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Gold Hill rallies to save IOOF Lodge

GOLD HILL — When stagnant membership and extensive water damage to the century-old Odd Fellows Lodge threatened it with permanent closure this winter, one determined community member came to its rescue with an 11th hour push to save the city's oldest institution.

Hoping to revive the small town traditions once offered at the old brick lodge, and maybe add a few of her own, community member Deb West is busily planning everything from growers markets and pancake breakfasts to eventual restoration of the building.

With a soft spot in her heart for history and fond memories of ancestors who believed in civic involvement, West signed on as a member of the lodge and vowed to help save the old building.

With five or fewer active members, the lodge was weeks away this past winter from closure when West set to work increasing the ranks to more than two dozen and lining up projects to provide long-term sustainability.

Sorting through boxes with memorabilia collected over a century, West recently found a membership log that began when the lodge, at Fourth Avenue and Estemado Street, first opened its doors.

"It is literally the same book used to enter all the names of the members to the lodge since 1898. It talks about the very first member, born in Central Point, who went on to be the grand noble," she said.

"And the names of the new members are there, too. We're still adding names to it."

Thumbing through the book's yellowing pages, West said it conveys 100 years worth of community events and families tied to the lodge. Seeing the names on the pages. she said, gives her motivation to continue.

West said that for the short term she's planning regular events to establish a small revenue stream and create awareness about the lodge in the community. Long term, building restoration and financial stability are in order.

"The Odd Fellows Lodge filled a unique position in Gold Hill and it needs to return to that position because there is no other place in the city like it. There have been scout meetings and dances and weddings here; it's been a huge part of the community," West said.

"Having it in a condition where it needs restoration is really a sad thing for Gold Hill. The community really needs this building up and running. ...  A meeting place for wholesome activities."

Richard Davis, a Central Point resident who grew up in Gold Hill, said virtually all his memories of community events or large family gatherings involved the old lodge.

"The first time I can remember being in the building was in about 1946 or 1947 when my great-grandmother's funeral was in the upstairs of the building — when it was still a two-story," Davis said.

"The first time I went to a dance and danced with a girl was in the upstairs of that building, too, which would have been about 1953. My dad was active in the lodge. But all that was before people wanted to sit around and just pass their time watching television."

Davis recently joined the lodge with his wife Kathryn. He said he hoped that in adding his name to the membership roster — a few pages behind his dad's name —  that the lodge could be saved for another generation.

"We heard about the lodge being in dire straits so we decided to join and try to help save it. I live in Central Point now, but my two daughters and my five grandchildren all grew up there in Gold Hill. My dad was an Odd Fellow and my mom was a Rebekah. There's not another building in Gold Hill for community gatherings and I don't think there's another place with as much history."

Darrin Westbrock said he joined for similar reasons as Davis: civic duty and "greater good." A current Medford resident considering Gold Hill as his next place to call home, Westbrock signed on to help save a small piece, he said, of the good old days.

"I like everything about the Odd Fellows. It's all about helping people and being a good person and helping your neighbor, like people used to do," he said.

"It's just a really good gig."

Thumbing through the yellowing pages of the membership book, West smiled at the notion that members are slowly returning to save the old brick building at the heart of town.

"These names and the history that's in this book show how important this lodge was to the town," she said.

"And there are still a few pages left to fill. We're gonna add some more names and see what we can do."

For info on the lodge or to find out about membership, see www.facebook.com/groups/820787587999151. Contact West by e-mail at theoriginaldeb@gmail.com. 

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

Pat Coniff stands in the doorway of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Gold Hill, where a recent membership increase has provided hope that it will survive. Mail Tribune file photo