April 26, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Groups share civic goals

Fraternal organizations share membership challenges
Kathy Dobbs Correspondent
Kathy Dobbs Special to photo

Members of Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia to commemorate their 100-year anniversary in Coeur d’Alene.Special to
(Full-size photo)

Two events separated by miles and purpose took place April 19, bound by a common thread.

Members of Knights of Columbus St. Thomas Council 1363 attended Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic church in Coeur d’Alene to celebrate their centennial year and state convention. Meanwhile, 122 miles to the south in Clarkston, the Loyal Order of the Moose hosted weekly Moose Races at Lodge 751 on Sixth Street.

Both the Knights of Columbus and Moose represent fraternal organizations formed in the 19th and early 20th centuries to promote camaraderie and like interests among men and to develop civic minded and social agendas.

Many fraternal orders originated during a time commercial insurance companies didn’t extend coverage to poor workers or provide sickness and death benefits, so offering insurance to their members became a primary purpose of the orders.

Although this function became less important in some instances, as insurance companies expanded their coverage, the Knights of Columbus insurance program endures. According to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, “The success of the order’s program can be attributed to the more than 1,000 professionally trained brother Knights who make up our agency force. They work full time to develop and maintain their knowledge of the products we offer and how they can help secure the future for families for generations to come.”

In his letter to the Idaho State Council, Anderson also addresses the difficult times facing the national and global economy when he writes, “Amid today’s economic crisis, the Knights of Columbus has declared 2009 the Year of the Volunteer. I ask each state and local council, indeed each brother Knight to increase volunteer efforts by going out to the parishes and communities and finding immediate needs that are not being met.”

The Rev. George Rassley has been chaplain of St. Thomas Council 1363 since 1990, and says, “The Knights bring hope during this time of troubled economy by continuing in its efforts in support of the annual Toostie Roll campaign for the benefit of the handicapped.” Like the Knights of Columbus, other fraternal organizations in North Idaho and Eastern Washington – including the Fraternal Order of Eagles, The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, Masons, Moose and Shriners – operate as charitable institutions and social centers.

The Eagles, including members of Coeur d’Alene Lodge 486, have a long history of helping improve the lives of men, women and children by conducting toy drives and sending young victims of violence to camp. They fund medical research into diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses.

A goal for the Elks is to spread the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity. In each of the 172 Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country there is an Elk committee at work. Their program includes outpatient support and helping veterans who are homeless. According to one Elk official, “Our goal is to make the Elks the most visible force in voluntary service to our veterans.”

Today, as many fall on hard economic times; losing a job or their 401(k), fraternal orders seem to be renewing their commitment toward charitable giving and volunteerism.

Longtime Moose member and former director John Frazier recently led guests through Lodge 751 to show them a full-size kitchen and restaurant that was once packed daily with members eating lunch or dinner. “Currently membership is down,” he said. “Folks stopped coming in and we had to close the restaurant. The large banquet room upstairs that was once used for Moose dances is now rented out for prom parties and wedding receptions.”

One reason for the decline, says Frazier, “is the fact there are so many more activities for young married couples and families to be involved with. But the Moose has always been supportive of the family and I think if we can do a better job promoting that, we’ll see membership increase.”

Moose International has launched its own “Economic Stimulus Plan” to increase membership and encourage people to get involved in volunteer opportunities by instituting a free enrollment membership applications accepted between March 1 and April 30.

Mike Anderson, chairman for the Knights of Columbus state convention, reports membership in the Knights on the rise, but the average age of members is 60. “We’re finding that younger men are often busy with raising their family and it may not be until they’re in their 40s before they choose to become a Knight.”

Contact correspondent Kathy Dobbs by e-mail at kathleendobbs@verizon.net.

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