Friday, March 13, 2015


What's the "secret?"  
by "Dad" Thomas R. Labagh, Executive Officer

Often I have been asked, "Why is the PA. DeMolay Key Man program so successful?"
I don't think it is any secret that the strength of all of our programs is in the leaders who drive them forward. The program grew out of necessity, as the DeMolay International Leadership Training Conference program had effectively shut down through DI's financial difficulties of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  After hosting three DeMolay LTCs at the Patton Campus, two pre-renovation and one after the new facility opened, PA DeMolay was faced with the cancellation of the DLTCs and the loss of this vital training opportunity for its members. Rumors of several regionally coordinated LTCs started to circulate, and it didn't take much coaxing for PA to start looking at the same thing.

In 1986, under the leadership and vision of Bro. and "Dad" Samuel C. Williamson, (R. W. Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of PA, and then Executive Officer of DeMolay in Pennsylvania,) the Key Man Conference was born, specifically to train Chapter Councilors and new members. As with anything new, the first three years had smaller enrollments, and through "Dad" Williamson's relentless leadership, the Chapters in PA learned how important it was to support and attend the conference.  In 1989, NJ DeMolay committed to sending a large number of participants, Jurisdictional Officer training was added to the curriculum, and the program grew rapidly from that point on.

The Key Man program, (Conference/University) has always been designed to be a top quality leadership training experience.  It has always been held at the Masonic Conference Center--Patton Campus-- a first class location with incomparable facilities.  And it has always been supervised by the best volunteer staff available to mentor DeMolay members.  I won't mention the names of individual staff members or Conference Directors for fear of leaving someone out, but we have had some of the most dedicated, creative and focused leaders in the country bring their talents to the early development of the Key Man program.  Clearly, the program was a work in progress and went through a number of schedule changes but the basic DeMolay International Leadership Training Conference got a talent and resource boost in the Key Man program.   The DeMolays were very goal-oriented and competitive in ritual and in sports. An additional element of TV game shows used as teaching tools added fun and excitement through Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, $10,000 Pyramid and The Match Game, all adapted to enhance DeMolay knowledge.  "Winning" and "success" and a feeling of group-based "achievement" was everything.

Key Men were divided by levels of experience, and the program was specifically designed for new members, for Councilors, and for Jurisdictional Officers.  They were assigned to Chapters to mix the age-groups and to equalize sporting event performance.  We measured our success by the number of Key Man Chapters that met their participation goals and earned a variety of recognitions during the week.  Generally, one advisor per chapter worked with 10-14 boys, but a large support staff to handle specific assignments gave us our 1:5 adult to youth supervision ratio, and the program grew very popular during its first 14 years of operation.

I remember that in the early to mid 1990s there was a failed effort to start up the DLTC's again under DI supervision.  After that, DeMolay International's DLC committee, having no program to supervise, determined that they would "certify" all of the regional leadership training camps if they met certain standards established by the committee.  With a successful program operating smoothly, we couldn't see a need to submit our Key Man Conference to the touchstone of those who couldn't produce a conference, but could only critique.  Informed of the certification process, "Dad" Williamson stated that when the DLTC committee established standards that came up to par with OUR program, he would consider certifying THEM as authorized Key Man Conferences. That was a conversation-stopper.

In the year 2000, the Key Man program made a quantum leap in its curriculum and process when "Dad" Brent Richards conceived of the "reality concept," applied to all activities at the Key Man Conference.  Every scheduled experience was tested with the question: "How is this any different from what really happens at the home Chapter level?"  Each experience, from registration, to organizing their week-long chapter's officers and committees, to a real prospect party, fund-raisers, and obligatory day observances became models of how to establish and grow a Chapter at home.  Success became a secondary goal-- planning, execution and evaluation of success and failure, and how to improve for the next time, was the primary lesson.

Late in this program came the development of  the Brotherhood Contract and The Fidelity Pledge-- concepts "adapted" (some would say, stolen) from the "Full-Value-Contract" of the PMYF's Lifeskills Conferences also held at the Patton Campus.  The Brotherhood Contract states:

All Conferees agree to conduct themselves according to these basic ground rules:


Each of these are explained in detail in the contract, but the general idea is that if we agree to keep each other safe, to value each other's participation, to stay positive and open to new ideas, and to strive to achieve, anything is possible.  The Fidelity Pledge, well enacted, is a great way to get all the participants on the same page at the beginning of the program with the ideas of living up to the DeMolay Virtues, taking personal responsibility for our actions and practicing forgiveness and tolerance, as the basis for success in the program and success in their daily lives.

The Fidelity Pledge

I promise that I will try
to live by the DeMolay Virtues
in all that I think, say and do,
and will expect the same effort
from my brothers and Advisors.
When I fail to do so,
I will take responsibility for my decisions,
make appropriate amends, if possible,
accept the consequences of my actions,
and be as forgiving of my brothers
as they are tolerant of me.

We measured our success by the number of LCCs, RDs and Obligation Cards were earned, and the number of new ritual parts that were learned during the week, and also in the the ways the Key Men translated what they learned into valued behaviors that helped their home Chapters grow.  This latter item was not an easy thing to measure, except through anecdotes and testimonials by their advisors.  The "Reality Key Man" concept carried us for another 14 years, under the leadership of another corps of outstanding directors and adult volunteers.

In 2014 we decided it was time to take the whole program in a different direction to see what we could learn by giving the young men more choice and more freedom to select their area of academic and participatory concentration.  Thus arose the Key Man University concept, wherein the DeMolays choose their major course of study, and a minor course of study, and graduate at the end of the week with a base of knowledge they wanted, plus a smattering of "general education" courses that all must complete.  The areas of major and minor concentration included Ritual, Chapter Leadership, Event and Program Planning, Education and Personal Development, Brotherhood and Membership, Communications and Media, Jurisdictional Officers and Sweethearts.

Making individual schedules was much more complicated,but the DeMolays had control over what they did, and they had more personal freedom with open study periods, optional breakfast times and the inclusion of a Sweetheart program.  The DeMolays got a taste of what college could be like, while learning useful skills that they could practice in their home Chapters. Key Man University was a great success, and like every new concept, will undergo a process of refinement over the next few years that will balance all the elements of the program to the benefit of the Key Men.

So, what's the secret?  Why does this program continue to grow and improve over the years?  Consistent leadership.  Reliable and recurring volunteers.  Fantastic support from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, its Lodges, and the members of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. An uncompromising commitment to excellence.

And the next "big idea?"  It may come next year or the year after, but, if patterns mean anything, 2028 should be a really interesting year for Pennsylvania DeMolay!

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