Sara Hayden / Half Moon Bay Review
Reprinted with permission

In 1868, a few fellows came together and signed a charter, and a few more followed with names that now echo throughout Half Moon Bay. There’s Alves, Bettencourt, Cunha, Debenedetti, Dutra, Miramontes, Silva and more.

Each had his own claim to fame, but collectively they formed the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in the new year, the organization’s legacy is ingrained in the Coastside’s history.

The Ocean View Lodge is one of 10,000 throughout the world, the first known dating back to 1730 in London. The local fraternity has expanded to 80 women and men who work together to uphold a tenet to elevate “the order of mankind.”

“It’s a fraternal organization that has been really core to the community for a long, long time,” said Joe Brennan, the local order’s president, or noble grand of the Ocean View Lodge Odd Fellows. “We are vital in the community.”

Whether members or not, many Coastsiders have experienced the Odd Fellow legacy as part of the local woodwork. Some have gathered in the coffee shops that have occupied 522 Main St., which is now Cafe Society. Others have shopped next door at Tokenz. Both locations are rented as part of a downtown Half Moon Bay property owned by the fraternity, sitting beneath the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall. The building was constructed in 1895 with lumber from a mill at the head of Purisima Creek. It was donated by an Odd Fellow family that owned Hatch’s Lumber and would later bear the namesake of Hatch Elementary School.

Since then, the hall has hosted countless functions, including birthdays and memorials, as well as been a meeting place for organizations like the Native Sons of the Golden West. Lore has it that it temporarily served as the site of local government when the city of Half Moon Bay was incorporated in 1959.

Brennan said that previously an Odd Fellow donated a property off Alsace Lorraine Avenue to the fraternity, which, in turn, donated it to the city to create Ocean View Park.

The organization also owned the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery off of Highway 92. It’s since been sold, but members continue to take pride in maintaining it. Many other people have benefitted from the Odd Fellows’ work, which provides an outlet to be social and serve the community.

To join, an existing member must sponsor potential members, and then the existing membership decides whether the applicant should be voted in.

If they do, the new Odd Fellow is ushered into an organization that has a history of donating money and time to local and global causes. These have included Relay for Life, Coastside Farmers Market, YMCA, Half Moon Bay Little League, Lions Club and 4-H Club, as well as Coastside Adult Day Health Center, Senior Coastsiders and local schools.

“We have a very ritualized initiation that talks about the good of the order and the benefits of a universal human brotherhood,” Brennan said.

That aligns with one of the fellowship’s original aims — to look after one another in their budding community, which used to be Spanish Town.

Back then, guilds were started to provide benefits for people in the same profession, such as those of the Masons, Goldsmiths or Coppersmiths, Brennan said.

“Everyone who worked in the same field banded together and so they had that support. Other people around them didn’t. They were just on their own,” he explained. These were the “odd fellows” — the ones with odd jobs.

The Odd Fellowship was established to serve anyone whose profession wasn’t covered by another organization.

Over the last century and a half, local lodge records show that farmers, printers, butchers and many others became members.

“It’s all over the map from the undertaker to the doctor to whatever,” Brennan said. “Anybody could join, no matter what your profession. You’d be entitled to a death benefit and the support of the order.”

Support came in the form of fulfilling four mission statement goals: Visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, educating the orphan and burying the dead. The importance of each of these has ebbed and flowed over time based on world events.

“During the plague, burying the dead was very significant. They had the humanity and thought that everybody deserves a burial,” Brennan said. “At one point to educate the orphan was a much bigger issue because of occupational hazards and war time, so there were a lot more orphans.”

The local order has continued to adapt to meet the contemporary needs of the community. “It’s really about impressing on people that life is short and to help other people. That’s why I’m involved,” vice grand Marty Steiger said.

One recent initiative included a relief program for victims of the fire that struck Santa Rosa. Local members distributed donated goods to 150 people affected by the crisis. They plan to provide a second wave of relief efforts soon.

Recognizing that literacy is critical to leading a productive life, they’re also strong proponents of education, Brennan said. Odd Fellows support local students with book donations and educational workshops. They’ve also raised about $70,000 for scholarships since 2011.

“We’re trying to help the youth in the community because they’re the future of the community. We really need to encourage them and inspire them to put out their very best, despite their hardships they may be experiencing,” said Mariaelena Springsted, head of the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows Lodge scholarship committee. These are just a few examples of how the Odd Fellows exercise founding principles of “friendship, love and truth” and “aiding the community … at large in every way possible.”

“If we could just abide by that it would be a better world. It’s very idealistic but ... every time I hear that I think, ‘I wish the world were like that,’” Brennan said.

The Odd Fellows seek to make it so, one action at a time.

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