Vista Lodge No. 215
Salem, Oregon

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Origins of Freemasonry

Early masonic texts each contain some sort of a history of the craft, or mystery, of masonry. The oldest known work of this type, The Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, dating from between 1390 and 1425. Medieval masonry recognized three grades of craftsman;- the apprentice, the journeyman, and the master. Medieval building records have references to mason’ s lodges but after 1400, apart from masons’ guilds in some towns, there is no evidence for operative lodges. On June 24, 1717 four London lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Pauls Churchyard, formed themselves into a Grand Lodge and elected a Grand Master (Anthony Sayer) and Grand Wardens. The early history of Grand Lodge is uncertain, since no minutes were taken until 1723. Even in London, there were many lodges that never affiliated with the new Grand Lodge.
The history of Vista Masonic Lodge #215

Early in 1954 WB J. Robert Williams a Past Master of Pacific Lodge # 50 in Salem Oregon gathered together 12 Master Masons and with the sponsorship of Pacific Lodge # 50 made application to the Grand Lodge of Oregon A. F. & A. M. to receive a letter of dispensation to form a new lodge in the city of Salem, Oregon. Dispensation was granted on April 4, 1954. As one of the requirements the Lodge under dispensation must perform all three degrees and raise a new member to the degree of Master Mason. It was also necessary for the members to raise funds to operate the Lodge and to locate a lodge room with the necessary equipment to open Lodge and conduct business. The first permanent lodge location was in Beaver Hall over Greenbaum Fabrics as it was known in those days, located on Northeast Commercial in downtown Salem. With all the requirements necessary, the Grand Lodge in session on June 17, 1954 issued a Charter number 215 to Vista Lodge.
[1954 - Grand Lodge Members: 42,566 Lodges: 185]

In the mid 60’s Vista Lodge found themselves in need of funds to operate the Lodge, A benefactor by the name of WB Leonard Judson, HPM came to the aid of Vista Lodge. The real property on Belleview was purchased in the early 1960’s.The building was the former Isaac Walton Gun Club, with a living apartment which was rented to a student going to college who also acted as caretaker for the property. The outside security was handled by a Hobo who slept under the outside stairs. The Salem Flood of 1964 took its total of damage on the Lodge Hall and many repairs were needed with many man hours to bring the property to a safe useable condition. In the early 70’s the City of Salem Oregon gave notice to Vista Lodge and the other owners of their real property located on Belleview Avenue in Salem they were going to purchase the property. As a result of the notice those who were tenants moved out, which placed a burden on the owners of no funds to operate the lodge and take care of the necessary repairs of the property.
[1964 - Grand Lodge Members: 42,724 Lodges: 192]

The winter storms of 1973 and 1974 caused the banks of Mill Creek to overflow which placed an additional burden on Worshipful Master William T. Lucas as it was necessary to pump rain water from the basement of the Lodge Hall on Belleview Avenue. The officers and members were called to clean up the Lodge prior to opening Lodge in work clothes and hip boots were the formal dress for the first lodge meeting of the year, a real disappointment for an incoming Master.
[1974 - Grand Lodge Members: 35,303 Lodges: 188]

During the latter part of the 70’s the owners of the Belleview Avenue property retained an attorney to force the sale of the real property, winning the law suit was able to invest the funds. A new home for the Lodge was found within the Scottish Rite Temple on South Commercial in Salem. WM Gerald B. Smith became the first Master at the new location in 1979.

In 1981 the membership voted to search the Salem area for a new Lodge location and purchase property as a joint venture with Kingwood Lodge # 204 and the Salem York Rite bodies. The real property owned by Kingwood Lodge in West Salem was in direr need of repair and lacking the funds to make the necessary repairs offered their real property as part of the investment in the joint venture.

Prior to 1982 the Masonic Tri-District in Salem held the Summer Outdoor degree on Geren Island North of Stayton, Oregon when in May the owner, the City of Salem, locked the gates and requested we no longer use the island. Right Worshipful Brother Henry J. Tate, District Deputy for District # 35 who owned some 100 acres North of Sublimity, Oregon with a home and two barns in the center of the property was contacted and after learning of the problem offered his farm for the event. Lodge was set up between two barns and the stations were located with dairy milk cans with a stack of bailed hay as the Alter. This was a concern for Vista as they had the responsibility to obtain the dispensation from Grand Lodge and open the Lodge on the Master Mason Degree. It was a great event and lots of fried chicken with baked beans was enjoyed by all. A member of the Armed Forces was raised in true form. This became the site for the Outdoor Degree for both the Tri-District and the local chapter of the Order of De Molay for the next few years.

