With a building at the corner of Union and Broad Streets peering over Windsor Center, Windsor's Freemasons are a group with a significant presence in town.
Their charitable efforts range from pancake breakfasts to providing Windsor parents with the necessary tools to keep their children safe.
Windsor Patch recently spoke with Washington Lodge No. 70's former worshipful master, Bob Gresham, an eight-year member of the organization, to learn more about the organization, its history, mission and work to make Windsor a better place to live.
Windsor Patch: One of the Masons' flagship community programs a child chip identification program. Can you tell me exactly what that program entails?
Bob Gresham: It's a program that the Masons have sponsored throughout the nation for probably about 10 or 12 years now. It's a free of charge to parents. We provide some basic identification information — a tooth print, a DNA swab, fingerprints, height and weight, a short dvd video asking questions about the child, and we put this together in a package and [parents] take it home so in case anything happens to the child they can bring [the information] to law enforcement.
WP: While there are amber alerts and things notifying communities when a child is missing, why is it important for a program like the child chip identification program to be available to parents?
BG: Well, unfortunately, in this day and age with kids going missing — whether runaways or being abducted — it helps to locate them. An abductor can change a child's hair color, manner of dress, things like that. But there are certain idiosyncrasies — the way they stand, any perks they might have — they're not going to be able to change those things, and they can help identify the child. Along with the DNA and fingerprints, that'll also give them some evidence toward identification for them.
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WP: Has the program been very successful?
BG: Yes it has. We typically host four to five (child identification events) a year in the Windsor area, and we probably average somewhere between 50 and 100 children per event. And that's only our lodge. There are six districts in Connecticut, and each one of them has its own set of equipment. So we've processed, I can't remember the exact figure now, but well over many, many thousands of identification kits.
WP: The Masons here in town, Washington Lodge No. 70, you guys run a number of different community programs and events in town. Can you tell me about some of the other things you're involved in?
BG: On of the events that we've hosted for many years now is a Red Cross Blood Drive. We typically have it on a Saturday morning, and we provide a free breakfast for donors. We usually collect somewhere over 100 pints at each of the drives, and we've been doing that for ten or twelve years as well.
We provide upwards of $6,000 to $7,000 a year in scholarships for graduating seniors for both Windsor High School student and non-Windsor High School students. We participate in some of the civic events, such as Shad Derby. You can see us on the Green down there with our pulled pork. We usually march in the parade, and we also conduct a pancake breakfast in the morning.
We are having a , a fundraiser for our scholarship program, in conjunction with the Shad Derby events.
WP: Can you tell me a little more about the Lobster Fest in particular?
BG: That'll be held on Friday, May 11. Pre-paid tickets are $25. It's a full lobster dinner at the lodge. We have two seatings, one at 5 o'clock and one at 7 o'clock. Take out is available and that's for 6 o'clock pick-up. Tickets are available at four locations: Windsor Federal Savings, Ellsworth Medical in Wilson, Ashley's Jewelers up on Day Hill Road and Cicero's Sunoco on Bloomfield Avenue.
WP: Why is it important for an organization like the Masons to give back and be involved in the community?
BG: For us, we do it because of what Masonry stands for. Masonry stands for the good moral, upright teachings that we have. We're founded on old traditions and principals, and, while we're not a religion, we are concerned with moral and spiritual virtues. [Giving back] is just part of who we are: being in the community and a part of the community, and giving back as much as we can. We think we take a lot form the community just by living here, and we should give some back.
WP: As far as the Freemason organization goes, I think publicly there are a lot of misconceptions. Can you describe exactly what the organization is?
BG: It's the oldest fraternity, in the world, of men. The modern history dates back to 1717. That's the farthest written (history) we can determine. Prior to that it's a lot of history and tradition that can't be documented. I know over the years there's been all kinds of different things about Masonry; we're sometimes called "a secret society," but if we were a secret society, then you wouldn't know that I'm a Mason or you wouldn't know that, that building on the corner of Union Street and Broad Street in a Masonic Lodge. We do have secrets. That's just part of our traditions, and part of our formalities.
WP: Is there something you could tell me about the Masons that might surprise someone unfamiliar with the group?
BG: Well one of the things that surprised me when I learned it is that Shriners are Masons. In order to become a Shriner, you need to be a Mason, so that's was surprising.
The Masons are a very historical group. A number of famous men have been Masons. A number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. Once you become a Mason you find out — particularly in my own family — I found out that some of my ancestors were Masons I never knew about.