From the Event Program of Bethel Lodge #789 – 50th Anniversary – 12/17/1960 – 12/17/2010
Brother Frank Gigler, a member of Tyrian Lodge #644, New Kensington, PA had opened a funeral home in Lower Burrell in the early 1950’s. By 1959, Lower Burrell was on the threshold of expanding in population and businesses, and Brother Gigler saw a need for a new Masonic Lodge in the growing town. While attending a meeting at Tyrian he heard D.D.G.M. John W. Rawson state that his goal was to start up ten new Lodges in his District while in office. Brother Gigler approached the D.D.G.M. after the meeting and told him that Lower Burrell should be one of the ten. Brother Rawson agreed and instructed Brother Gigler to get three more interested Brothers and meet with him in a week.
The meeting took place in Brother Gigler’s funeral home with Brothers Earl A. Hill, John H. Middlehurst and Michael Shamey attending the first of many meetings. Brother Rawson instructed to the four to get four more Brothers each and meet again in a week. This effort repeated itself until they had gathered 32 interested Brothers. When the group got that large, they had to move their meetings to Bethel United Methodist Church in Lower Burrell, PA to have enough space. As the group continued to grow in numbers, Brother Rawson instructed them to get a few Officers with prior experience.
Brother Gigler approached Past Master Richard C. Kennedy of Leechburg Lodge #577 to take the Worshipful Master’s Chair. Brother Kennedy agreed and brought with him Brother William W. Kapp and Brother Earl A. Rose who served as Senior and Junior Wardens respectively.
55 Brothers from numerous Lodges became the Warrant Members when the Lodge was constituted on December 17, 1960 at the Lower Burrell Jr. High School gymnasium. The first stated meeting of Bethel Lodge #789 was held at the Bethel Methodist Church located on Alter Street in Lower Burrell on Wednesday evening January 11, 1961 at 7:30 PM.
The Lodge was named Bethel by Brother Stanley A. Kedzierski, a Warrant Member and later a Past Master and Secretary of the Lodge. His reason for choosing Bethel follows:
Bethel is a fitting name for this worshipful lodge dedicated to the glory of god and held forth in memory of Holy Saint John. “Beth” the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which corresponds to the letter “b” meaning “house”. From it’s general use as house it came to signify a family. “el” a divine name in the old testament was used for God by the Hebrews. It is perhaps the oldest and most widely distributed name. It may have signified “strong one”, but more probably “leader or ruler”. Hence Bethel means “House of God”. – Stanley A. Kedzierski, 1961
Now that the Lodge was named and constituted the Brothers needed to find their own building. Brother Gigler knew that Mr. Henry Telhorster had a cabinet shop on 118 Allan Street that was for sale, so Brother Gigler approached Mr. Telthorster and he agreed to sell his building to the Lodge for $17,000. The sale of Lot #12 took place on May 25,1961. The members began immediately to convert the old cabinet shop into a Masonic Lodge. Carpenters, plumbers, painters, furnace/HVAC and electricians all worked diligently to make the transformation. The renovation was completed in early 1962. Once the work started, it went very fast.
The membership grew very aggressively throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. In 1988, the building adjacent to the lodge became available for purchase from the owners, Brothers George and Elmer Reifschneider. They agreed to sell the building (Lot #11) to the Lodge for $35,000. In the past, the building had housed a Culligan Water Softening company and an Automotive Body Repair shop. It was purchased by the Lodge on May 18, 1988.
Once the adjacent building was purchased, the members once again began a rigorous work schedule to convert it into a “social hall”. Large garage doors were enclosed into the walls. The automotive pit was filled in and a 3″ of concrete floor were laid over the existing floor. The new building was rewired and a common roof was installed thereby connecting both buildings and making them one. The center portion, previously an old alley way, was enclosed and and converted into: a kitchen, two restrooms, a storage room and an entry vestibule. A tile floor was then installed throughout the the entire first floor. The second floor was made to house a conference room, sitting room and two offices, thus completing the renovation.
The Grand Lodge of PA wouldn’t allow the Lodge to borrow money for this renovation, so the members held dinners, pancake breakfasts and other fundraising events to raise the necessary funds and pay for the work as they progressed. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for when the work was completed there was “zero debt”. We owned our facility lock, stock, and barrel.
On October 14, 1997 we took in our first renter. Tyrian Lodge #644 moved into our lodge after having to vacate from the old PNC bank building in New Kensington, PA. Other renters at times have included the Order of the Eastern Star (O.E.S.), White Shrine, Dennis Resser Chapter #311, as well as for functions hosted by our Bethel Lodge Brethren.
We celebrated our 50th Anniversary on May 14, 2011 and our membership numbers at that date are as follows:
Total Number Taken In: 675
Total Number of Deaths: 161
Total Number of Resignations / Transfers / Suspensions: 267
Total Number of Current Members = 247
In closing this historical review, I feel privileged to have been able to write the “History of Bethel Lodge #789” in its first 50 years and I thank all the members who contributed to it. I hope and pray that Bethel Lodge #789 continues to be a successful Lodge over the next 50 years and that Masonry continues to be a viable organization in our society as it has been since its inception.
Brother John E Sennett, Sr. P.M. – May 14, 2011
(respectfully updated by Brother Bryan M. Froud J.D. – January 24, 2017)
33rd Degree Masons
Earl A. Rose
Robert M. Connor
Kurt R Tesche
Two Term Past Masters
John E. Sennett Sr. – 1968 + 2005
James J. Johnston – 1987 + 1988
William G. Hall – 1990 + 2003
Robert A. Metzger – 1993 + 2004
Edward G. Haberchak – 2000 + 2001
Stephen R. Baksis – 2010 + 2011
100+ Degrees Conferred
James J. Johnston – 106
William G. Hall – 101