Harmonie Lodge History -21st Century
The beginning of the 3rd Millennium has seen a world-wide resurgence of interest in Freemasonry. Much of this can be attributed to popular culture’s recent fascination with our Craft. Books such as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code and Solomon Key; high profile articles in U.S. News & World Report and the New York Times; movies such as National Treasure; History Channel documentaries; an explosion of Masonic websites; and even the Simpson’s Stone Cutters parody have fueled this resurgence.
Harmonie Lodge has benefited greatly from this exposure and has seen an up swell in young, enthusiastic, new members. These neophytes are often the grandchildren of Masons and the children of that generation of men who decided that Masonry was not the hip thing to join. Thus, we have brought back into the fold many family lines nearly lost to Masonry. With this breath of fresh air Harmonie has overcome the demographic problems still plaguing most Lodges throughout the United States.
We owe a great debt to the old guard who carried the Lodge through the lean years of the late 20th century and into the new millennium. Their institutional knowledge and wizened leadership helped pass the torch to a new generation of leaders. As the 21st century progressed, we saw an explosion of worthy and well-qualified young men petitioning Harmonie Lodge. These enthusiastic new brethren have been drawn from a diverse set of professional backgrounds including law, medicine, business, banking, government, and information technology. This proliferation in young talent has also brought about an increase in Masons affiliating from other Lodges.
A common thread among out new brethren is their voracious quest for knowledge. These curious lifelong learners have access to information that the previous generations of Masons could not even dream of. Masonic websites offer the most ancient medieval manuscripts to the most recent articles on the Craft – and all at the click of a mouse. With this access to knowledge Harmonie has had a renaissance of learning and a new focus on Masonic history and philosophy.
In 2004, R:. W:. James M. Kipler was appointed Grand Sword Bearer of the 1st Erie District. He served in this capacity from 2004 to 2006. R:. W:. Kipler is well-known for his excellence in ritual work, benevolence, and fellowship. He has been an inspiration to our newest members through his commitment to leading by example.
In 2005, V:. W:. Ronald J. Keel was appointed Assistant Grand Lecturer of the 1st Erie District, after a sudden vacancy. He was well known throughout WNY for his knowledge of Masonic ritual and stellar Middle Chamber Lecture. V:. W:. Keel had been sought after for many years to be a Grand Lodge officer and finally decided that it was his time to more widely spread his knowledge. When V:. W:. Ronald J. Keel was untimely called to the Celestial Temple on December 31, 2005 the brethren of Harmonie Lodge were deeply affected by his loss. On January 11, 2006 they established the Ronald J. Keel Fellowcraft Club to honor his memory.
The Ronald J. Keel Fellowcraft Club affords new members the opportunity to learn, socialize and work together in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. The Club is dedicated to charity, education, and fellowship. The founders of the RJK Fellowcraft Club were Bro. J.C.L, Bro. John P. Balk, and Bro. Frederick G. Clark II. It should be noted that Bro. Balk displayed tremendous leadership in his two terms as president. The Club continues to grow and has attracted members from Lodges across Erie County. It has turned into the proving ground for Lodge leadership, by thoroughly cultivating the potential of each of its members.
In the spring of 2006, R:. W:. John L. Leszak was appointed Grand Director of Ceremonies for the 1st Erie District by Grand Master Neil I. Bidnick. In his position R:. W:. Leszak spearheaded educational efforts from 2006 to 2008 throughout Erie County.
In September of 2006 the Lodge celebrated the 225th Anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of New York. R:. W:. James Kipler presided over the Lodge rededication ceremony, in which the brethren renewed their obligations to the Craft.
W:. Gerard E. Schultz was installed for the third time as master in June of 2007. The year was full of rich educational programs, important charity work, and a renewed commitment to fun and fellowship. The Master Mason Degree was performed by the brethren Harmonie Lodge in its entirety for the first time in recent memory. W:. Schultz was the last of the transitional brothers who worked to pass the torch from his predecessors, the WWII generation, to his successors, the generation made Masons in the 21st Century. He is well known for his commitment to visiting our sick and elderly brethren.
In June of 2008, R:. W:. Henry Zip Lang retired as Lodge Secretary after sixteen years of dedicated service. It was chiefly through his investment strategies that Harmonie Lodge has remained fiscally solvent. He is a past Grand Steward of the First Erie District and is well-known for his charitable works and knowledge of the Craft.
