For the Keeners of rural Rush Center, being in the Masonry is a family pursuit.
Three generations of Keeners gathered May 25 for a ceremony of special significance, as William Jefferson Keener was awarded his 70-year Masonic membership anniversary pin at his residence at River Bend Assisted Living in Great Bend.
Also attending were Dale Bodine and Bob Baker from Great Bend Masonic Lodge No. 15.
The elder Keener, 93 years old, was at first unsure of the purpose of the visit from his daughter, nephews, nieces and their family members.
That is, until he saw the familiar gold square and compass, with its blue stone at the top that his nephew Tom held out for him. Bill and his brother George had received a similar lapel ornament at their 65th anniversary ceremony five years before, at his home lodge, Walnut City No. 215 in Rush Center.
While Bill and his brother had done many things Masonic over 70 years, George passed away in 2019, making the recent ceremony a singular observance with family in attendance.
Bill took the pin his nephew held out for him. Turning it over, his face brightened and his eyes shown as he said, “That’s cool.”
The pinning ceremony took place at the top of the evening. After helping Bill put on his Masonic apron, nephews Tom and Jeff took their places near the couch where Bill was to be seated.
Tom’s son Jacob, representing the third generation of Masonic Keeners, did the honors by pinning his grand-uncle and presenting him with his certificate. The certificate attests that William Jefferson Keener had been awarded for 70 years of membership on May 1 at Emporia Lodge No. 12, Grand Lodge of Kansas, by Michael D. Johnson, II, Grand Master of all Kansas Masons.
As representatives of the local lodge, Bodine and Baker noted that receiving a 70-year pin is a milestone event, not just for the individual, but also for the organization.
“It signifies a lifetime spent in charity and care for their community,” Bodine said.
“It means a lot for us older bunch, who have made it a priority,” Baker said. “It makes us realize that older people can still make a difference.”
A family of Masons
The Keener legacy at Rush Center can be traced back to Bill’s father, Fred, who encouraged his sons to enter the Masonry together, Tom Keener related.
Bill was in school at Fort Hays State University in 1952, so “grandpa arranged to have a Mason in Hays help him with his studies,” Tom said. Both men were initiated at Walnut City Lodge in February, passed in March and raised to the third degree on May 1, 1952.
At FHSU, Bill earned his master’s degree in education with an emphasis in math and science. He spent the majority of his teaching career at the Mullinville school system.
Meanwhile, George served in the Army stateside during the Korean War, earning the rank of sergeant while stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska.
He returned to Rush County to farm, serve on numerous civic and church organizations, and as a Rush County Commissioner.
The Masonic Lodge was always an integral part of their lives, Tom Keener said. He noted that it was his uncle’s “soft sell” approach that got him to join the organization.
Tom still attends meetings at Walnut City Lodge, although “we’ve kind of gone dark for harvest and the summer,” he said.
The Keener women have Masonic ties as well. Peggie Post, Manhattan, is Bill’s daughter. She remembers being in Rainbow Girls, which is a Masonic youth organization, while she was younger. Her aunt, Jan Elliott, remembers being in Job’s Daughters as a young woman. The Order of the Eastern Star is a Masonic appendant body open to both men and women aged 18 and older. Boys aged 9-21 can belong to DeMolay before reaching the adult age required for Masonic membership.
The third generation
Tom’s son Jacob is the next generation of Keeners. As a Shriner (32nd-degree Mason, the highest degree in the Scottish Rite), Jacob has also served as master of the local lodge for five years in a row.
“It was family that got me into it,” Jacob said. “I joined because most of my family were in it before me.
“It’s led to meeting a lot of new people and I enjoy that,” said Jacob, who lives in Ellinwood with his wife Jessica. “I’ve gotten to know a nice community of guys.”