event after the building is complete.

Subunits of the Masons include the Shriners (they drive the little cars in the Candy Cane Lane parade and raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children), and Order of the Eastern Star, which is open to female relatives of Masons.

A highlight of Saturday's assembly will be the distribution of a history of the Visalia lodge. Walt Hill and Ray Offutt "worked like dogs" on it, Fulmer said.

Among its nuggets are that Edward Farris Storey served as the first master when the Visalia lodge was started on Dec. 19, 1857. Storey soon moved to Nevada to follow a silver strike. Today, Storey County in Nevada is named after him.

Col. Thomas Baker served as the lodge's first secretary. He moved south to the Kern River, where his land holdings included "Baker's Field," now Bakersfield.

Joseph Clarence "J.C." Ward joined in 1873. While in his teens in Michigan, Ward learned to operate the telegraph and taught Morse code to his pal Thomas Edison. Ward became a friend of Samuel F.B. Morse and in the Civil War served on the staff of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Lewis Griswold’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. He can be reached at lgriswold@fresnobee.com

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