On June 11, 2008, W:. J. C. L was installed as the first master of Harmonie Lodge to be raised in the Twenty-First Century. W:. J.C.L has distinguished himself with degree work, Masonic scholarship and education. As the Lodge’s first webmaster, he has been at the forefront of our modernization campaign. The newest technologies have been integrated into all aspects of our operations, from Lodge business, Masonic education, and degree ceremonies. Wireless Internet, surround sound, and multi-media presentations have greatly increased the efficiency and beauty of our enlightenment based enterprise. It was during W:. J.C.L’s administration that the formations of “Janusian Masonry” would formalize.
W:. J.C.L served two- consecutive terms as Master, from June 2008 to June 2010. Under his aegis the Lodge saw unprecedented growth and revitalization. Attendance doubled at Meetings from 2008 to 2010. The Lodge raised 11 master Masons and affiliated 11 brothers from other Lodges. In total 22 new members were brought into the Lodge. Ten degrees were conferred in total, for which we received the highest marks from our Assistant Grand Lecture and District Deputy Grand Master.
Twenty-eight lectures, seminars, and other educational programs were presented by the brethren of Harmonie Lodge from 2008 to 2010. Eight scholarly articles and one poem on Freemasonry were published on our website. The quality of these programs led to several invitations to lecture at the WNY Lodge of Research and Erie County School of Instruction for Master Masons.
In 2009, the officers of Harmonie Lodge formalized and named the Masonic educational programs that he had been developing since 2004. The Lodge named this system of Masonic education: “Concordia Collegium: Academy of the Progressive Science of Freemasonry.” Four courses of study were made available: (1) Candidates Course (Prospect through Master Mason), (2) Officers Course (Junior Steward though Junior Deacon), Masters Course (Senior Deacon through Worshipful Master), and Continuing Masonic Education (Master Mason through Past Master).
If that were not enough the Ronald J. Keel Fellowcraft Club presented the Masonic University of New York’s Masonic Development Course, albeit with a 699 flair, in three parts in January, February, and March of 2010. The faculty for the MDC were R:. W:. James Kipler as head proctor, Bro. Nathan Shoff, Bro. Ted Clark, and Bro. Daniel Di Natale. There was a large turnout from both Harmonie and the other Lodges in the Erie Districts.
The first “Outstanding Service Award” was presented to Bro. John Balk in June 2008 for his exemplary service as Senior Deacon, President of the Fellowcraft Club, and for his tireless work in the kitchen. In 2009 the number of merit awards increased to four. Bro. Ted Clark received the Outstanding Service Award for taking the Ronald J. Keel Fellowcraft Club to the next level in his two terms as President and for his exemplary work as the first Junior Warden to preside over a regular Festive Board. Bro. Nathan Shoff received the Albert Pike Award for Masonic Scholarship for his papers, “The Ancient Landmarks: Our Indefinite Boundaries” and “Hiram Abiff, Man & Myth.” Bro. B. J. Lyons received the “Ward A. Peterson Award for Masonic Benevolence” for his work with the Masonic Safety ID Program. Finally, R:. W:. James M.Kipler received the “Ronald J. Keel Award for Superior Masonic Ritual” for his memorization skill and eloquence of diction.
W:. Milton C. Keim received the Dedicated Service Award (DSA) from the Grand Lodge of the State of New York for his 50+ years of dedication to Harmonie Lodge and the Craft. W:. Keim served as Master in 1964 and has at one time or another sat in every officer’s chair. He most recently served as Chaplain and has been an inspiration to our newest brothers. It was an especially heartwarming presentation, as W:. Keim’s grandson Bro. Joshua Keim, a newly initiated Entered Apprentice, was on hand for the award ceremony.
At the May 2010 Investiture Ceremony, keynote speaker R:. W:. Jeffery Williamson recognized Harmonie Lodge for being on the cutting edge of the Masonic Renaissance movement. He pointed to our Ritual, Education, and Festive Board as examples of maintaining high standards and interest in the Craft. The brethren of Harmonie 699 were greatly honored by his remarks.
In June 2010 W:. Nathan A. Shoff was installed Master at a very propitious time, that of Harmonie Lodge’s 140th Anniversary. June 13, 2010 marked the 140th Anniversary of receiving our charter from the Grand Lodge of New York. The anniversary party was held on July 14th to coincide with our annual German Table Lodge. R:. W:. James Sullivan, Deputy Grand Master of the State of New York, was in attendance as our honored guest along with 50 of our most beloved brothers. Special thanks should go out to Bro. Daniel Di Natale, whose fundraising efforts allowed for purchase of new officer jewels and aprons, just in time for our 140th Anniversary.
