A RARE HONOR: VISITING CONSTANTINE MASONIC LODGE #13 IN BONHAM
Many people aren't aware that Gilmer once had a "Gilmer Masonic Female Institute" back in the year 1851. It was sponsored by the original Masonic Lodge in Gilmer: Gilmer Lodge #61, an early pioneer lodge which eventually disbanded, but was subsequently re-started and prospers today as Bethesda Masonic Lodge #142. Although the Masonic Female school also closed, too, it shows the commitment of Masons to educating our youth, even back in pioneer days to the present.
Another town that similarly had Masons taking the lead to establish the first public schools was Bonham, Texas, in Fannin County. I have passed by the town of Bonham lots of times en route from my home in Longview going back to visit my birth city of Wichita, Kansas, using US highway 82. For some time, I have resolved to stop and visit a stated meeting of Constantine Masonic Lodge #13 in Bonham. I finally fulfilled this wish a few days ago. What makes this Lodge so unique is that it was chartered to operate in the year 1840 by the then 'Masonic Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas'. Thus, it is among the oldest chartered Masonic Lodges in the State and well worth the two and a half hour drive to get there. 140 miles (one-way) doesn't seem so far when it's for a worthy purpose. I saw a few amusing things as I drove to the lodge hall in Bonham, including a man on a street walking five dogs, with five separate leashes in one hand. Just as I was parking my car at the curb, I saw a young girl riding a large horse on the sidewalk right in front of the Lodge building's front door !! I don't see that sight everyday!! As I walked into the Masonic Hall, I was thoroughly welcomed and the actual Lodge meeting room was beautiful, as was the adjacent remodeled kitchen/banquet-room. I loved the various historic memorabilia. On the outside wall of the building (readily seen by the public on the sidewalk) is a story of an 1800's man named "Tom Bean" who was a pioneer surveyor who accepted portions of acreages he surveyed and recorded. More importantly, he was one of Bonham's leading citizens. He was born in Washington, DC; he was quite an active member of the Masonic Lodge, he helped make Bonham a center for industry and commerce. Most importantly: Tom Bean was a friend to white people and African-Americans alike, during a time when it was seldom seen. I was highly impressed by his gentlemanly reputation which lives on over a century after his death. This, among other things is what makes the Masonic Lodge the honorable organization it is. I joined the Masons at age 18 and I am now age 55; yet there were both younger men at the meeting I attended as well as oler men who have been Masons for longer than I have been alive. Truly, it takes a special organization to draw fine men from all ages and all walks-of-life to learn good moral, ethical lessons, literally by degrees. The basic Masonic Lodge confers three degrees: Entered Apprentice Mason, Fellow-Craft Mason, and finally the third degree of Master Mason. I treasure my 37 years of membership ....and counting. I am a 5th generation Freemason. I doubt I will surpass my late dad's record of 52 years a Mason out of his 87 years of his life. I 'thank' all the members of Constantine Masonic Lodge #13 in Bonham for a most enjoyable evening. I might add that I also belong to The Order of the Red Cross of Constantine in Salina, Kansas. The namesake name of 'Constantine' alludes to the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity late in life and who stopped persecutions of Christians; furthermore, he decreed Christianity 'legal' throughout the Roman Empire. His legacy continues to this day. I salute what I call a 'friendship-society' among the Masons in Bonham. Not a secret-society, but a fraternal order which elevates a man's moral character. I'd encourage any man of good reputation to check out this fine Lodge, as well as Bethesda Lode #142 in Gilmer. You will find men who are both exceedingly friendly and committed to education of our youth, and the overall prosperity of our respective communities.