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Odd Fellows out?

GOLD HILL — With only about six active members left, a civic lodge open since 1898 soon could be shuttered.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows notified city officials this winter that if membership did not increase and the century-old lodge did not receive community support, lodge officials in Portland could revoke the local lodge's charter.

Lodge treasurer Pat Coniff said this week that the lodge likely would merge with a group in Central Point and that proceeds from sale of the historic lodge would follow suit.

Coniff said grand lodge officials in Portland, which at one point had offered to cover 25 percent of renovation costs, had been pressuring the small membership to increase its ranks and more actively use the historic lodge.

Coniff and fellow member Greg Walsh, who said the lodge's membership of fewer than 20 includes only a half-dozen active members, voiced disappointment this week, saying the lodge's days are likely numbered.

Without drastic changes by the beginning of March, the city will have a vacant historic structure on its tax rolls, said Coniff.

"After all that we went through and everything we tried to put together, it just wasn't happening. You have to put forth your best foot to make it work. Then, if it doesn't work, you have to just move on because the community just doesn't seem very interested in what you're doing," Coniff said.

"There is basically nothing happening at this point. We wanted to get the community to come down and take a look at what we wanted to offer. We had about five people that showed up at all. It's like the community is saying to us, 'Well, we don't care about a community center.' So we're saying basically we will just close it down, and you can figure out what you want to do in this community."

Coniff approached community groups and City Council about partnership opportunities, but city officials said funding was limited for such endeavors, with the city facing other large expenses for its water and wastewater systems.

Eric Hodderson, chairman of the CanDo community organization, said his group was open to working with the Odd Fellows but felt the lodge was "a few steps ahead of us."

Lodge member Greg Walsh said closure of the lodge would be "a great loss" to the town.

Councilor Donna Silva encouraged council members to join the lodge and discuss possible partnerships with the city, but Coniff said meetings with city officials had yielded no membership increase.

"We gave it until throughout February to try and get some new blood in here," Coniff said. "But I think the final decision is going to look like we will have to do a consolidation with Central Point and just close the lodge."

Coniff said he would maintain his role as caretaker for the IOOF cemetery, located within the historic Rock Point Cemetery.

"I'll still be busy because I'll just shift my focus from keeping the lodge going to taking care of the cemetery," he said, noting he had plans to build an informational kiosk and provide maps for cemetery visitors.

"We have until the end of February or around there to get about 15 members. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, and we move on from there."

The Odd Fellows lodge in Gold Hill is one of 49 in Oregon, according to the Portland group's website. Odd Fellows got its name from a comment made during the 1700s that "it is odd that a person might help another and expect nothing in return," the website said.

For information about Odd Fellows membership, contact Coniff at 541-621-1899.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Gold Hill's Odd Fellows charter is dated 1895. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Pat Coniff and other members of the Gold Hill IOOF lodge might have to sell their historic building unless membership picks up soon. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell