Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who Are the Odd Fellows Anyway?

A couple of people recently told me they’d never heard of the “Odd Fellows.” They wanted to know who or what they were. Here's what I found out:

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) is a fraternal organization, similar to the Elks or Moose. It was organized in England in the late 1700s and began in America in 1819. They got their name because at that time “it was deemed odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need without recognition and pursuing projects for the benefits of all mankind.” (from I.O.O.F. webpage)

Lodges also provided lodge members with a social community that would help in times of need. This support was especially important because, in those days, there were no governmental safety nets and very little insurance of any kind.

The worldwide emblem of the Odd Fellows is a three-link chain with the letters that stand for friendship, love, and truth and symbolizes the fraternity of the members.
I am familiar with this chain because it was emblazoned on a banner that hung in the large room on the second floor where the Aurora Branch met. I don't remember much else about this gold-fringed banner, except that the all-seeing eye of God was embroidered above the chain and seemed to be watching all our proceedings.

The group that built the Odd Fellows Hall on South LaSalle Street in 1912 was organized on January 3, 1849, “by virtue of a dispensation granted by the grand master of the grand lodge of Illinois.” One of the officers who conducted the ceremony to institute the Wabonsie Lodge 45 was E.L. Howard of the St. Charles lodge “who walked from St. Charles to Aurora thru 14 inches of snow to attend, there being no trains running between the two towns because of the heavy snow.”

The Wabonsie Lodge 45 united with the Ben Hur Lodge 870, the Aurora Encampment, and the Minnehahah Rebekah Lodge 77 and Tirzah Rebekah lodge 488 (“Rebekahs” are the affiliated women’s organizations) to build the hall. These names are familiar to me because they were listed on a wooden plaque in the club room on the south side of the second floor, the one that held the pool table, poker table, leather sofa and chairs, and in the 1950s, a television set.

As also reported in the centennial edition of the Aurora Beacon News, September 5, 1937, the Odd Fellows were true to their fraternal duties: “the Odd Fellow fraternity maintains two homes in Illinois, the I.O.O.F. Old Folks home at Mattoon where there are about 200 aged Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, also the I.O.O. F. orphans home at Lincoln, with about the same number of orphans of members of the order. Each of these places is a small community in itself with its own school, hospital, chapel, gymnasium, laundry, power plant and farm produce.”

Although I’ve known about the Odd Fellows all my life, I was surprised to learn that the organization is still alive and well. Check out their webpage.

Here’s an excerpt:
“We are the family of Oddfellowship, composed of Men, Women, and Youth, believing in a supreme being, the creator and preserver of the universe, who have come together in our local communities having the same beliefs and values as others, that; Friendship, Love and Truth are the basic guidelines that we need to follow in our daily lives. Through working in our local Communities, States, Provinces, or Nationally we understand that we can make a difference in the lives of people in our World….

“Our deep history began in North America, with the United States and Canada in 1819, and is continually expanding throughout the World where we are a worldwide fraternity in 26 countries. The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are striving to make the world a better place in which to live, seeking To Improve and Elevate the Character of Mankind.

“The members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows are sometimes referred to "Odd Fellows" or "Rebekahs." Odd Fellows have also become known in many areas as "The Three Link Fraternity" which is evidenced by our world wide "Three Link Emblem" which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth. These three links symbolize the chain that binds our members together and illustrates that our Communities, States, Provinces and Nations are strongest when joined together.”

As it turns out, small branches of the LDS church often met in Odd Fellows Halls in the early to mid 20th century. Perhaps odd fellows and peculiar people just naturally go together.

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