Diveristy in Friendship
by Antone R.E. Pierucci
DURING THE PANDEMIC, VESPER LODGE No. 84 HELPED KEEP LOCAL BUSINESSES AFLOAT.
By Tony Pierucci
At first glance, Vesper No. 84 in Red Bluff looks a lot like any other rural lodge. The large brick hall sits on the town’s main drag, the bottom two stories occupied by businesses and local government agencies. It hosts a formal dinner before each stated meeting. The 150-person lodge keeps track of widows and makes a determined effort to support its members in times of need.
“We are a lot like other lodges our size,” says Greg Rose, past lodge master and current treasurer. “We just happen to be able to donate more to local charities than most.”
That’s something of an understatement. Over the past decade, Vesper No. 84 has donated more than $750,000—and they aren’t done yet. “We believe charity starts at home,” Rose says. In 2020, that commitment saw the lodge give out more than $150,000 to local groups. From small single gifts to individual programs (such as $1,000 given to a local CHP toy drive and $3,000 to a community center for a new marquee) to large, ongoing campaigns (such as the $30,000 given annually in scholarships to graduating high school seniors), Vesper takes the tenet of Masonic relief to a whole new level. “Our members are 100 percent on board with all our giving—after all, it’s what Freemasonry is all about,” Rose says.
Vesper’s members credit their forebearers‘ frugality for laying the groundwork for today‘s largesse, says Andrew Rieland, past master and current secretary of the lodge. “Their foresight is what has allowed us to give so freely.” For decades, the lodge’s rainy-day fund grew, until members decided it could be put to better use. “It was a no-brainer for us,” Rieland says. “We focused our efforts at home and are happy with the impact we’ve been able to have.”
The biggest charitable task to date came in the early days of the pandemic. “We were frustrated that these big-box stores were able to stay open but our local small businesses were forced to close,” says Dean Cofer, assistant secretary of the lodge. So Vesper created a loan program for local businesses forced to remain closed due to state mandates. With help from the local chamber of commerce, the lodge posted loan applications online. The response was tremendous.
“We were the first to offer this kind of relief at the time, since it was before any state or federal aid was released,” Cofer explains. In the end, the lodge gave out 120 loans of $1,000 each over the course of three rounds. Heartfelt letters of thanks came rolling in from businesses that were able to pay the rent or the electric bill. “We don’t do this to pat ourselves on the back,” says Cofer. “But those letters meant a lot.”