The Odd Father: Jim Moltion, Noble Grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in LaFayette, seeks increased membership to keep the group in operation. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
“In the early part of the 20th century, the Odd Fellows had over 26,000 members throughout Central New York,” said Moltion. “But as we stand right now, there are only six members left and I’d hate to see it close, because it’s a part of history.” The most recent lodge that closed about five years ago was on the third of floor of the building that housed Royal Electric (which also recently closed) on the North Side of Syracuse.
Having joined the LaFayette chapter 20 years ago, Moltion, 64, is the second-youngest of the six members. He mentioned that a few younger members would help fill the generation gap and ensure longevity for the fellowship. The dues are $35 per year—or about a half a tank of gas—which is used primarily as Moltion explained, “to stock the fridge with a few cold ones.” Hoping to inspire a revival of sorts, a beer on the house awaits new members whose dues will be waived for the first year.
“We’re open to men ages 18 and up,” continued Moltion. “Most of the guys here are retired now, but in the past, we’ve had engineers, scientists, house farmers, mechanics. It doesn’t make a difference. Even though the name implies it, we’re not odd or anything, but if you want to be, we won’t turn you away.” Call 575-3279 to inquire about waving your Odd Fellow flag high.
According to the IOOF’s official Web site, www.ioof.org, the club is open to anyone of “good character, who is loyal to his or her country and believes in a Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of the Universe. Odd Fellowship strictly forbids any interference with one’s religious beliefs or political opinions.” The Rebekahs are the IOOF affiliate for women. While persons of all spiritual persuasions are invited, each session commences by saluting the red, white and blue and reciting biblical prayer.
Moltion and the LaFayette IOOF five meet the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. While modern luxuries such as a television, pool table and microwave furnish Lodge 161, they partake in many of the same activities and traditions their brethren involved themselves with before the digital age. “We have a half-hour formal meeting based on the ancient traditions to start,” said Moltion, “but afterward, we’re more or less like a college fraternity. The lodge is basically a place to get away and play cards or drink a few adult beverages and just see what everyone else has been up to.”
But the group is not solely based on shooting the breeze and catching a buzz. Members of Lodge 161 take it to the streets to physically exemplify their unity not just within the group, but the community at large. For only a slight compensation that helps fund the group, the Odd Fellows offered to perform the odd task of maintaining two abandoned cemeteries that LaFayette town officials would otherwise be responsible for.
“Getting out and involving ourselves in as many things as we can is really the only way we promote ourselves,” noted Moltion. Last October, they valet-parked cars during the annual LaFayette Apple Festival. And each year, they award a $600 to $700 scholarship to the LaFayette High School student who emulates the three most important tenets of the IOOF: Friendship, Love and Truth. (The IOOF symbol is a three-link chain with each sphere containing a letter of the FLT anagram.)
There are a few accounts of how and why the IOOF was originally formed, but according to Moltion, the most logical explanation derives from within the shadows of another mid-18th-century fraternal order. As their name implies, Freemasons worked with stone. After the masons finished erecting a castle or church, a hodgepodge of laborers had to wander the newly paved dark corridors to perform odd jobs—such as carpentry and window installation—to complete the building. Hence the odd-jobbers, not allowed to join the exclusive Masonic club, banded together and became the Odd Fellows.
The earliest printed record of the Odd Fellows appears in a reference to a lodge meeting at an English tavern in 1748. The Odds sailed to Colonial America and established Shakespeare Lodge No. 1 in New York City in 1806—consisting of three boat builders, a comedian and a vocalist.
Moltion noted that Odd Fellows first appeared in LaFayette in 1851 and even though their current prospects are not looking, well, like anything right now, they’ll be there for each other one way or another. “It seems like everyone’s more or less taking care of themselves and doesn’t have time to take care of others these days,” continued Moltion. “But if one of our members was a farmer and he broke his leg and couldn’t get his crop in, we’d be right there to help out so he wouldn’t have to worry about making ends meet.”