Vol. XXXVIII No. 2 — February 1960

“Life Begins at Forty”

E. Walter Parsons, PGM
George W. Toft, PGM

This Short Talk Bulletin is a condensation of two addresses given at the Association’s Fortieth Annual Meeting, February 26, 1959, by MW. E. Walter Parsons, P.G.M. (New Jersey), and MW. George W. Toft, P.G.M. (South Dakota), both Executive Commissioners of The Masonic Service Association.

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Eleven years ago, a grand master speaking to the Conference of Grand Masters about the needs of modern Freemasonry, said in part: “From 1916 to 1925 we engaged in an orgy of building. We sought to cement Masonic ideals in the hearts and minds of our brethren by building great edifices of stone and steel and brick, which through the passing of the years became monuments to our failures. We failed to consider the ethical and true fraternal spirit of Masonry; the net result of this activity was found in moral and financial bankruptcy of hundreds of lodges and Masonic bodies who lost their buildings through failure to pay for them.”

Strong language? Of course it is; but we quote it neither to deny nor to defend it. Our purpose is to provide a frame of reference in which to place the establishment of a different kind of Masonic edifice, the temple of light and of brotherly love that symbolizes the work of The Masonic Service Association.

Right in the middle of that period referred to above, in 1919 to be exact, The Masonic Service Association was formed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as the result of the distressing need, seen in World War I, for an adequate method by which American Freemasonry could function unitedly, instead of as forty-nine separate units, to give aid and relief to the distressed.

It was early realized that more than one bond between grand jurisdictions was required; relief in times of calamity and service to our Armed Forces were only occasional opportunities to go to work in a united fashion. Hence was planned the Educational Program, the development of good Masonic literature — the particular service that has distinguished this organization from the very beginning.

The Second World War found American Freemasonry ready to act together, to work among the soldiers and the sailors in the camps, to provide wholesome, home-like Service Centers where Masons could make Masonic contacts or bring their friends where they would feel the personal touch of a friendly counselor. Many a boy went off to battle, cheered and encouraged by the brotherly love he had found in a Masonic Service Center. Soon, however, thousands of these boys were being brought back home, maimed or broken in body and spirit. Even before the end of the war the M.S.A. field agents were called from the Service Centers into the Veterans Hospitals, to bring those boys the friendly hand and the little touches of personal service that institutionalized care can rarely do.

But even before the Second World War, American Freemasonry had tested and proved its agency for united action in times of calamity. For example, when the devastating Mississippi Valley flood occurred in 1927, the Masons of America quickly raised over $600,000 for the relief of distressed Masons in that area, and through The Masonic Service Association distributed that assistance at the time it was needed most. Thus the long cabletow of loving obligation was made strong by united action.

From one of the beneficiaries who needed food and clothing immediately, came the following joyful letter: “I received your letter with the check for a million dollars! At least it looked that big, I needed it so badly. My wife always loved a Mason, but she’s going to love every one of them in the world from now on!”

But what it meant to the givers and to the growth of “the true fraternal spirit” of Masonry is clearly revealed in these remarks by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of New Jersey, Brother Howard R. Cruse, speaking at the Annual Meeting of the Association in 1927:

When I got word from the executive secretary of the M.S.A., I sent out a night telegram to the master of every lodge in the state of New Jersey, and that seems to have been a happy thought. Since it was a telegram and not a letter, I began to get telegrams back. Some masters would send me a telegram because he thought I couldn’t wait for a letter. He’d say, “Our lodge doesn’t meet until next week; but the secretary, the treasurer and myself have gotten together and we sent a hundred, or two hundred — whatever it was — down to the grand secretary, and we’ll take a chance on what the lodge does when it meets.” Inside of twenty-four hours we had 1,800; in two weeks, 15,000; and finally, from all bodies, in round figures, $30,000. But this is the point I want to make. It did the grand jurisdiction of New Jersey more good than it did the whole Mississippi Valley! It made Masonry in our state get up on its toes and begin to realize that we are all together, united with Masons in other jurisdictions, and that we could do a job together that was worth doing!

American Freemasonry enjoys a tremendous amount of good will and respect because of its united efforts to act promptly in times of disaster and distress, a service of love to which the Masons of the United States have subscribed almost $2,000,000 in these last forty years! The educational materials of the Association also make an impressive statistical report. The Short Talk Bulletins, the Digests, the plays, the motion pictures, and all the other informational services are continuously used and appreciated. It is no exaggeration to say that these materials are the best known feature of the Association’s program. Masonic Light, as disseminated for almost thirty years by the pen of Carl H. Claudy, has been brilliantly displayed through The Short Talk Bulletins.

Our major purpose, which the first forty years have richly demonstrated, is the development and the dissemination of good Masonic literature that will supplement every system of Masonic education, by providing what educators call “materials for enrichment.” The Short Talk Bulletins have become famous as such.

