WACO, TX — This history of Masons in Texas runs deep. Since the 1800's, their presence in the Lone Star State has been a constant.
Sonny Juarez is Marshall of Fidelis Lodge #1127. On Friday, Sonny says they'll be celebrating their 100-year anniversary. For him, being a Mason has bettered his life and those around him.
"It's changed my life, my family's life," Juarez said.
He says you can find a different definition on Masons from person to person, but that they generally try to preserve what's best in their community and improve where they can. Each year, he says Masons bring in millions of dollars for charity through their operations.
"Everybody does have a different answer because everybody does different things," Juarez said. "Masonry doesn't have a list of things that we're supposed to do. Masonry provides opportunities. Freemasonry has been donating somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million a day to charitable contributions for many, many years, and that's throughout the nation right now."
But there's uncertainty in the future for Freemasons in Texas. Declining membership is a very real concern for Masons today looking at the future. Sam Cryan is one of those Masons.
"It's mainly due to age," Cryan said. "The average age of our members is over 70."
Cryan is a Vietnam veteran and former Air Force pilot. He says Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, was his biggest inspiration for becoming the pilot. Yeager, was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, and was also a Freemason. He recently passed away at the age of 97.
"Three years ago, I think we had 80,000 members, and now we have 70,000," Cryan said.
For an organization that doesn't solicit members, the task of obtaining new ones can be difficult.
"We don't... we don't really recruit. We have a saying, "Ask me, and you can become a member, but you must you must have an interest in it.""
Juarez agrees that declining membership has been a concern, but is hopeful they can continue to adapt.
"We dropped the age several years ago," Juarez said. "It used to be 21, and we dropped it to 18."
Cryan says today's pool of young people are also in different circumstances that make it harder to bring them into the fold.
"You've got so much pressure from the standpoint of family, your job, and anything else that you happen to get involved in," Cryan said. "We really, really wished we could get many, many more young people involved."
"When people see us out in the community doing these charitable events, helping each other, we get younger people who ask about becoming a Mason," Juarez said.
For Cryan, he thinks the Masons could use a little bit of that attitude Chuck Yeager personified.
"He had no quit in him," he said. "I think Masons need a little bit of that."