September 22, 2008
The Odd Fellow resurgence

Meant to link to this Lisa Gray column about the Odd Fellows lodge in the Heights and its recent growth in membership last week, but since I didn't do it then I figure now is as good a time as any.

Find us some new members, the old guys told Ramon Martin, who was by several decades the youngest member of Odd Fellows Lodge 225 in the Houston Heights. That lodge had been around for a century, but like fraternal groups across the country -- the Elks, Jaycees, Shriners -- the Odd Fellows had largely failed to attract new generations. The old guys were afraid Lodge 225 would die with them.

Ramon, a musician, tried recruiting history buffs and battle re-enactors. (Such great old costumes and photos at this lodge!) He tried recruiting Goths. (Floating eyeballs! Coffins! Other weird old symbols!) But none of those recruits stuck.

Ramon mentioned the lodge to some art-car people he knew. They thought it was cool, and they brought friends.

But he didn't expect that crowd to stick, either.

"Look!" says Kenny Browning, sticking out his foot. "Skull camo!" When I look closely at his Chuck Taylor sneakers, I see little skulls grinning among the gray blotches. The shoes will look great with one of his art cars.

Seven years after Ramon began his recruitment drive, Kenny is the Heights lodge's Noble Grand -- which is to say, its grand poohbah -- and he's an obvious symbol of the Odd Fellows' odd comeback. The lodge claims 45 members and is growing fast. This year, it's on track to become the largest Odd Fellows lodge in Texas.

I discovered the Odd Fellows lodge two years ago while driving along 14th Street on an errand, and went back to take a few photos of it, because it just looked cool. Now I want to see what it looks like on the inside. I still don't get the whole fraternal-order thing, but these guys at least seem to be able to do it without taking themselves too seriously. I respect that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 22, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

You are welcome to come to our monthly meet and greet on the first thursday of each month at 7:30, rather than lurking around outside taking photos. We'll show you our cool symbols and you can wonder what they mean. Actually, the fraternal order thing is a way of making community at a time when people are becoming more isolated by technology. This is face to face, baby!

Posted by: marilyn on January 9, 2009 10:52 AM
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