The Formation of the Grand Lodge of Alaska

by: James A. Williams, P.G.M.

Presented to Walter F. Meier Lodge of Research No. 281

Seattle, Washington

June 23, 1988

After having received my Degrees and being a Mason in Alaska for 12 years, my first Grand Lodge impression came in 1959 as I walked up St. Helens Avenue in Tacoma and saw "Welcome to the Grand Lodge of Washington" on the marquee of the theater in the Masonic Temple. Immediately I began asking why Alaska was not included in the name of the Grand Lodge. I was told that was the original name and, for reasons I don't remember, it could not be changed. The desire was born right there to somehow get better recognition for the Alaska Lodges. It took only 22 years. I am sure, however, that there were other Alaska Masons ahead of me who had the same desire.

Two or three years later, as the Grand Lodge team was visiting my home in Juneau, I learned from PGM Matt Hill that Alaska was open territory for Masonry, and that a Lodge in Alaska could legally disassociate itself from the Grand Lodge of Washington and join another Jurisdiction if it so desired. A light came on. This meant that the way was clear for us to form our own Grand Lodge, if we could do it. Various efforts were made through the following years to determine how and whether to proceed. I was usually one of the leaders in those efforts.

However, MWGM Milt Poe issued an edict in 1972 which forbid further action toward forming an Alaska Grand Lodge except under nearly impossible conditions. In 1973, MWGM Bill Horn alleviated the terms of GM Poe's edict to a certain extent, though his terms were also unattainable. Those edicts slowed us up a bit, but we continued to work and hope.

The Alaska Masonic Research Association (AMRA) was organized in June 1976 to investigate Alaska Grand Lodge possibilities more seriously than the previous efforts. MWGM Fred Sandoz gave AMRA the official sanction of the Grand Lodge of Washington and authorized it to proceed on July 25, 1976. On June 18, 1980, the Grand Lodge of Washington passed by an overwhelming majority a resolution stating that it had "no objection to the formation of a Grand Lodge of F. & A. M. of Alaska."

From its inception in 1976, AMRA met formally twice each year, once in Washington at Grand Lodge time in June, and again in Alaska in February. The Grand Lodge team always favored us with a visit at our February meetings, giving seminars and other help, and encouraging us generally in our aim toward forming our own Grand Lodge. Many interim AMRA meetings were also held. We worked up a Code, which we largely copied from Washington's. We planned procedures, ritual, etc., similar to those of Washington's to be sure that the Grand Lodge of Washington would recognize us first when we finally would be able to form.

A tremendous amount of time and work was spent on correspondence, telephoning, billing for and collecting AMRA dues, distributing information, planning meetings, and polling the members of the Lodges, mostly by myself as AMRA Secretary-Treasurer.

In spite of some serious opposition, we seemed to be gathering momentum steadily up to 1980 except for our financial needs. As the work progressed, we realized more and more that we would not be able to attain our original financial goal within a reasonable time. The money we thought we could accumulate by various means simply was not available. We finally came to realize that if we were to form a Grand Lodge within the next few years, we would not be able to provide the usual Grand Lodge amenities such as a Grand Secretary's salary, fulltime Grand Lodge office help, reasonably adequate travel and expense allowances for the Grand Lodge officers, travel expenses for Lodge Representatives coming to the Grand Lodge sessions, or coverage of visiting dignitaries' expenses. However, the AMRA Brothers were of the opinion that we could and would foot our own bills for travel, etc., until the financial picture improved, and that we should move ahead.

We took the plunge at our June 1979 meeting in Spokane and voted to form a Grand Lodge in February 1980 if a majority of the 19 Alaskan Lodges should vote "yes" at that meeting. A vote of 10 Lodges to 9 was obtained at the February 1980 meeting in Soldotna. We then decided to delay the formation for another year so as to allow the negative Lodges a year within which to reconsider and perhaps decide to join the now-assured Grand Lodge of Alaska at the time of its formation in February 1981.