But let a few brothers tell the story of how they do their wonderful work. From Kansas, the newest member ofthe Association comes a district deputy’s letter:

Please enter my subscription for The Short Talk Bulletin to start with the April issue, at which time my term expires. I have been receiving these Bulletins since the grand lodge of Kansas joined the Association, and I certainly feel that they contain some of the most wonderful lectures on Masonry that I have ever read.

From another mid-Western brother comes a letter that confirms our hopes that the Association’s educational materials are doing a job, for this writer indicates that he helps to spread the gospel: “I enjoyed the latest Bulletin containing about fourteen pages of explanation of different parts of our Masonic work. I passed it on to some of my brothers to read. They enjoyed it too, and I have a number of requests to read it by other brothers who have heard about it. As it is easy to read and understand, I wonder if I could get a dozen or so copies to give to the new members that I expect to raise this year.”

But we have a very warm spot in our hearts for the brother who wrote, “I have been using your materials for short talks in our lodges, and my brethren tell me that my speeches are tops!”

The educational work of this Association is quietly going on in little lodge rooms, villages, and cities all over the United States. But there is also a tremendous labor of love that is being carried on in Veterans Administration Hospitals all over our country.

No impressive array of figures will ever give you an understanding ofthe temple of brotherly love that your craftsmen, the field agents of The Masonic Service Association, and the many volunteers from local lodges are daily building with their unselfish and devoted labors. That understanding needs your sympathetic imagination, or far better, your personal visit to see these hospitals where your great service of love is working its miracles every day.

How easily we forget the glory with which our boys marched off to war! How hard it is to remember over the long years of a restless peace that thousands and thousands of those brave boys are still confined to V.A. Hospitals, fighting another grim battle, in which sometimes the twitch of a tiny muscle represents victory after a five-year campaign.

Helped by your Masonic visitor, those soldiers are carrying on their fight with a brave and dashing spirit, sometimes even dying with a smile upon their lips, like Frank Tousley, because you brought his wife and four little children to his bedside from a hundred and fifty miles away, the day before he died, to enjoy a last and happy supper together in the hospital.

Approximately $2,000,000 has gone into this labor of love since World War II, all of it contributed voluntarily by the Masons in this country. In thirteen years the hospital visitors of your Masonic Service Association have made almost twenty million — yes, twenty million — bedside visits to patients in the Veterans Hospitals. Translate those figures into the warm appreciation and respect for Masonry that has been aroused in the hearts of those who “lie on beds of pain,” most of whom were not Masons, either, and you will begin to comprehend the value of the great work that has been going on so quietly but so effectively these many years.

This labor of love has been maintained by voluntary contributions from grand lodges, the Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite, the Imperial Council of the Shrine, and by other Masonic bodies, lodges, and individual Masons. Dues are not used to support this program; it represents the largest and most far-flung activity of your Masonic Service Association, supported entirely by donations from Masons who believe in this great practical demonstration of our tenet of brotherly love.

This tremendous program of personal service to our wounded veterans, a tiny part of which is described in the supplement to The Short Talk Bulletin every month, was called into being even before World War II ended, by requests from grand lodges and from Armed Services personnel, at a time when the casualties of war were beginning to come home in great numbers.

The intimate, friendly personal attention that your devoted Masonic field agents have brought to all the men confined in the hospitals to which they have been assigned has earned for Freemasonry in this country a “tremendous reservoir of good will” and appreciation. American Freemasonry has many firm friends and admirers in the Veterans Administration Hospitals — not merely among the patients, nurses, doctors, and staffs, but also among the other agencies that are co-workers in the great program of ministering to the sick and the handicapped.

Whenever one of our field agents sits down by the bed of a sightless paraplegic to read to him and act as his amanuensis, or helps a mentally disturbed veteran who cannot forget the screaming agony that he witnessed on Heartbreak Ridge, by taking that man for a walk or for a ride, Masonry is enjoying one of its finest hours!

But the need is greater than the response. And the need is going to continue. The Masonic Service Association’s program is small by comparison with those of other organizations; yet its quality has made it vital to the councils of the Veterans Administration Voluntary Services, where your representatives are always welcomed and held in highest esteem. There are more than a hundred and fifty Veterans Hospitals in the United States; our great work of love is being carried on in only sixty of them!

As the need becomes really known and understood, the Masons of America will insist that their brotherly love be extended into every hospital where it is needed. The most isolated veteran in the smallest hospital anywhere deserves our hand of friendship, too.

Consider for a moment the possibilities, if every Mason in the United States of America gave the price of a single package of cigarettes to this great cause just once a year. It would be more than enough to send a well-trained loving brother into every Veterans Hospital in this country. There would probably be enough left over to send some others into civilian hospitals, where some of the handicapped veterans are being taken care of.

Such is the challenge before us. With confidence in our brothers’ real desire to speed the work that a united Freemasonry has been doing in “the true fraternal spirit” of our brotherhood, we proudly say, “Life Begins at Forty!”

The Masonic Service Association of North America