John L. Palmer, 32°, K.C.C.H.
Past Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Tennessee
In the spring of 1996, an energetic young general practitioner in Kingston, Tennessee, approached the Deputy Grand Master of Masons with the idea of forming a partnership between the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and Habitat for Humanity. In addition to his medical practice, Brother Thomas F. Boduch, 32°, K.C.C.H., had been very active in the local Habitat For Humanity affiliate in Roane County, and he was serving his second consecutive term as Worshipful Master of Union Lodge No. 38, Kingston, Tennessee. He had been inspired by his love for Freemasonry, his involvement in Habitat, and the recently inaugurated, statewide Masonic Renewal movement entitled Vision 2013, so named because that year is the 200th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.
One of the strategies of Vision 2013 is to encourage community involvement of the local Lodges in order to attract high-caliber young men into the Fraternity by practicing outside the walls of the Lodge the charitable lessons taught within those walls. Believing that actions speak louder than words, the Renewal Committee decided that community activities were an appropriate and effective way to communicate the principles of Freemasonry to those who might otherwise remain ignorant of the purposes and nature of the Fraternity or fall into the trap of believing the propaganda of Freemasonry’s detractors.
Bros. Boduch and William L. Whisel, 33°, saw a natural fit between the building efforts of Habitat For Humanity and the building symbolism used in Masonic teaching. The Vision Committee and then Grand Master M.W. Alton E. Tollison, 33°, Valley of Memphis, approved the project, and Bro. Boduch began to create the partnership by contacting Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat For Humanity, and by offering to chair the Habitat partnership task force for the Grand Lodge. The partnership logo, pictured at the head of this article, was designed by Bro. Tom’s wife, Betty, and, after approval by both Habitat for Humanity and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, nail aprons displaying the logo were procured as promotional items.
After a series of informational programs about the project had been presented to the Brethren across the “Volunteer State,” it was soon discovered that a great many of the Brethren were already involved in Habitat projects, usually in connection with their churches. The first major project was to find a way to plug into the Jimmy Carter work project which constructed ten Habitat houses as a blitz effort in Scott and Morgan counties of Eastern Tennessee in June 1997.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, this effort was spearheaded by The
Order of the Eastern Star. A team led by Gigi Schooler, Past Worthy Matron
of OES Chapter No. 303 in Sunbright, Tennessee, with the financial assistance
of a number of Lodges and OES Chapters across the state, prepared over
10,800 meals during a two-week period to feed the construction volunteers
who flooded into the rural hill country of Northeastern Tennessee and Southeastern
Kentucky from across the nation to participate in the project.
Tennessee Masonic teams helped with the plumbing and siding on the houses as well as with pre-built activities. The next activity coincidentally involved the construction of a house in Greenbrier, Tennessee, whose recipient was Robertson County Deputy Sheriff and DARE officer Bro. Marty Groves, a member of Greenbrier Lodge No. 753. Over 40 Brethren and OES sisters worked on this house, and four petitions for Blue Lodge membership were requested during the ten-day project.
The partnership caught on across the state, nearly 30 Brethren and family members attended the Habitat for Humanity South Central Regional Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, in late summer 1997, and ground was broken in Knoxville on March 2, 1998, for the first all-Masonic Habitat house in the state. This project was sponsored by the Masons of the 20th district of the Grand Lodge. They raised $18,000 for the project entirely within the district in a six-month period, and all labor and donated materials were furnished by Freemasons.
Plans for the future include an annual Grand Master’s Work Project (GMWP) which will construct at least one Masonic Habitat house each year in the division of the state in which the Grand Master resides. The GMWP is intended to involve Appendant Bodies and family members as well as the Brethren. The first Grand Master’s Work Project house is slated for Blount County in East Tennessee during the 1998 tenure of M.W. Walter E. Wininger, 33°, and plans are already being made for two in West Tennessee during 1999 and Middle Tennessee for the year 2000.
Lapel pins have been designed as fund-raisers for the first two of these projects, and the $10 donation for each pin will fund approximately one third of a square foot of the house. An added bonus has been realized by the local Lodges as it was discovered that a number of relatively inactive Brethren across the state have begun to participate in the activities of the Lodge as a result of the partnership. Many of the Brethren are using the leadership skills developed in their local Lodges by serving on various committees of their local Habitat affiliates.
The Habitat partnership has turned out to be the keystone of a collection of Vision 2013 projects available to the local Lodges in Tennessee including a statewide partnership with shelters for abused women and children, district charity funds, a children’s literacy program, scholarship programs, and a transplantation awareness program designed to educate the public on the importance and true nature of organ transplantation.
The Habitat project has galvanized the Brethren across the state to participate in many local charitable projects as a Lodge and has done wonders for the public image of Masonry in Tennessee.
The Vision 2013 movement was so named because the year 2013 will mark
the 200th anniversary of Masonry in Tennessee and to impress upon the Brethren
that true Masonic Renewal is a long-term effort directed toward getting
back to the basics of charity and brotherly love which are such a central
part of Masonic philosophy and practice.
Tennessee has 47 Habitat for Humanity (HFH) affiliates serving 52 counties. It was founded in 1976, the same year that the Grand Lodge of Tennessee peaked in membership at around 98,000. HFH has constructed more than 60,000 houses worldwide. The Tennessee task force leaders are Bro. Thomas F. Boduch, 32°, K.C.C.H.; Ill. William L. Whisel, 33°; and Bro. Don Welch.
For additional information on how to establish your own Masonic Partnership with Habitat for Humanity, contact Brother Thomas F. Boduch at
TEL 423-919-4095, FAX 423-376-0010, E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit
our partnership web page at www.gmwp.org