NISSWA — They’re not only the Aitkin Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, they’re holding the top state offices of the fraternal organization — the first time in history for the Aitkin lodge to do so.
They are Ed Spilman of Nisswa, who was selected as the grand master, and Elaine Wischmann of Aitkin, who was selected as assembly president, of the state organization called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, for the year 2011-12.
It’s a big deal for members of the Aitkin lodge to be honored. The Aitkin Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs have been around for more than 120 years and have never had a member elected into a state office.
The Odd Fellows began by a group of coal miners in the 18th Century in England who took care of widows and orphans, said Spilman. During that period, it was considered odd to see people organized for the purpose of helping those in need without recognition. The organization was brought to the U.S. in 1819 and became a worldwide fraternity in 26 countries.
Spilman said the mission of the organization is to take care of the sick, relieve the distress and bury the dead. Major projects of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs include the Arthritis Foundation, the Visual Service Project at John Hopkins University, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sponsorships for youth to visit the United Nations the 3 Links Care Facility in Northfield and student scholarships.
There will be a reception to honor Spilman and Wischmann from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Aitkin Odd Fellows lodge, located above the Riley Auto Supply, NAPA Auto building on Second Street Northwest. The reception is open to the public and the honorees hope that those interested in joining the lodge organization will come forward.
“One of the organization’s goals this year is to increase membership,” said Spilman. “We tried to get the lodge in Brainerd to reopen for the Odd Fellows, but only one person showed up ... Brainerd hasn’t had a lodge since the 1980s.”
Currently there are nine members in the Aitkin Odd Fellows and 13 in the Rebekahs lodge in Brainerd. Anyone age 18 or older can join and the person doesn’t have to live in the city where the lodge is.
Spilman and his wife Mary Andrews-Spilman live in Nisswa, but belong to the Aitkin lodge, the closest lodge to their home. The couple belongs to all four branches of order in the fraternal organization in the state.
Andrews-Spilman, 72, joined the organization at 18 because her parents were longtime members. Her father joined in 1904 and then couldn’t join during the Depression because he couldn’t afford the 50 cent fees, but then he later joined again.
“This is a great organization,” said Andrews-Spilman. “It supports so many great projects.”
Ed Spilman fell into the organization because Andrews-Spilman was traveling around the state with the Rebekahs and he had to drive her.
“We’d leave Mondays and come back on Fridays and if I didn’t join I would have had to sit outside in the cold,” said Spilman. “So I joined.”
Andrews-Spilman, who is presently the deputy grand master, will take Spilman’s grand master position in the 2012-13 year, and be the first “sister to serve as grand master in the state.”
Wischmann joined the Rebekahs in 1963 because a neighbor was active in the organization and it became a “neighborhood thing.” Wischmann said she belongs to the organization because of what it does for the local, state and national communities. She said, “You get from the organization what you put into it.”
Wischmann said the project that is closest to her heart that the organization is involved in is the Arthritis Foundation. She said most people either have arthritis or know someone who has it so it impacts a lot of people.
Those interested in joining the organization may call Gerald Hedberg at (218) 927-3632; Ron Arvidson at (218) 927-4815; or Elaine Kienitz at (218) 927-2474. For more information on the organization go to www.ioof.org.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.