The Masonic Lodge in Vale will go up for auction Wednesday, Sept. 29. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
VALE – Gary Dentinger stood in the middle of the empty meeting room at the Vale Masonic Lodge and choked up.
He shook his head, and took a few steps and looked away.
For a long moment, he could not speak. Then he turned his head and shrugged.
“I am going to miss it. It’s history and it’s going away. There are a lot of memories here of a lot of neat men,” said Dentinger.
Last week Dentinger was in the process of cleaning up the lodge at 170 Main St. S, preparing the 70-year-old building for an online auction scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29.
He was a solitary figure, busy in the kitchen, but haunted by memories.
The lodge was more than a building to Dentinger. When he looked at the walls, he could remember voices and stories.
The Masons have been a fixture in Vale for more than 100 years and memories resonate for Dentinger.
Former Vale Masons Lodge grandmaster Gary Dentinger talks about history of the facility last week. The Masons Lodge will be auctioned Wednesday, September 29. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL).
“There would be guys that would ride their horses to town and they would recite their parts to become Masons,” remembered Dentinger, a past grand master of the lodge.
As Dentinger stood in the meeting room of the lodge – empty now except for an old piano –he waved his hand across the far wall where photos once stood of all the past lodge masters.
“I knew a lot of those guys growing up here,” said Dentinger.
Dwindling numbers stymied the lodge, said Dentinger, and last spring the remaining active Masons voted to sell the building. The Vale Masons will now attend the Ontario lodge, said Dentinger.
Once, he said, the lodge logged at least 50 members and met once a month.
“And at least 20 would come to lodge,” he said.
The decision to sell the lodge was a difficult one for Dentinger.
He said he refused to vote on the matter.
“This is very personal to me,” he said.
The stories still resonate with Dentinger, stories of fellowship and community outreach programs and the people – always the people.
Dentinger said he can remember the Vale lodge sponsoring a curly-fry booth at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo and the Malheur County Fair. He remembered how Ore-Ida donated the fries and the Masons hauled the bags and cleaned the fries.
“We sold it, though. Not enough people to volunteer,” said Dentinger.
One memory for him is the image of a former lodge master so ill with cancer that he could not stand.
At first, he sat on the floor and supervised the meeting.
“Then he kind of laid down,” said Dentinger.
Dentinger, 70, joined the Masons in 1995 and oversaw the lodge’s centennial celebration.
If history echoes throughout the bare walls and empty rooms of the lodge then Dentinger is their caretaker.
Freemasonry is also steeped in history. The fraternal organization traces its roots to guilds of stonemasons in the Middle Ages and at least one lodge – in Scotland – was active by the late 1500s.
The first lodges in the U.S. were in Pennsylvania from the early 1700s.
Freemasons can only join if they are asked and they go through a semi-private initiation ceremony.
Lodges are independent. There is no single, global unifying Freemasons lodge.
Freemasons can acquire different grades, or degrees – apprentice, journeyman and master mason. Over time, the candidates for the degrees learn the meanings and symbols of Freemasonry and are taught signs and words that allow other lodge members to know they’ve achieved a specific grade.
Over time, Freemasonry provoked conspiracy theories about its origins, methods and goals. Last week, though, Dentinger scoffed at such notions.
Some rituals, he said, such as initiation, are private.
“There are certain things in the lodge that mean something,” he said.
Dentinger said he first heard about Freemasonry when he was a teenager.
“I played in a football game, the 1971 East-West Shrine game, and we went to visit the Shrine hospital and that is where I asked, how do I become a Shriner,” said Dentinger.
Shriners International is a Masonic society created in 1870.
“So, it started for me, back some 50 years ago,” said Dentinger.
He remembers the community events sponsored by the lodge.
Every spring, he said, the lodge held a breakfast and invited the town.
“There were families, neighbors. A lot of people would come,” he said.
By the end of the month the recollections of the voices and the events at the lodge lived on, stored in Dentinger’s memory.
For the Vale native, the lodge will always be a living, breathing piece of his hometown. So, when he closes the door for the last time, Dentinger said he will think of all the men who “walked through these doors.”
He said he insisted to be the one who did the final cleanup of the lodge.
“I didn’t want anyone else to do it,” he said.
When he is finished, he will turn off the lights, then close the door on a mountain of memories.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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