MIDDLEPORT — Jan. 15, 2020, will go down in history as an unforgettable day for two local Masonic lodges.

It's the day that Middleport-based Cataract Lodge No. 295 and Medina-based Masonic Lodge No. 336 consolidated to become Towpath Lodge No. 1193.

As is the case with many service organizations in the 21st century, the Masonic lodges' membership is aging and declining. The Medina lodge faced the reality several years ago when it gave up its vendor space at the Orleans County Fair because it no longer had manpower to run its sausage booth, which Masons built and took down each year for decades.

After selling the lodge building on West Center Street in Medina, the membership began to explore other options.

Cataract Lodge was founded in 1853 and the Medina Lodge in 1854. Current members hope the merger of these two lodges will ensure they continue for many years to come.

This is the second merger that the Medina lodge has gone through. It merged with the Yates Lodge when the latter was closed in 2007.

As Medina-Middleport lodge merger talks progressed, a committee was formed to choose a new name. Scott Mason of Medina, former secretary of the Medina lodge and newly installed secretary of Towpath Lodge, suggested the new name, which is fitting for the Erie Canal-side villages that hosted them.

Herb Koenig, a 65-year-member of Cataract Lodge and four-time master, said the merger expands the lodge's membership base.

“I like the name of our new lodge,” he said. “It links Medina and Middleport. We’re getting to know people from Medina we didn’t know before.”

Koenig was emcee for the installation ceremonies and was also the installing officer.

“This is a very special occasion, and I’m honored I was asked to be installing officer,” he said.

After welcoming guests and members, Koenig explained the history of Freemasonry, whose roots he said are lost in antiquity.

“Our recorded history extends backward well over 600 years,” he said.

Freemasonry is a moral institution, and is not just social or merely ritualistic, Koenig said; it is also educational and patriotic. It is neither a secret society nor a religion, or a substitute for religion, although Masons do have a few signs and words of recognition that they like to keep to themselves.

As the installing master for the evening, Koenig called each officer to come forward and be sworn in. One by one, they were escorted in front of a Bible by the installing marshal, Kevin Luckman Sr.

New officers of the Towpath Lodge are Worshipful Master Matthew Flammger of Middleport, Senior Warden Robert Donovan of Medina, Junior Warden Eugene Flammger of Middleport, Treasurer Allan Kropf of Medina, Secretary Scott Mason of Medina, Senior Deacon Pritchard “Jim” Anderson of Middleport, Junior Deacon Jack Hansler of Medina, Tiler Fulton Rogers Jr. of Medina and trustees Doug Hedges of Lyndonville (three years), Herb Koenig (two years) and Alan Kozody of Medina (one year).

In addition to Koenig and Luckman, others who participated in the installation ceremony were: David Pynn of Lockport, installing chaplain; Right Worshipful John Krupp, chaplain of the Sutherland Lodge in North Tonawanda, who gave the charge to the wardens; Very Worshipful Joseph Daniels from Red Jacket Lodge in Lockport, who gave the master’s charge; and the Most Worshipful James Sullivan of Lockport, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York from 2012 to 2014, who gave the charge to the brethren.

Sullivan presented a decree from the Grand Lodge, dated Dec. 18, 2019, granting approval of the consolidation. He also conveyed wishes from the Grand Master, the Most Worshipful William M. Sardone.

Sullivan believes Masonry is on the upswing in New York state. For the first time in many years, he said, there is positive growth in membership.

“There are so many good things in our fraternity,” Sullivan said. “We have a new program called Coats for Kids, and we are asking members throughout the state to bring slightly used coats for children. One thing Masons do is take care of our wives, our children and our families.”

The Masonic fraternity also has a Brotherhood Fund, to which members donate annually. Frank Berger of Medina has been a member of the Medina Lodge since 1960 and chair of the Brotherhood Fund for 25 years. He said they have 11 different benevolences to which members may designate their donation.

Matthew Flammger, in his first address as master of the new Towpath Lodge, said he had been thinking for the past few weeks about this new beginning for both lodges.

“It’s strange this has happened at the dawn of a new decade,” he said. “We have a new name and a new lodge. I look forward to being able to give the charter of Lodge No. 1193 to the next master who will lead us into the future. It is an unforgettable experience to be the first master of Towpath Lodge.”

Matthew is no stranger to Masonry. His father, Eugene Flammger, is a member of Middleport’s lodge, as was his grandfather, the late Gordon Flammger. Matthew has been master of Cataract Lodge since 2015.

Matthew can expect cooperation from Masons in other local lodges to perform his official duties, including James Horncastle, master of Albion’s Renovation Lodge No. 97.

Horncastle was among representatives of several other lodges who witnessed the consolidation and installation. He said he became a Mason for friendship and brotherhood, and he's looking forward to working with the newly combined lodges, helping with their fundraisers and degree work.

“I know 30 or 40 years from now, I can look at their charter and say I was there,” he said. “It’s a part of history.”

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