W:. Shoff continued the tradition of Janusian Masonry set forth in the previous administration. Over a dozen lectures, seminars, and educational programs were given by the brethren of Harmonie Lodge. The highlight of his tenure was the announcement that Harmonie Lodge had won Mark Twain Award for Excellence in Masonic Awareness for 2010. This prestigious award was announced at the Annual Conference of Grand Masters in late February 2011 and was presented to Harmonie Lodge by M:. W:. Vincent Libone, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York in May. Only 17 Lodges in North America received this honor. Harmonie was recognized for having the number one Masonic Education Program (Concordia Collegium) in Western New York, its Website and Digital Library, as well as its Tour of Masonic Buffalo.
The merit based awards for 2010 went to the following brothers. Bro. Dan Di Natale received the Albert Pike Award for Masonic Scholarship for his educational lectures, seminars, and for his back to back victories in Masonic Jeopardy. Bro. Ted Clark received the Ward A. Peterson Award for Masonic Benevolence for leading charitable efforts at the RJK Fellowcraft Club, and W:. J.C.L received the Alois Altendorpher Award for the Preservation and Promotion of Harmonie Lodge, for revitalizing Harmonie Lodge during his two terms as Master.
W:. Shoff continued the tradition of exemplary degree work, with a stellar Third Degree Ceremony. Eight worthy and well qualified brothers were raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on March 19, 2011. And another six Master Masons affiliated with Harmonie Lodge, for a total of 14 new members.
In June 2011, W:. Frederick (“Ted”) Clark II was installed as Master. He has been a key figure in the Masonic Renaissance experienced at Harmonie Lodge having been one of the first students and faculty members of Concordia Collegium. His benevolent and diplomatic leadership raised Lodge morale to an all-time high. He has maintained high standards in ritual, education, benevolence, and fellowship. W:. Clark continued the modernization campaign moving to quarterly e-newsletters. He streamlined Lodge business meetings, reducing them to 30 minutes in length, with the implementation of new administrative procedures.
On July 13th, R:. W:. James Sullivan returned as our honored guest for our 141st Annual German Table Lodge. A grand time was had by all. Special thanks to Bro. Stephen Kelly and Bro. Gabriel Krebs who labored in the kitchen to help make this an event to remember.
In August, W:. Clark presented the Harmonie Lodge merit awards. R:. W:. Henry Zip Lang, Jr. was bestowed the Cornerstone Award for his exemplary lifetime of service to the Master, Wardens and Brethren of Harmonie Lodge No. 699 and the Western New York Masonic Community (Master of Harmonie Lodge – 1957, Grand Steward of the GLNY – 1968, Secretary of Harmonie Lodge – 1992 to 2008). W:. J. C. L was bestowed the Albert Pike Award for Masonic Education and Scholarship. Bro. Daniel J. Di Natale was bestowed Ward A. Peterson Award for Masonic Benevolence. He was the president of the Ronald J. Keel Fellowcraft Club for two years. In his tenure, he has reestablished the Ward A. Peterson Benevolence Fund while also leading fundraising efforts, allowing for major donations to the Food Bank of WNY in 2010 and the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory in 2011.
In October, Bro. Ryan Bonnett won our 3rd Annual Masonic Jeopardy contest. This event has become so popular for the enjoyable manner that it teaches Masonry that we have taken it on the road. Our Masonic Jeopardy PowerPoint was borrowed by the Erie Districts, who ran the V:. W:. Ronald J. Keel Tournament, named in honor of one of our past masters, to benefit the Masonic Care Community. Harmonie’s version of Masonic Jeopardy has since been used by Lodges and Districts across the State.
The first Harmonie Lodge distinguished speaker series kicked off on October 26, 2011. W:. Andrew Hammer, past master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, graced us with his presence. He presented a lecture based on his recent book, Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance. Observing the Craft is a manifesto of sorts for the observant Mason, who seeks quality over quantity in every aspect of Masonry. It is a stringent argument for the Symbolic (Blue) Lodge as the ne plus ultra of the Craft, asking that Masons put actions behind their statements that “nothing is higher than the third degree.” It is a book that calls for nothing but the utmost personal effort and commitment to be put into the operation of a Masonic Lodge, and the experience of a Masonic meeting, in search of the transformational experience which Masons define as “making good men better.”