The blue lights were aglow at Jackson Lodge on Wednesday as local Freemasons joined to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the forming of the Illinois Grand Lodge in 1840.
They also are celebrating 168 years of Freemasonry in Shelbyville, as the Jackson Lodge was established in 1848.
“I’m proud to be a Mason,” said Charlie Martin, Lodge secretary. “We all are, or we wouldn’t be here. Our motto is we make good men better.”
The fraternity’s origins stretch from 18th century England to America’s earliest days, as founding fathers, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were members.
And the origins stretch back to the building of King Solomon’s temple, according to Masonic lore.
“Not many people know what we do,” said Rusty Yantis, Worshipful Master for the lodge. “We do a lot of things in the community.”
Before their Lodge meeting on Tuesday, members adorned their ceremonial aprons and examined the charter for the Jackson Lodge from 1848.
“It hasn’t really changed in all these years,” Martin said of Freemasonry. “The ritual is the same. The values are the same.”
Lodge members are especially proud of the Eldon Banning Memorial Scholarship, which they administer each year. The purpose of the scholarship is to provide a worthy Shelbyville High School senior with financial aid for continued education.
Because the Findlay Lodge merged with Shelbyville’s Jackson Lodge, the scholarship also is open to students with Findlay addresses.
Applications are still being accepted through April 18, and they may be sent to Jake Hankins, Senior Warden of the Lodge, at 1901 East 1525 North Road, Shelbyville, IL 62565.
Lodge members say the scholarship puts into practice Masonic principles of social betterment and relief.
As membership in many fraternal organizations continues to dwindle, Jackson Lodge has 275 members.
“We are probably in the top 15 percent of lodges in Illinois,” Martin said.
The rituals of Freemasonry seem shrouded in mystery to some outsiders. But members say they welcome new members.
“We are not a secret society,” said Lodge member Jim Finks.
“There’s a taboo about how you become a Mason,” Hankins said. “If you want to become a Freemason, just ask. Our membership is open to every race, religion, culture and income level.”
Martin added, “You have to profess a belief in a deity.”
As Lodge members reflect on their rich history, they also look toward the future, planning to continue the tradition of making good men better.