Longtime membership for Masons is common

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, February 21, 2014

JANESVILLE—Bob Wilson's great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were Masons, so it was only natural he carry on the tradition.

"I followed in their footsteps and moved into it when it came time," the 99-year-old Milton man said.

He joined the Masons on March 26, 1951.

Wilson isn't the only longtime member at Janesville Masonic Center Western Star Lodge 55 at 2322 E. Milwaukee St.

Thirty of the lodge's 100 members have more than 50 years of membership for a combined total of 1,020 years.

The type of men associated with the fraternity attracted Wilson to the Masons.

"They're upright men of quality, respected in town--some professional, some laborers--but all highly rated as a community person," he said.

The more time Wilson spent in the brotherhood the more he wanted to put into it.

In 63 years, he was master, high priest, commander and elected into the Red Cross of the Constantine, an invitation-only group of the Masons.

Wilson was instrumental in building the Janesville Masonic lodge as well as rebuilding a Masonic temple in Arizona. He is an active member of both lodges and continues to attend meetings.

Wilson has never thought about leaving the fraternity.

"There was no doubt I'd stay a member. I still have Masonry work to do. I want to touch the young members  lives," he said.

Jim Unbehaun, 86, Janesville, joined the Masons 51 years ago because of the impression his church deacon, who was a Mason, had left on him as a boy.

"He had such a stentorian voice," Unbehaun said.

As a Mason, Unbehaun has lived life the best he could as an honest man, he said.

"We're here to make good men better," he said.

He described the Masons as a religious organization but not a religion.

Longtime membership in the Masons is not uncommon, said Tom Walton, past master of the Janesville lodge and Wisconsin Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters.

Of the 11,193 Masonic members statewide, 2,303 have between 50 and 85 years of membership, he said.

"It's the fellowship and the strong bonding of men who think alike who have no outside pressures when they're together," he said.

"We're brothers of the lodge with a very strong family."

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