During the early 1980’s the Grand Lodge levied a member assessment of $10.00 per a member, this assessment was paid from interest earning and not passed on to the Vista Lodge Brother. In 1982 a Past State Master Councilor was raised to Master Mason with the degree team made up of all Past Master Councilors with MWB John F. Erwin, PGM 1980 serving as Senior Deacon and WB Herman C. Kuppler, Senior Grand Deacon 1982 giving the Grand Lodge Charge. All Officers were in full Masonic Costumes.

In 1983 Vista Lodge with the support of merchants in Salem and the Oregon National Guard, Boy Scouts of America and the Salem Garden Club installed a Baseball Field and Picnic tables at the Shangri-La Home and School in Southeast Salem.

Property was located on Hoffman Road in the Northeast area of Salem in 1984. The purchase was made of a church with seven acres. Renovation of the church began and in 1985 the Grand Lodge of Oregon dedicated the Lodge. Much of the leg work for locating the Hoffman property and the renovation is credited to WB Ralph W. (Bill) Schnider as he expended many hours as supervisor of renovation activities at the new Lodge.
[1984 - Grand Lodge Members: 27,656 Lodges: 171]

In the mid-1980’s Vista Lodge members elected to award two $1,000.00 Scholarships, one each to a male and female student at Chemeketa Community College located in Salem, Oregon.

In 1991 WB Robert L. (Larry) Carns and WB Thurson P. Swanson started the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for members and guests who had no family to share their dinner with. For the first four or five years it was a great success and then the Master’s failed to promote the activity and it fell to the wayside.

Throughout the late 1980’s and the 1990’s each major rain storm the basement of the Hoffman property would become flooded and needed a work party to clean up the Lodge before real damage occurred.
[1994 - Grand Lodge Members: 42.566 Lodges: 185]

1996 Kingwood Lodge # 204 and in 2001 Keizer Lodge #219 lacking members to fill the necessary officer positions in their Lodge and a decrease in members approached Vista Lodge with the intent to merge their members and assets. The lodges agreed to vacate every other officer position to give the two lodges a feeling of belonging to one lodge.

In 1996 WB Richard V. Green came up with the idea of a Christmas Party for Homeless Children which was a great success and is carried on to this day.

On June 17, 2005 Vista Lodge celebrated their First Fifty Years with a Bar-B-Q, members and guests were invited to share in the celebration by Worshipful Master Kenneth Mason Crick.
[2004 - Grand Lodge Members: 42.566 Lodges: 185]

2000 - 2012
Between the years 2000 and 2012 records a lodge which has grown, expanded, and sharpened its focus and membership. In the year 2000, Vista Masonic was housed in the Capitol Masonic Center, an older building on the outskirts of Salem near Cordon Road, and shared ownership through a temple board with the York Rite bodies of Salem. As in other lodges, membership was declining as men who had joined in the 1950’s were dying off.

In 2000, Keizer Lodge was having difficulty reaching a quorum. They had voted to merge with Vista Masonic, bringing in men who were to prove exceptionally valuable and active in the coming decade. For example, the Keizer members were instrumental in reviving Vista’s annual Christmas party for homeless children.

In 2004, Vista Masonic, with other area lodges, began to work with the Salem-Keizer Educational Foundation at the Awesome 3000, their major fundraising effort in support of the local public schools. Vista Masonic also reached an important milestone, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a barbeque.

However, the Capitol Masonic Center was increasingly seen as a weight holding back the lodge and pulling energy and finances from the membership and lodge which could have been used for more essential work. In 2005, the decision was made to sell the building; the timing of the sale could not have been better financially, and in 2006 Vista Masonic moved to the Scottish Rite Center on South Commercial Street, assisting in the revival of that venue as renters and financial patrons.

After diligent research into their options, the financial windfall that Vista received from the sale of its building was prudently invested with Merrill Lynch in a mix of stocks and bonds. With this consistent revenue, more yearly programs began to take shape, making Vista one of the busier lodges in the Salem area. Vista began to host area-wide free events such as the July steak feed and the Masonic Youth Recognition Night at the A.C. Gilbert House Children’s Museum. Vista also supported the youth groups by paying their rent and hiring them to cater their dinners.

