Thursday, January 21, 2010

PA DeMolay History - Part I

If there is one thing that I truly enjoy about the DeMolay program, it's the robust history that we have inherited. Stretching all the way back to 1919, DeMolay is closing in on its 100th Anniversary. That's quite a long time for such an organization! Pennsylvania was an early adopter of the DeMolay program, and I've always been fascinated by the history of the Order within our own Commonwealth.

Working at the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation gives me an opportunity to research these early years, learn about our founders, and find out just how DeMolay became such a force in the Keystone State. Any great story, must be told from the beginning, so with that... just how did DeMolay come to PA?

1923 was a good year in the US. The first World War was over, the economy was good, and the middle class was growing. Warren G. Harding was in the White House, and a vaccine was developed to combat a common but serious illness (whooping cough.) In that same year a train load of young men from Kansas City descended on Pittsburgh to induct 1099 members of DeMolay in one swoop. DeMolay was officially in Pennsylvania, but it didn't happen overnight.

How many of you know who Ralph Minehart is? Without him, you wouldn't be reading this blog. "Uncle Ralph," as he was fondly known, is the reason our Order thrives in Pennsylvania today. Born in Brownsville, PA, "Dad" Minehart moved to Pittsburgh at a young age and was raised in the city of steel. He became a member of Crescent Lodge No. 576, and soon became involved in all things Masonic. While it may seem that "Dad" Minehart's Masonic career is boring, it is far from irrelevant. Without his enthusiam and political connections DeMolay never would have made it.

Back in 1923, it wasn't the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania who championed DeMolay, but rather the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar. This isn't to say that the Grand Lodge was opposed to the program. They just had lots of things on their plate, and starting an unproven group for young men seemed like less of a priority. The Knights Templar, and particularly "Dad" Minehart, were looking for this kind of opportunity. "Dad" Minehart served as Right Eminent Grand Commander in 1922. It was during his tenure as Grand Commander that he first witnessed the ritual of the Order while on a visit to New Jersey. Upon his return he immediately submitted a document to prominent Commandery officials in Pittsburgh asking them to take up the program. In a bold move, he followed this request with an official General Order as Grand Commander that all Commanderies in Pennsylvania should sponsor a DeMolay Chapter. This was just the impetus that DeMolay needed, and soon there would be no turning back. These revelations led "Dad" Land and a group of thirty young men from Mother Chapter in Kansas City to travel to Pittsburgh and establish Templar Chapter (which would go on to become the oldest Chapter in Pennsylvania.) It still exists today, and the heritage of the Chapter is not forgotten.

This brings DeMolay to Western Pennsylvania, but how did the city of brotherly love become involved? Philadelphia was actally the first area to try to bring DeMolay to Pennsylvania, but for unknown reasons, the movement failed to gain momentum, and by 1921 it was dead in the water. The story of its resurgence traces straight back to "Uncle Ralph" and the Grand Commandery. Serving under "Dad" Minehart was an ambitious Division Commander named Louis M. Strassburger. Thanks to these two men a Chapter was started in Philadelphia that would bring DeMolay to the Eastern part of the State. "Dad" Strassburger would go on to serve as Grand Commander himself, and further the ties that DeMolay has to the Grand Commandery.

The movement continued to grow in Pennsylvania, but that's a story for another day. Suffice it to say that I am very thankful to all the Knights Templar, then and now, for the hard work and dedication they bring to the table to support DeMolay. It has been my honor and privilege to serve as Commander of my local Commandery, and I hope one day that I, too, can have some impact on the Order, even if I only accomplish a fraction of what "Dads" Mineheart and Strassburger did.

Until Next Time!

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony

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