Members of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Missouri gathered Aug. 28 at the Shekinah Lodge 256 in Crystal City to mark two special occasions, including the state organization’s bicentennial.
The group also honored Right Worshipful Brother Elmo Blum, celebrating his 75th year as a Master Mason, the organization’s highest rank.
Blum, who is recovering after a brief hospitalization, was unable to take part in the ceremony, but his daughter, Tonda Breeze, drove him to the event, and he accepted his award from the back seat of her vehicle.
“This is a monumental achievement,” said Masonic Grand Orator Jacob Thompson. “Seventy-five years of service. You just don’t see it very often.”
Blum, 98, earned the title of Master Mason in 1946. He served as Worshipful Master of the local lodge in 2007-2008.
Several of the attendees spoke about Blum’s skill and dedication as a mentor.
“Elmo teaches in such an easygoing way,” said Lodge 256 secretary Don Ponzar. “He’s always there to assist and to encourage. He’s a person I’d like to emulate, and I congratulate him for 75 years.”
Ponzar said Blum was one of the driving forces behind the lodge’s effort to provide space to house the Quad City Senior Center.
“One day, Elmo stopped by on his way from Rotary and said he had heard the senior center was needing a place,” Ponzar recalled. “Within a couple of weeks, we had a ramp built and had them in here.”
A Masonic chapter was established in this part of the Louisiana Territory in 1807 – in Ste. Genevieve. Over the next few years, chapters were established in St. Charles, St. Louis and Jackson. Joachim Lodge 25 in Herculaneum was chartered in 1819, and those five lodges banded together to launch the statewide organization, established in April 1821, five months before statehood.
The Grand Lodge of Missouri now encompasses 330 local lodges with more than 45,000 members.
The Crystal City lodge was chartered in 1868 and had several homes before landing in its current spot.
“The first building was out by West City Park (now Larry G. Crites Memorial Park),” said current Worshipful Master Bill Nausley. “Then they met in the upstairs of the old Canepa blacksmith shop in Festus. In 1889, they built the building that was later E&D Style Shop, at 110 Main Street. This place was built in 1967 and ’68, mostly with volunteer labor.”
The Herculaneum lodge, demolished in 2017, had transferred its charter to Hillsboro’s Joachim Lodge 164. There also are lodges in Arnold, Fenton,
De Soto and Blackwell.
As part of the Aug. 28 celebration at the Crystal City lodge, a historical artifact was on display – a white lambskin ceremonial apron.
Masons wear aprons like it during ceremonies. The color signifies moral purity and a clear conscience, and it serves to remind the wearer of the dignity and worth of labor.
The Crystal City lodge was given the historical apron in 1904 by John Conn, a New York City hatmaker who moved to Missouri, eventually settling in southern Jefferson County.
“He wrote that the apron was given to him by his grandfather,” said Zach Hardesty, District Deputy Grand Master and a former head of the local lodge. “John Conn believed it had been worn by George Washington.” Conn’s wife was a descendant of Robert Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the family had close ties with a number of Revolutionary War figures. Hardesty has done detailed research into both the Morris and Conn families, and says that, while there is no way to officially authenticate the apron, he believes it is the real deal.
“Even if it’s not, it’s a great story,” he said.