The Great Recession did not affect Vista greatly—although it had seen a decline in its restricted fund, its conservative and liquid investment policy and its practice of taking a fixed percentage from investments meant that its budget was only slightly reduced. Although there was concern from membership regarding the safety of its considerable nest egg due to the failing stock market, the trustees decided to grit their teeth, listen to the advice of their financial advisors, and hold on.

In 2011, Vista Masonic received the Gold level Lodge of Excellence Award from the Grand Lodge of Oregon, as well as awards for their support of public schools.

Vista Masonic had had a tradition of fine ritual work. Although this had not been an explicit focus in recent years, Vista remained proud of its ritual work and its members continued to travel throughout the valley to assist in degrees, as well as maintaining the ability to do all three degrees “in-house.” In the 2000’s, the yearly “recycling” of lodge officers had stopped, replaced by a mix of old members looking for another chance to contribute to the fraternity and new brothers working their way through the line, with new masters succeeding past masters in the oriental chair. Vista continued to focus on support for the Rainbow and Job’s Daughters and fraternal fellowship in the mid-Willamette Valley, and well as various charitable activities such as the Chemeketa Scholarships, Oregon Robotic Tournament sponsorship, and generous donations to Grand Lodge charities like the MESH fund and MSAP.

Other programs that Vista continued and participated in through the decade are:
  • Valley Band Competition
  • EA and MM Outdoor Degrees
  • Widow’s club contributions and transportation support
  • Masonic Night with the Grand Master at the Ballpark
  • Support for youth attendance at statewide Assemblies, Bethels, and Conclaves
  • In-house educational scholarship for members and dependents

By 2012, the lodge was gaining members both by initiation and affiliation and its financial position was excellent. It could look forward to continued prosperity and harmony as it faced the new millennium with confidence.

Worshipful Brother Leonard Judson received the Honor of being awarded an Honorary Past Master of Vista Lodge # 215 A. F. & A. M. of Oregon for his dedication to Vista Lodge and Masonry in General.

Worshipful Brother Walter E. Johnson received the Honor of being awarded an Honorary Past Master of Vista Lodge # 215 A. F. & A. M. of Oregon for his dedication to Vista Lodge and Masonry in General.

Worshipful Brother J. Robert Williams in 1978 received a Sterling Silver engraved serving plate from the members for his dedicated service to Vista Lodge # 215 A. F. & A. M. of Oregon.

Worshipful Brother Henry J. Tate in 1983 received Dinner Plate engraved from the members for his dedicated service to Vista Lodge # 215 A. F. & A. M. of Oregon and his service to Masonry in General.

Worshipful Brother R. Charles Ponder, III in 1983 received the De Molay Cross of Honor from the International Supreme Council of the Order of De Molay for his leadership and service to youth.

WB J. Robert Williams, WB Harold A. Rosebraugh, WB Raymond L. Rolow,
WB F. Gordon Shatuck, WB Reinhart W. Behm, WB Kenneth L. Buchanan,
WB John Fessant, WB John E. Davis, WB O.T. Logan, WB Roland H. Lanhan,
WB William T, Lucas, WB Marion M Williams, WB Raymond W. Kleen,
WB Edward Jordan, WB Walter E. Johnson, WB Vernon A. Bradshaw, WB Louie Sansing

Past Traditions
For the first twenty-one years a Brother could not be elected Junior Warden prior to receiving his Proficiency Certificate from Grand Lodge and the Certificate must be valid upon being elected Worshipful Master. Vista Lodge because of this Lodge requirement was known as the, “Proficiency Lodge”.

On December 27th, “Saint John Day”, the Brethren would assemble in the Lodge Room and in full Masonic dress, march to the First Methodist Church in downtown Salem, Oregon. This practice ended in the early 1970’s.

For the better part of twenty-five years Vista Lodge would attend the alter and light the lesser lights starting with the East then the South and West , closing the lights starting with the West then the South and East. This was performed in this manner because the lecture in the second section of the Fellow Craft Degree. This was changed by order of the Grand Master.

1983 saw the end to Vista Lodge Officers wearing Black Tuxedos.

For the first thirty-five years on Past Masters Night the senior Past Master would be invited by the Worshipful Master to close Lodge with lesser senior Past Masters filling the Lodge Officer Stations.