Scottish Rite Masonic Center
Explore a True Treasure
By Deborah Daley
The best treasures are often hidden in plain sight. The Scottish Rite Masonic Center, at 207 South 20th Street in Omaha, is one of these local treasures. You may have driven by this beautiful building many times without knowing its history. As a gathering place for members of the Scottish Rite Valley of Omaha, part of the freemasonry, the five-story building boasts not only architectural wealth but a wealth of historical treasures. Perhaps the most precious treasure of all is the positive mission of the fraternal organization within.
“It is the mission of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, SJ, to improve its members and enhance the communities in which they live by teaching and emulating the principles of Brotherly Love, Tolerance, Charity, and Truth, while actively embracing high social, moral, and spiritual values including fellowship, compassion, and dedication to God, family, and country.” According to Development Director Micha Evans, the Omaha Valley motto is: “To do that which it is right to do.” This personifies what the Scottish Rite Masons believe and share with the community.
According to John Maxell, General Secretary for Omaha Valley of the Scottish Rite, the organization brings men from all walks of life together to build community and make a difference. “We come together, quite frankly, to be better people and to make a difference in the world, each directing their efforts through personal journeys,” he says.
History is a huge component of the organization, with a lion’s share of the membership being legacies (though that is not required). “We often have three or four generations of members from one family,” John notes. “My grandfather was part of the organization for 50 years, and I joined to honor him. Once here, I kept saying yes to doing things…and here I am, many years later, privileged to do my small part in leading efforts here.”
John is responsible for the daily operations of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center and the overall programming for the organization. He is assisted by a staff of five. Construction began on the building in 1912 and was completed in 1914. The first class of members boasted an enrollment of 198 men. The edifice features meeting rooms, an auditorium complete with theatrical lighting and equipment, Council chambers, a ballroom, and much more.
You must be a Mason in order to apply for membership, but application does not guarantee that you’ll become a member. There is a rigorous approval process through the Board of Directors. In addition, there is a one-time fee of $250, and dues are $120 annually. Members attend monthly social activities that include the teaching of degrees, lectures, debates, presentations, and other events and programs.
Degrees are the presentation of ethical teachings and philosophy offered through dramatic presentations that are complete with costumes, scenery, and historical perspectives.
Another critical aspect of the group is its hearty embrace of philanthropy. Examples of the group’s philanthropy are speech therapy services for Nebraska children through the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the presentation of 14 annual scholarships to deserving students attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Since 1975, the fraternal organization has donated more than $25 million to these causes. Philanthropic works are supported through fundraising efforts.
Member Sean Reed has enjoyed many Scottish Rite events with his wife and values the sense of community the group brings. “Men come here from all walks of life,” he says. “I know I am being exposed to a greater depth and breadth of individuals who can contribute to my own personal development.”
Sean’s other attachment to the group is his meticulous work in maintaining the priceless 1926 Kilgen organ, which is a featured element of many plays and other programs in the building. The musical instrument was valued at $175,000 in 2014 and is worth much more today. The organ is part of the Mother’s Day Tea in May, and a holiday concert open to the public is planned for December.
This beautiful building is open to the public and available for tours. The Scottish Rite also sponsors many events and offers, for a fee, the use of their auditorium and ballroom for wedding receptions, pageants, recitals, and much more. “We encourage people to stop by, call, or visit our website to learn more,” John concludes. “I think they will be surprised to learn all we have to offer and will be delighted to see this hidden gem in downtown Omaha.”
The Scottish Rite Masonic Center is located at 202 South 20th Street and is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. For more information about tours, rentals, or the organization, you can call 402-342-1300 or visit them online at scottishriteomaha.org.
John Maxell, General Secretary