That decision turned out to be a near mistake. The one-year delay produced much new anxiety and uncertainty. Some of the negative Lodges mounted an effective letter-writing and phoning campaign against the formation of the new Grand Lodge which changed many minds and cast doubts among some of the positive Lodges. Members of the negative Lodges declared such things as that the "few" Lodges which would form the new Grand Lodge would force the other Lodges into the new Grand Lodge against their will and that an Alaska Grand Lodge would bankrupt some of the smaller Lodges. For a time, the number of positive Lodges shrank to eight. The negative campaign was even directed at Lodges and Grand Lodge dignitaries in Washington. The result of this was that much wrong information and confusion were widely spread. Even the Masonic Tribune was victimized into printing false information on the situation.

In my correspondence and investigations, I had learned that a Grand Lodge can be formed by as few as three Lodges in open territory and still receive fraternal recognition. When it appeared that we might not have a favorable majority of the Alaskan Lodges, a brief split occurred among the Lodge representatives in AMRA as to whether or not we should proceed if it developed that we would not have a favorable majority. Some said "no," but some of us, who had worked so long and hard on this project, were determined to forge ahead if at least three Lodges said "yes".

Another disheartening item was a letter from MWGM Wayne Sparger at a very late date telling us that because of advice from the Jurisprudence Committee, he would not give us the temporary recognition when we formed that we had been counting on.

GM Sparger's letter of January 20, 1981 stated in part that:

(1) he found it impossible for him to install our Grand Lodge officers, as we had invited him to do,

(2) it was up to the new Grand Lodge, after it is formed, to prove to the Grand Lodge of Washington that the conditions of the Code requirements for recognition had been met,

(3) he could see "no way" that he could give preliminary recognition to a Grand Lodge of Alaska, and

(4) until the Grand Lodge of Washington officially recognizes the Grand Lodge of Alaska, members of the Washington Jurisdiction could not sit in a formal opened Grand Lodge of Alaska.

GM Sparger mentioned twice in his letter that he should "not take sides" in this matter, which shows some of the effect of the negative campaign against us.

By the time GM Sparger's letter arrived, we had long since mailed out invitations to all Western U.S. and Canadian Grand Lodges to attend the formation of our new Grand Lodge. GM Sparger's letter placed me, as the then Executive Director of AMRA, in the position of having to telephone the Grand Masters and Past Grand Masters who had responded favorably to our invitation to explain to them that the expected temporary recognition was not forthcoming; also to tell them that they might wish to change their plans to attend since we would not be recognized as we had thought. Three of them said they would come anyhow, and a fourth refused to back down from his long-standing vow that he would install us when the time came, if he were not preempted by his Grand Master.

Happily, by the time the scheduled Convention of Lodges was convened on February 3, 1981, progressive reasoning had prevailed among some of the uncertain Lodges. The delegates of ten Lodges (all with proper credentials and instructions from their Lodges) voted to proceed. It was a great moment. Loud cheering erupted after the tenth "yes." The Delegate of one negative Lodge (White Pass No. 113) then announced that his Lodge had instructed him to vote with the majority, and he changed his vote from "nay" to "aye." Another negative Lodge (Matanuska Lodge No. 293) reconsidered its stand at its Stated Communication that evening, and its Delegate reported back to the Convention with a positive vote the next day. This made a decisive majority vote of 12 Lodges to 7 in favor of forming a Grand Lodge of Alaska. The membership of those 12 Lodges was approximately 60% of the total Alaskan Lodge membership of about 3,250 Masons.

The Convention of Lodges (some called it a "Constitutional Convention") was convened in Anchorage, Alaska on February 3, 1981, pursuant to a Call and an amendment to the Call issued by Anvil Lodge No. 140 (Nome). Except for some of the committee meetings, all presentations and ceremonies during the 5 days were held in the ballroom of the Anchorage Westward-Hilton Hotel. The vote described earlier and actions related to it filled the first day. February 4th was devoted mostly to committee work on the Code, budget, and other things that would need to be done in connection with forming a new Grand Lodge. On the morning of February 5, the Convention adopted with further amendments, the Code which had been originally prepared by AMRA in 1976-77 and amended by the Convention Code/Jurisprudence Committee on the day previous.

