Active in Guttenberg A history of service for Order of the Eastern Star

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Members of the Pearl Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in Guttenberg celebrated their 120th anniversary in 2013. Seated from left are Joanne Finch, Borghilde Tuecke, Mary Ford, Barnabetta Cline, and Joan Walke; standing, Dennis Hanna, Jan Solomon, Gayle Hanna, Kay Becker, Jim Solomon, Cindy Moser, Susan Horstman, Wayne Thiese, and Janice Thiese. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Editor’s note: This story is one in an ongoing series to highlight local groups and organizations that welcome members of the community and enhance our city’s culture. If you would like your group to be featured, please contact The Guttenberg Press.

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Guttenberg is home to another chapter of fraternal notoriety, an extension of the Masonic family known as the Order of the Eastern Star. With over 500,000 members internationally, Star is the largest fraternal organization in the world to which both men and women may belong. The group works to protect widows and orphans, comfort and sympathize with those in need and in sorrow, and through social enjoyments and cheerful companionship increase collective happiness. 

“We are dedicated to faith, hope, charity, love, and promotion of goodwill to all mankind,” said Joan Walke, who serves as worthy matron (comparable to president) of Guttenberg’s Pearl Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Walke has been a member for 25 years. She reflected fondly on her first years as a member, when Bea Aulwes was her instructor. “I spent many afternoons visiting and sitting with her a couple of hours, practicing. She was a beautiful lady.” 

Like the Masons, Star members are asked to recite perfectly from memory during meetings. There are no levels within the group, but there are offices. “The top three offices require more memorization than the rest. If it’s your desire to become Worthy Matron, then more memorization is required and there is more to undertake,” said Walke, proudly recalling her first test after hours of study with her mentor. “I did it word-perfect, because that’s the way she wanted it done.” Members step in to help one another with verbiage during meetings, but the challenge can be intimidating. “As you get older, it’s harder to memorize and retain. I’ve been stressing to some of the people up above to be more lenient on it, but Iowa is noted for its perfection.”

Due in part to the hours of study and mental tasks members must perform, the number of men and women in the Pearl Chapter has been steadily declining. “When I started 25 years ago, we had 18 officers (the desired number), plus they had sideliners, which were members who didn’t hold office,” said Walke, who became an officer after her first year in Star. “Year by year, we’ve dwindled to the point where we have 11 officers, no sideliners, and the possibility of disbanding. We’re seeing that across the state of Iowa. People have trouble memorizing, but that’s who Iowa is.” 

At its largest the Pearl Chapter had 120 members. Today, there are 33 – three of whom are male. Walke estimates the average age of members at 72. At one time Star chapters dotted Northeast Iowa, in Elkader, McGregor, Strawberry Point, Monona, Edgewood, Colesburg, and Guttenberg – now only the latter two still meet.  

Declining Pearl Chapter membership can also be tracked to Guttenberg’s diminishing number of Masons. To become a Star, men must be Masons in good standing and women must be related to Masons in good standing. “A committee checks on the affiliated Mason to make sure he’s in good standing and that the affiliation is correct before they give a nod,” Walke explained. Character is also a determining factor for potential members of the Order of the Eastern Star, and members must have belief in a supreme being. Once popular groups for young women like Rainbow or Job’s Daughters are also falling off. 

And yet, the Pearl Chapter continues to do good work in the community. “The Grand Officers of Iowa came in September. They were just amazed at all the projects we had done throughout the year – they were overwhelmed,” Walke told The Press. Among other things, the chapter plays bingo with Guttenberg Care Center residents, donates money to the Family Resource Center for school supplies, and gives to Shepherd of the Hills for needy families. Members sew portacath pillows for cancer patients, fleece blankets for children removed from their homes during emergencies, and prayer shawls for care center.

“Our members are strong supporters of youth. We collect pop tabs, Campbell’s Soup labels, box tops for education and milk caps for Clayton Ridge and St. Mary’s elementary schools. We support the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Minneapolis, Minn., by supplying toiletries, bedding and toys,” said Walke. Pearl Chapter also supports two Eastern Star homes for the elderly in the state, located in Boone and Decorah. 

Each year, the Worthy Grand Matron of Iowa declares a project. This year the Order of the Eastern Star raised $60,000 for Paws and Effect, an organization that gives trained dogs to service men who have been injured in combat. The 2016 project, scheduled to begin in March, will help bring fun, excitement, exercise and a higher quality of life to talented athletes with physical disabilities throughout the state with Adaptive Sports Iowa.

“Star is Bible-based, but it does not take the place of a church service,” Walke said. The non-denominational teachings are based on the Old Testament, with five heroines of the Bible sitting at each of the points of a star: Adah, Ruth, Esther, Marta and Electa. Each heroine is associated with many symbols and ideals. The Pearl Chapter meets monthly, opening with a religious ritual followed by a business meeting and discussion of ongoing or upcoming community service projects.

Walke has served as Worthy Matron for seven years, and before that held several other offices. “I love it, because we’re working for the wives, mothers, and children of Master Masons and the poor and needy. That’s what we’re all about, it’s every chapter’s mission. At the same time, we don’t forget those that have come before us.” For more information or an application to join the Order of the Eastern Star, contact a member of the Pearl Chapter. 

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