FARMINGTON — Meetings are fewer and the group’s membership has shrunk, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Odd Fellows Williamson Lodge, No. 20, of Wilton and Livermore Falls from continuing their efforts to help others and build a better world.
The lodge recently held its annual banquet to donate to local organizations that provide community service. A few years ago the lodge gave large donations to these organizations, said Noble Grand Lawrence Wilbur. The donations now are smaller, but the group still provides a yearly gift for Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice, the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, the Odd Fellows Home in Auburn, an Odd Fellows’ scholarship for nursing students and Franklin Memorial Hospital and library. The hospital library invested its initial gift and now receives a good amount of interest each year, he said.
After Treasurer Paul Washburn writes a check and hands it out at the banquet, representatives from the organizations share what they do with it, Wilbur said.
The Androscoggin Hospice served 23 Franklin County patients last year, the Good Shepherd Food-Bank served 38,000 a week for a state that’s the fifth hungriest in the union, he said they were told. Their initial gift to the food bank was the largest single donation it has ever received, he added.
“We wanted to donate ‘good money’ so these guys can feel it. It gives us a good feeling that we’ve helped,” he said.
A long history of helping is what the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is all about.
Dating back to 17th-century England, a group of mostly working-class men met together and spent part of that time helping each other and their fellow man. The group’s valediction in part reads “perform my duty to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan and as I work with others to build a better world.”
The public thought it odd that a group of men would do those things and the name stuck, he said. From there lodges grew up all over the world.
The Odd Fellow Lodges in Maine date back to the mid-1800s and peaked in the 1920s, when membership across the state numbered in the tens of thousands, according to a history written in 2006 by Franklin Community Health Network. The fraternal lodges in many towns owned buildings with large halls to accommodate the huge group meetings, which included a meal, fellowship and opportunities to care for one another, those sick and out of work, in the days before insurance and unemployment benefits, Wilbur said.
The Wilton and Livermore Falls lodges combined as the numbers startled to dwindle. A membership of 200 is now down to 15; weekly meetings are now just held as needed for business. The lodges and lands purchased by the group have been sold after the values rose over the years. With a desire to see those profits help locally, Wilbur, who’s been the Noble Grand for 20 years, gathered information on several organizations, convincing other members to make the large donations to those listed above.
Television and too many other forms of entertainment are often considered the cause for younger people’s lack of interest. The last person to join Williamson Lodge was nearly 30 years ago and Wilbur, Washburn and others are in their 80s.
“I’m proud to be an Odd Fellow. It’s a wonderful group of people,” Wilbur said recounting the good, clean fun shared by those with large hearts for others.