On the afternoon of February 5, Anvil Lodge opened in Due Form. Grand Lodge officers were elected by secret ballot. Since this action by Anvil Lodge was not authorized by the Grand Lodge of Washington, and as such might be questioned later, Anvil Lodge was closed and a Lodge of Master Masons with no designation was opened for the purpose of reaffirming the election results. The following lodge officers were elected:

On February 6, the newly-elected and appointed Grand Lodge officers were installed into their respective offices in a public ceremony by the following dignitaries:

 

Installing Master MW Roy Foss PGM, Grand Lodge of Washington
Installing Marshall MW Byron C. Jenkins GM, Grand Lodge of Nebraska
Installing Chaplin MW Francis D. Hess PGM, Grand Lodge of Montana
Installing Secretary MW Charles S. Moulthrop PGM, Grand Lodge of Michigan

 

Immediately upon completion of the installation ceremony, MW Byron C. Jenkins, Grand Master of the MW Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Nebraska, read a letter from him to the installed Grand Lodge officers and audience granting immediate temporary fraternal recognition by the Grand Lodge of Nebraska to the Grand Lodge of Alaska until confirmed by the next Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. It was an intensely emotional and exciting moment. For a few minutes, pandemonium reigned.

On February 7, the MW Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Alaska opened its First Special Communication in Ample Form at 10:30 am. Resolutions were adopted to do the following:

 

White Pass Lodge No. 1 (Skagway, formerly No. 113)
Anvil Lodge No. 2 (Nome, formerly No. 140)
Tanana Lodge No. 3 (Fairbanks, formerly No. 162)
Valdez Lodge No. 4 (Valdez, formerly No. 168)
Mt. McKinley Lodge No. 5 (Cordova, formerly No. 183)
Seward Lodge No. 6 (Seward, formerly No. 219)
Matanuska Lodge No. 7 (Palmer, formerly No. 293)
Mt. Susitna Lodge No. 8 (Anchorage, formerly No. 294)
Kodiak Lodge No. 9 (Kodiak, formerly No. 295)
Glacier Lodge No. 10 (Anchorage, formerly No. 303)
Kenai Lodge No. 11 (Soldotna, formerly No. 307)
Fairbanks Lodge No. 12 (Fairbanks, formerly No. 308)

 

Further details of the foregoing 5 days of meetings and ceremonies may be obtained from Volume I of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Alaska.

Later that February, Grand Secretary Flygenring and I attended the 1981 Conference of Grand Masters of North America at Orlando, Florida to spread the facts on how our new Grand Lodge had formed to the other Grand Lodge dignitaries for their later information when considering the question of recognizing us. We also appeared before the Conference's Commission on Information for Recognition. The Commission subsequently reported to the Conference that the Grand Lodge of Alaska had been regularly formed and was worthy of recognition. By the time of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Washington in June 1981 in Walla Walla, we had already received official recognitions from 23 U.S. Grand Lodges and seven foreign ones. The Grand Lodge of Washington recognized and received us on the afternoon of the first day of its Communication.

Notes should be added here regarding the reasons for seven Lodges voting "no" and keeping their Washington Charters. Five of the negative Lodges are in the Southeast Alaska "Panhandle," where a strong feeling of being separate and different from the rest of Alaska has existed since the early days of the Territory. The people of SE Alaska mostly look and travel south to the State of Washington rather than north to the rest of Alaska. There is a strong, historical sectionalism there that will not die. This sectionalism has become intensified since Statehood by the attempts of the northern residents to move the State Capital north from Juneau. The five SE Alaska Lodges referred to in this paragraph are Gastineaux Lodge No. 124 and Mt. Juneau Lodge No. 147, both in Juneau; Ketchikan Lodge No. 159; Petersburg Lodge No. 262; and Mt. Verstovia Lodge No. 291 in Sitka.

