Masonic Assistance

The Splinter cell


By Ian A. Stewart

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes for Ron Hein to bring up the gorilla head. Art Walton mentions it even faster. The two are giving a tour of the woodworking shop at the Masonic Homes’ Union City campus, which is filled with just about every kind of power tool, wood screw, and vice clamp the would-be carpenter could ever need. On work benches around the room are a mélange of half-started and almost-finished bird houses, napkin rings, and candlestick holders—the evidence of an all-consuming hobby.

As it is most days, the shop is buzzing today, and not just with the sound of steel cutting through pine. Since relocating to a larger space in the lower level of the Wollenberg building 10 years ago, the Masonic woodworking shop has birthed all manner of boxes, doorstops, and salt shakers, running the gamut from the extremely amateur to the entirely professional—decorative to rustic; useful to, well, not. And then there’s the gorilla head. The hunk of wood, a former tree stump, belongs to Vance Hill. It’s about as big as a bowling ball and just as heavy. Carved into the front are a pair of eyes and a flat snout and a few simple lines, and you’ve got to hand it to him, it really does look like a gorilla. Walton hefts the piece up on to a workbench to show it off, marveling at the effectiveness of its simplicity. “Isn’t that beautiful?” he says.


It’s clear from the first that the Home’s shop is more than just another campus amenity. It’s a conduit for creativity, a place for residents to develop a new skill or hone a lifelong craft, a chance to form friendship and create something new. Despite the bashfulness with which residents show off their creations, there’s an immense sense of pride in evidence here. “Some of the things they’ve done are just incredible,” says Soledad Martinez, the resident services administrator for the Masonic Homes. “These are things that keep people fulfilled and give them a sense of purpose.”

That may be even more profound than it seems: Research shows that “whole-brain” hobbies like woodworking—which engages both the problem-solving and the artistic parts of the mind—offer enormous health benefits, both mental and physical. By relieving stress and lowering blood pressure, woodworking can improve heart health and immune function; the light, low-impact exercise even benefits fine-motor skills. However, it’s the creative element that’s most important. Having an outlet that instills pride, builds new skills, and improves mental sharpness is tremendously important, especially among a cohort that can have a tendency to become sedentary and reclusive. In fact, according to a Mayo Clinic study, people who engage in craft hobbies like woodworking and pottery in middle and old age significantly decrease their chances of developing cognitive disorders down the road.

For woodworkers like Hein, the draw is far simpler: “It’s a good distraction,” he says. “It keeps me from sitting up in my room all the time. And the guys are good to be around.”


The shop is stocked with materials purchased by the Home or donated by residents and lodges, including table saws, planers, drill presses, and laiths. About 20 residents have dedicated work benches and storage; several more work in common areas. Lumber and materials are provided for all. Prior experience isn’t required, and in fact many of the residents are beginners. In such cases, they rely on more experienced neighbors to lend a hand with a new piece of equipment or technique. “We really don’t teach, we help,” says Hein, who learned to use the laith here. He has become known for carving handsome wooden pens out of precut blanks.

Some of those pens wind up in the Home’s gift shop, along with other tchotchkes residents make. Others are given away as gifts or end up on their maker’s mantlepiece. But a great many of the works carved and assembled here find their way into Masonic lodges as decorations or regalia. In fact, Freemasonry seems to offer the woodworkers an almost limitless demand for wooden works. “Every new officer wants a gavel,” Walton jokes.

Ken Bentley, 72, drops into the woodshop two or three times a week, and sometimes takes such requests. But today he’s applying a final coat of polyurethane to what will be an in-drawer spice rack for his apartment. “I tend to find the wood and then figure out something to do with it,” he jokes of his artistic process.

As one of the longest-tenured residents and most accomplished woodworkers, Jack Mc Clellan is a mentor of sorts down here. Mc Clellan, 90, a past master of Alameda Lodge No. 167 and Siminoff Daylight Lodge No. 850, worked for years as a design-builder. He recently finished building an extension for a wooden marquee at the Home’s Siminoff Lodge, in which portraits of each past master are displayed. He’s also built 7-foot Deacon and Stewards rods, special Masonic walking sticks and canes, and many other lodge accoutrements. Today, he’s showing off a series of teak goblets and two-tone candlestick holders made using mahogany and oak.

Others have even more ambitious ideas: Hein says he’s been on the lookout for plans to build a grandfather clock. But first things first: He’s still got a batch of pens to finish, and a plaque for a gavel he’s been asked to help with, a desktop candy dispenser he’s working on, and some other projects percolating in the back of his mind. “I’m just starting another project, so when I get through with that,” he says, briefly trailing off in thought. “Well, then I’ll just start something else.



  • Information and referrals
  • Senior communities in Covina and Union City
  • Statewide Masonic Outreach Services for members of all ages and their families
  • Transitions short-term care for neurological and post-surgical rehabilitation (Union City)
  • The Masonic Center for Youth and Families in San Francisco and Covina – with telehealth services now available everywhere
  • NEW! Shared housing for seniors in Covina

Contact us today to access your member benefits and services:
(888) 466-3642
(877) 488-6293 (San Francisco)
(626) 251-2300 (Covina)



Visit our New Community at The Pavilion at the Masonic Homes

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