Charity is often talked about in all parts of Masonry. We have many philanthropies and most of us are aware of the Eye Foundation, The Crippled Childrens Hospitals and Burn Centers and the many others we all work hard to support. We the Masons of South Dakota also have another charity we support but most know little of. We have a Grand Charity Fund that is for the relief of Master Masons their widows and orphans. Any needy Mason his widow and orphans are eligible to receive up to $500.00 per month. The by-laws of the Grand Lodge say petitions for relief shall be made to the Grand Lodge Trustees. They shall carefully examine and investigate all applications and when from a lodge shall ascertain its financial condition, the call upon it for charity, and such other facts as possible. In case of emergency they can draw upon the Charity Fund. But any application for permanent relief must be made 30 days before annual Grand Lodge communication.
Who among us would take a demit or become suspended for non-payment of dues if he knew, or thought about the assurance he receives for his annual dues. How much insurance could he buy for twenty-five dollars a year.
The purpose of this report is to raise the awareness of the brethren and to make known to them what we have and how it came to be.
In 1889 Grand Master of Masons of South Dakota George Ayers decided there was a need for a charity fund and a widows and orphans fund. He donated $50.00, $25.00 to each fund.
In the 1890 proceedings there was a new report listed under the heading of special funds as follows; Widows and Orphans Fund $257.65 and Grand Charity Fund $63.15 This was the start of our present fund; which as of December 31, 1994 just went over the three million dollar mark.
In 1893 the Grand Lodge passed a resolution to merge the funds into one fund to be called the Grand Charity Fund, which is its present name. By 1898 the fund had reached $1352.76 and the Trustees were authorized to loan at least $1,200.00 of the fund on farm property at 7% interest. The 1899 report shows $1,225.00 had been loaned on parcels of land in Day County at 8% interest.
The fund had grown to $7,179.00 by 1912, but the finance committee was not satisfied and recommended that a committee be formed to raise funds. Then in 1914 an amendment to the bylaws was proposed and passed to pay fifty cents of each member's per capita dues to the Grand Charity Fund. The Grand Master then reported in 1915 that the problems of the Grand Charity Fund had been solved and now was $17,153.59 that was invested in good interest paying securities. The Grand Charity Fund purchased $10,000 in Liberty Bonds and $5,000.00 in Victory Bonds.
The Grand Lodge was building a library building in Sioux Falls and was a little short of money. The Grand Master proposed to sell $32,000.00 in U.S. Bonds and place the money in the library fund. This proposal was defeated.
1926 brought hard times and allowances for relief were greater than the income from the fund. Again in 1928 the income was only $7,900 and they had spent $8,700.00 for relief. Concern over the lack of funds were discussed and it was suggested at several sessions that each member be assessed $1.00 The assessment never did pass. but the demands continued. The Grand Master had an idea to send the oldest Bible in the Dakotas on a pilgrimage to all the lodges of South Dakota, with an appeal for funds. This took two years to complete, but all the lodges had participated and the voluntary offerings to the Grand Charity Fund totaled $1,572.42. This was a lot of money in 1934 dollars. This same year the Board of trustees made a complete report for the 45 years the Grand Charity Fund had been in existence. From its humble beginning of $50.00 it had grown to $213,924,58. Its highest point of relief had been $10,528.38 and since its beginning it had given to the needy a total of $94,462.74. It was pointed out that the temporary fund, which was the earnings of Grand Charity Fund plus the dues from the lodge members, had not been enough to take care of the needs for relief these past several years. It had been necessary to draw upon the Grand Charity Fund to meet the demands. The Grand Charity Fund had reached $240,818.00 but the income from the fund was not enough to carry the load. World War Two lessened the need for charity and in 1946 after the war was over the fund stood at $300,000.00. The fund continued to grow, but the need for relief was not so great, In 1956 it dispensed $22,809 in relief. It was also about this time the fund started to donate $500.00 to the Eastern Star Home and The South Dakota Childrens Home. Good economical times through the next twenty years made the fund grow fast and the amounts paid out small. By 1977 the fund reached the million-dollar mark and only spent $52,000. Today the assessment from our dues is only twenty-five cents. The last payments made to orphans were made in 1983 when the two that were receiving aid became employed adults. At the end of the year ending April 30, 1993 the fund was $2,452,156.00, and had expended for charity that year $166,555.00 Today no constituent lodge helps with any of these charity cases. In January of 1995 there were 29 checks mailed to the needy. The total was $12,000.00, the smallest was $150.00 and the largest $500.00. They averaged $413.00.
Every Mason in South Dakota is a part of this fund and is assured that his widow and his orphans are guaranteed relief if they should need. Each year we loose a large number of members through demits and suspension for non-payment of dues. They cannot be aware of the benefits they have for such a small payment. There is no insurance like this. Spread the word. Brag about our Grand Charity Fund.
This was written in 1995. Today because of a very favorable stock market, the fund on April 30 1997 was $3,138,000.00 and continues to expend for charity about the same amount.