Adak Lodge No. 309 (in the Aleutian Islands) originally voted 100% in favor of an Alaska Grand Lodge, but then changed its mind and voted "no" under the influence of one or two leaders. It has since changed its mind again and has become Lodge No. 14 of the Alaska Grand Lodge. A 1979 poll by AMRA of the Anchorage Lodge No. 221 membership showed a 60% preference for forming an Alaska Grand Lodge. The leadership of that Lodge then sent negative information to its membership, including comments to the effect that a $25 or $30 per capita tax would be needed and that the proposed Grand Lodge might expropriate Anchorage 221's assets for operating expenses. A subsequent membership poll of that Lodge, of course, resulted in a negative vote. It is interesting to note that Anchorage Lodge No. 221 meets in the same Lodge room as Mt. Susitna No. 8 and Glacier No. 10 and its representatives sit on the same Temple Board. The Anchorage Temple is jointly owned by those three Lodges.

From the early days of AMRA's efforts, we made it quite plain that we would not force any existing Lodge into the new Jurisdiction against its will. We made this a matter of law by placing in the Alaska Masonic Code a provision that each negative Lodge may retain its Washington Charter as long as it wishes and as long as the Grand Lodge of Washington has no objections to keeping such Lodge as a member of its Jurisdiction. A new Lodge, of course, must be Chartered by the Alaska Grand Lodge since we now have sovereign Masonic Jurisdiction within the Alaska boundaries.

I will conclude this paper with some random information on the operation of our new Grand Lodge during our first six years. Two new Lodges (Eagle River No. 13 in Eagle River and Aurora No. 15 in Anchorage) have been granted Charters and a third (North Pole) has been granted a Dispensation. With the late joining by Adak Lodge No. 14 as mentioned earlier, this swells the total number of Lodges in the Alaska Grand Lodge to 16. A possible No. 17 is a group in SE Alaska at Thorne Bay which is currently working to obtain a Dispensation.

Our total membership has increased from the original 1,910 Masons in 1981 to 2,006 on January 1, 1988. This increase is due to the new Lodges being Chartered. It is a better membership record than almost any other U.S. Grand Lodge, but in the face of the rapid population growth in Alaska until 1986, it is nothing to brag about.

Our total assets as shown in our annual balance sheets have gone from slightly under $50,000 at the end of 1981 to $146,000 at the end of 1987.

Our expenditures for the first full year of operation totaled $14,500. This has increased each year to $36,400 in 1987. Our income just barely meets our expenditures. Early in our First year, we saw that money from various expected sources was not forthcoming and that the per capita tax would have to be increased. It is a matter of pride with me that our 1982 resolution to double the per capita tax from $5 to $10 passed unanimously. Other main items of income are from petitioners' fees, donations, interest and dividends, and sales of Masonic publications and supplies.

Still other money has been raised in various ways, but not in any huge amounts. We kept AMRA alive and changed its mission to that of raising funds for the Grand Lodge. AMRA has held raffles for rifles and a unique Dudley Masonic watch. It has sold belt buckles and other items. It has a Gold Pan Program in which for a contribution of $1,000 a shiny gold pan is engraved with the donors name and an appropriate note of appreciation and presented to him. Gold pan donations go into a permanent Grand Lodge fund, named "Buckley C. Hazen Fund" for our second Grand Master (deceased), from which only the earnings may be used.

PGM John C. Ingram has been responsible for the making of coins or medallions commemorating each Grand Lodge Communication from the First. These are given to each registrant at the session and the remainder are sold for $10 each. W. Bro. John H. Grainger of Ketchikan Lodge No. 159 instituted a fund raiser for us by having 1200 serialized prints made of an artist's drawing of a scene and documents depicting the location and raising of the first Masonic Flag in Russian America in 1876. He donated these prints to the Grand Lodge of Alaska to be signed by the first six Grand Masters and sold for $100 each, asking only for 10% of the sales for his mother's estate. W. Bro. Grainger is now working on another project for us. This is a "silent auction" in which bids will be mailed in for items which he is collecting and which will be described in a catalog which he will have printed and distributed.

Lastly, returning to the subject of fraternal recognitions, we have now been recognized by a total of 119 Grand Lodges, and a few more recognitions are pending. Several Masonic dignitaries knowledgeable in this field told us that it would be years before the Grand Lodges of England and Scotland would recognize us. We must have done something right, because both those Grand Lodges recognized us within our first year.

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