Chester L. Fitzpatrick, 33
Orange Park, Florida

Just as it is true that “the family that prays together, stays together,” it can also be said that “the family that plays together, stays together.” With a firm belief in this, the Valley of Jacksonville, Orient of Florida, began its Family Program in 1993 by organizing a Ladies Association, which has since proven to be very active in several charitable endeavors as well as being highly supportive of our own. Their popularity increased sharply during their first years and consequently their membership and activities.

Picnic buggy rides, a children’s holiday party, and a Masonic Youth Group dinner/dance are all part of Scottish Rite family activities in Jacksonville, Florida (photos, respectively, in vertical order).

In 1995, the Kitchen Committee began preparing delicious dinners with salads and desserts with all of the trimmings prior to the monthly business meetings to entice the Brothers to invite their ladies to “a night out.” It worked. Attendance nearly doubled. Next, a series of “Family Nights” were scheduled with each Body designated to host at least one or more family activities throughout the year. “Family” means your family and your friend’s family whether he’s a Mason or not.

Then in early 1996, a Picnic Committee was formed by the Valley of Jacksonville consisting of members of the Scottish Rite, York Rite, Shrine, the Grotto, the Blue Lodges, and even a few non-Masons. Every detail was covered. Many meetings were held. The target date was July 20, 1996, at the Metropolitan Park on the banks of the St. John’s River in Jacksonville. The name was the Scottish Rite “Masonic Family Unity Picnic” for all Masons, their families, and their friends, with much attention directed to the kids. Everything was there: a parade by Nobles of the Morocco Shrine Temple, games for the kids with Ballyhoo Buggy rides and hay rides, entertainment for the adults, hot dogs and cokes for snacking and, in the late afternoon, barbecued pork and chicken, coleslaw, potato chips, potato salad, cold drinks--all of the elements of a fabulous picnic.

The Committee, in a united effort, succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. On the day of the picnic, over 1,000 happy Masonic family members and friends gathered and exchanged good fellowship while the kids did what kids love to do. This first venture was so successful that the Jacksonville Scottish Rite Bodies organized a second such picnic in October 1997, but triple the magnitude.

This second event began with a 1.5 mile parade through the Jacksonville Sports Complex, terminating at the same Metropolitan Park for an afternoon of fun and games for the kids, more entertainment for the adults and, eventually, barbecued pork and chicken with all the trimmings for dinner followed by distinguished speakers such as M.W. Samuel E. Cowan III, 33, Grand Master of Masons in Florida, Ill. Lewis B. Brantley, 33, Imperial Potentate of the Imperial Shrine of North America, and Ill. Robert L. Goldsmith, 33, S.G.I.G. in Florida. This effort is being shared by all of the Masonic Orders and Blue Lodges in the Northeast Florida area--all in the name of Masonic Family Unity.

By late 1996, the Bodies hosted a Father/Son Night, a Family Dinner/Dance Night, and a Youth Dinner/Dance Night for the DeMolay, Rainbow, and Job’s Daughters. (They are family, too.) Family nights are a continuing program in the Valley of Jacksonville. On Friday, December 6, 1996, 25 children, ages 6 to 16, met with Santa Claus and watched cartoons while Mom and Dad attended their respective meetings. There have been and will continue to be Father/Son Nights, Widows Nights and the like, to solidify our Scottish Rite Masonic families into happy, caring, and active members of this Fraternity.

After all, “The family that plays together, stays together.”