An unusual street photo looking north on Broadway. Note the elaborate facades on the South Broadway buildings. Third from left is the Stone Block where the Woodmen met upstairs. All the ladies are wearing extravagant hats and the young gents are in their knickers.
An unusual street photo looking north on Broadway. Note the elaborate facades on the South Broadway buildings. Third from left is the Stone Block where the Woodmen met upstairs. All the ladies are wearing extravagant hats and the young gents are in their knickers.
Found in the files of the Spring Valley Historical Society: photo dated 1908 of the Modern Woodmen of America on parade on Broadway, Spring Valley. First I checked the set of encyclopedias from the library, gotten years ago when they were disposing of old sets, this one dated 1964. Hmmm...a fraternal benefit society whose principal services center in a youth development program. It also grants polio benefits without extra cost to its premium-paying members. The organization was founded at Lyons, Iowa, in 1883. It has about 460,000 members; total payment to families of deceased and living members exceeded $835,000; they maintain headquarters at Rock Island, Ill.

Then I turned to the internet - Wikipedia. Wow, what a difference the years made. The Modern Woodmen of America is the third largest fraternal benefit society with more than 760,000 members; total assets passed $11 billion in 2011. The organization sells life insurance, annuity and investment products to improve the quality of life of its stakeholders - members and their families and communities. This is accomplished through social, charitable and volunteer activities. There are more than 2,600 chapters nationwide and over 900 youth service clubs. They sponsor the well-known "Make A Difference Day," a national day of service. Their Matching Fund Program matches money raised by individual chapters for community members or local organizations in need. Fraternal expenditures for member benefits and community programs totaled more than $26 million dollars in 2011 including disaster relief, college scholarships, tree planting, testing kits, and education programs.

Founded in 1883 by Joseph Cullen, who, among many enterprises, had operated a number of businesses, sold life insurance and real estate, and practiced law. He was a member of several fraternal societies, including the Masonic order, and wanted to create an organization to protect families at the time of death of their breadwinner. Originally the organization had unique membership restrictions and criteria. It was open to most religious groups, but restricted to white males, ages 18 to 45, and only in 12 "healthiest" states, including Minnesota. Residents of large cities were disqualified, and a long list of professions was also denied membership, such as railroad men, miners, workers in the liquor industry or saloons, baseball players, professional firemen, and soldiers in the regular army during time of war - to name only some of them.

A visible part of the organization was drill teams that came to be known as Modern Woodmen Foresters. They were known across America from 1890 to the1930s with their "Rainbow Parades" - each group with its own color of uniforms. During the tuberculosis epidemic of the early 1900s, the organization opened a 1,000 acre facility in Colorado Springs in 1907, costing $1.5 million. It was credited with being the most outstanding institution for treatment of TB. The "sanitorium" provided free treatment to more than 12,000 members - all expenses were covered. Following World War II, when antibiotics became available, TB declined and the facility closed in 1947.

Today the organization offers personal life insurance, financial planning, and resources for education. This includes exercise and nutrition programs designed for schools and youth clubs to help kids learn the benefit of good nutrition and physical activity, and recognizes and honors members who "make a difference" in their communities.

But getting back to early Spring Valley: Prepared for the 1912 cornerstone of the "new" high school (from which it was recovered several years ago), we learned the following. Dated June 6, 1911, Modern Woodmen of America was the largest organization of its kind in the world. They met the second and fourth Tuesdays in the Stone Block on South Broadway. This camp was organized in 1880 with 38 charter members. By 1911, it had grown to 328 members. Officers: Vice Consul W.N. Kingsley, Banker Charles Sattler, Clerk J.W. Barber, Worthy Advisor John Drinkall, Escort J. Wilcox, Sentry L. Plonty, Watchman A. Hague, Chief Forester J.A. Wiseman, and Past Consul Z. W. Warner. The letterhead was in an envelope from Anton Distel, Clerk of Spring Valley Camp #262.

Are there any readers of this column who are presently members of the Modern Woodmen of America? We'd like to hear from you. Thanks.