When Pete Yakovich’s wife went into labor around Christmas and was hospitalized in Salt Lake, it scared him to death.
His baby wasn’t due until Valentine’s Day.
“I thought my wife was going to die,” he said.
After some time in the hospital, the magic of modern medicine took effect and everything turned out fine.
But during this scary time, Yakovich, a local Mason who serves as Senior Warden of the Joppa Lodge 26 and president of the Carbon Masonic Temple Association, had another powerful personal experience.
A brother Mason whom Yakovich only knew from meetings in Salt Lake showed him firsthand why fraternal organizations can deliver a sense of brotherhood unlike few other social groups around.
“He asks if I need anything, I said no, we’re okay. But I could really use a bar of soap,” Yakovich recalled. “The next day, he worked at the University of Utah, he showed up and came right to my aid. He had a little hygiene kit and a gift card for $25.”
Yakovich could barely grasp the kindness.
“I just could not believe that he would go out of his way and do something kind for me. He checked on me and my wife almost every day. I just thought, wow. And this isn’t a man who lives around here,” he said.
“That’s what this organization is about. Caring about each other and brotherhood.”
Yakovich said he only wishes more people in Price and Carbon County knew this truth themselves.
See, Price has a grand history of fellowship organizations. From the Elks to the Moose, to the Masons, Kiwanis and Soroptomists, Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias, and many more, and many long gone and forgotten.
Yakovich and fellow Masons lament the decline—like so many mainstays of bygone eras in America---in membership in fraternal organizations. Masonry is not at all exempt from this trend, both nationally and locally.
“One thing you’ve got to realize is fraternalism in the United States, period, is declining significantly. There used to be in this building, used to meet, international Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, and the Royal Order of the Moose. And this was back, oh, in the early 1920s and thirties,” Yakovich said. “That just doesn’t exist anymore.”
From a peak of more than 4.1 million members nationwide in 1959, the number of Masons nationally was down to just more than 1 million in 2017.
“We’re facing the decline, an organizational decline really. There are a lot of factors to it. I think one of the big factors is—I don’t know if traditions just never got passed down sometimes. Or if people started becoming more engrossed in technology, but I think the social aspect of all of our lives has changed.”
Sociologists have studied this phenomena for some time in academia—religious affiliation, family cohesion, membership in organizations such as the Masons, all have rapidly devolved over the last 100 or so years, forever altering not just the fabric of society in the United States, but impacting people’s interactions with each other.
Yakovich is confident, however, that one fundamental aspect of fraternity hasn’t changed.
“I think genuinely most men have a desire to belong to something that promotes good, that helps them become better, but they don’t know how to find those kinds of organizations,” he said. “In Masonry, a lot of people think, oh, they have to be invited, you know this kind of thing. That’s not how it works at all. We actually have to have people ask us to join.”
Not many are these days.
Sitting at 39 N. 100 E., the home to Carbon County’s two Masonic lodges—Joppa Lodge, chartered in 1926 and Carbon Lodge, chartered in 1910—is one of the county’s oldest buildings. For many years it was the tallest building around, standing four stories including the basement.
The historic building, with it’s very Masonic keystone and symbols lining the front gable, is not in great shape. The stairs are falling apart. Handicap access is virtually non-existent. People have tried to break in; one man was even arrested last year for walking into the building during a meeting and stealing a sword, golden door knocker and assorted items. Humorously, the thief told the police he was curious what the building was for and when told it was the Masonic lodge, he said he always wanted to be a Mason.
“It was like, well, it’s probably not going to happen now,” said Yakovich, recalling the incident.
Masonry is one of the best kept secret societies around. And the two local lodges, responding to the decline in membership and need to raise funds to renovate their historic homestead, are set to come out of the lodges and into the community more than ever.
John McCurdy, Worshipful Master of the Joppa Lodge, said that the grand master of Utah masonry recently urged the state’s lodges to provide more enhanced experiences to its members as well as make more efforts to connect to surrounding communities.
“These two lodges have been doing that already for quite a long time. But we are redoubling our efforts. We are trying to increase our visibility in the community through community involvement projects,” he said.
Richard Justesen, past Worshipful Master of Carbon and Joppa lodges, said the group already doles out quite a few scholarships every year.
“On a larger scale we give scholarships, we encourage people to apply for them. We also have funds we provide for nonprofit organizations; we give them applications and they can submit them.”
Yakovich says statewide, the 1,600 current Masonry membership raises and donates about $250,000 a year to charities and scholarships.
McCurdy illustrated the group’s giving by also pointing out that Shriners—the group that operates children’s hospitals across the country—are all Masons.
“They must be,” Justesen says.
McCurdy estimates that the Shriners spend upwards of $1 million a day on children’s healthcare across the nation.
The group today must also help itself, to survive the trend upon which its future is in question.
Yakovich said a few new things are in the works. First there is a push to develop a children’s identification program for parents. This would see the group setting up booths at local community events and helping parents create an ID kit for kids using photos, teeth impressions, DNA swab and hair as part of a kit. Other efforts include more community events, like the first annual George Washington dinner the group hosted at the Tuscan a few months ago. A quarterly family day the group plans to hold would allow members and their families to socialize together every three months at the lodges.
And to fix the building, the group is selling bricks that local residents can have their names or organizational icons stamped into. The bricks will be laid into a new patio and set of stairs leading up to the building’s front doors.
Yakovich admits there are so many things that need to be fixed inside the building and out, that it will take tens of thousands of dollars. He hopes to raise enough money that the group can rebuild their front entrance, make it compliant with Americans with Disabilities law, and accent an otherwise under-appreciated piece of county history.
“Not a lot of people know we exist. Which is sad because we are the oldest brotherhood in Carbon County, in one of the oldest buildings in Carbon County and most people would say, ‘What building?’” Yakovich said.
Perhaps coming a bit more out of the shadows, and showing why it’s one of the best kept secrets around, the local Masons will live on into the next century, too.
The group is holding a fundraiser July 3 and hosts numerous activities throughout the year. Their historic building can even be rented for special occasions.
For more information, drop by the lodges or go to www.pricetemple.org.