AVON PARK - For 100 years, it's been a stronghold of benevolence, outreach and fraternization.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Avon Park's Freemasons' Poinciana Lodge #227 Free and Accepted Masons (F.& A.M.) presence in the city and is inviting the public to help celebrate.
Since 1945, the Lodge has been located at 939 W. Main St., but had its origins in the upstairs of a two-story, wood-frame house on North Verona Avenue, where on March 6, 1914, the first eight officers were installed. A chapter of the Lodge was chartered April 15, 1915 and a final charter was issued Jan. 14, 1921.
To celebrate the occasion, the Lodge is inviting the public to its 2014 installation of officers and awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 20, which will give the public the chance to visit the lodge, learn a bit about its past and have refreshments. The event is free.
The current Poinciana Lodge was built in 1945 and it had about $85,000 worth of upgrades and renovations done in 2004 with an interior remodeling, ceiling drop, new floor tiling and in 2006, a stair-lift was installed.
One Mason, Herman DuBoice of Avon Park, knows firsthand what the Lodge and its members have done for the community over the past five decades, having joined the Avon Park Lodge in 1963. He said he's proud Poinciana has been active over so many years, but would like to see more younger men get involved.
There are currently 53 Masons registered in Lodge #227, ranging in age from 18 to 82. DuBoice said membership peaked in the mid-1950s at about 115 and he was "raised in the Lodge." He was promoted to a Master Mason, the highest title in the Masons, in December 2003.
"It's the same reason a lot of organizations lose members. Younger people have other things to do, they just don't go to Lodges," he said. "Our membership is old and dying off."
Sitting with DuBoice at a Wednesday committee meeting was Lodge Mason Larry Hoffman, Lodge secretary-at-large and member in Avon Park for five years who began with the Masons in Flint. Mich., in 1994. He said unfortunately, much of Lodge #227's written and photographic history was lost when the hurricanes of 2004 flooded the building and permanently water damaged historical items, which had to be thrown out.
The Lodge's inaugural ledger from 1914, however, was spared.
"I went through a lot of it and kept a bunch of it. The ledger should have been destroyed, but it wasn't. Most of it was; it was all water-soaked," he said.
Although much of the physical history of Lodge #227 has been lost, its outreach and community efforts are still intact.
For the past fourteen years, Hoffman said the Lodge has presented $500 college scholarships to seniors at Avon Park High School, participated in he Highlands County Sheriff's Office Child ID Program, and sponsored the International Order of the Rainbow Girls, a Masonic youth service organization which teaches leadership training through community service and the Order of the Eastern Star, a Freemason-related fraternal organization open to both men and women.
Both men said they hope the anniversary year and invitation would help draw more interest in finding out what the Freemasons and the Lodge can offer to men of all ages.
Freemasonry traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the 14th century regulated the qualifications of masons and their interaction with authorities and clients.
For information, call Hoffman, (863) 368-0266.