Janesville56.3°

Odd Fellows Lodge rises from the ashes

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
June 2, 2009
— The smell of fresh plaster and paint represent a fresh start for Independent Order of Odd Fellows Wisconsin Lodge 14.

The brightness and shine of new walls, flooring and furniture in the social quarters is in stark contrast to the sooty devastation after November 2007 vandalism and fire. Some wondered if the lodge would rise from the ashes.


But it did.


Persistence has been key in overcoming the devastation, said Dale Stevenson, noble grand.


Some lodge members initially thought it would be best to buy land and build a single-story lodge elsewhere. But members opted to keep the rich history of the downtown lodge chartered by the territory of Wisconsin in 1847 and rechartered by the state of Wisconsin in 1848.


"We're on Main Street. We're staying here. This is where we've been and where we're going to be," Stevenson said while touring visitors through the three-story, 150-year-old building at 22 N. Main St.


"The Odd Fellowship isn't something you join. It's the type of person you already are," Stevenson said. "It's a group trying to do some good in the community and give back."


Even during the ongoing recovery process, lodge members continue to host benefits and fundraisers. The lodge even took over organizing and hosting this year's Fourth of July celebration in Janesville.


Although it seemed overwhelming at times, Stevenson said the Odd Fellows never let the destruction get them down.


He attributes that strength to the principles and values of Odd Fellows past and present, to the community and to local contractors.


Damage to the lodge initially totaled $213,000. Glass was shattered. Fire extinguisher chemical coated floors, walls, ceilings and furniture. Hardwood floors had buckled from water damage. Historical memorabilia was reduced to piles of ash.


Jeremy A. Brown of Homewood, Ala., pleaded guilty to burglary, felony criminal damage to property and misdemeanor theft in connection with the Nov. 3, 2007, fire. He was sentenced to five years probation, one year in jail plus 200 hours of community service, according to court records.


Repair costs grew when it was discovered the building needed a new roof before new walls and drywall could be installed, Stevenson said.


Although nearly 70 percent of lodge repairs are done, the rest will have to wait until the lodge can come up with more money.


So far, it has received $153,000 from insurance, $25,000 from the Sovereign Grand Lodge of North America, $20,000 from lodge investments plus a few thousand in community donations "to help put everything in the shape it's in," Stevenson said.


This includes new heating, air conditioning, electrical, steel doors, roofing, refurbished social quarters and an apartment that can be rented to bring in revenue.


The lodge still is about $15,000 short, and Stevenson said they are checking into other options.


Regardless, lodge work will continue, Stevenson said.


"We're not about to give up."


To help


Donations to help the Odd Fellows chapter repair its Main Street quarters or to help them pay for the Fourth of July fireworks display can be made at any Anchor Bank in Janesville.



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