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Historic Fall City Masons to host education ceremony

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FALL CITY - For more than a hundred years the Falls City Lodge of Free and Associated Masons has valued service, character and education.

It is getting a chance to prove that creed once again this week when the lodge hosts an annual scholarship ceremony to area high schoolers, including two students from Mount Si. The scholarships were set up in honor of an educator, a mason and Snoqualmie Valley School District school namesake, Edwin R. Opstad.

"It's a very inspiring activity," said Edwin A. Opstad, son of the late Edwin R. and a longtime member of the lodge.

Edwin A. said the Masons have always valued character and knowledge. The organization, which has roots that go back to the 12th century, teaches character lessons using the tools of the masonry trade, such as a level or engineer's square, as symbols. In 1717, a group of English Masons set up what came to be the model of the modern Mason group. The organization made its way to the United States and has acquired an impressive list of members, including presidents George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Unlike similar fraternal and community organizations, the Masons do not actively recruit new members. Instead men interested in joining the Masons must apply for admittance. Edwin A. said this is because Masons always want to keep their word and if they initially offered membership to someone who was not ultimately admitted to the lodge, it would be seen as dishonest.

"It's a small distinction but it is an important one," Edwin A. said.

The Masons set up a lodge in Fall City before the turn of the 20th century in 1890, just three years after Jeremiah Borst platted the town of Falls City, a name the lodge has kept. They built a hall on what is now the Redmond-Fall City Road, but it burned down in 1894. They got right to work on a new one that opened in 1895 and still stands on the corner of 337th Place Southeast and Southeast 43rd Street.

Through the years the lodge grew and came to include many members. One of them was Edwin R. Opstad, a Mason who had moved to Fall City in 1928 to work as a teacher and sports coach in the Fall City School District. He soon became the district superintendent and one of his hires was a Spanish and English teacher named Hermia Thomson, who he went on to marry in 1930. They had a daughter in 1931 and three years later, a son named Edwin A.

In 1944, the state reorganized the area's school districts and a new one was formed out of the Fall City, Snoqualmie, North Bend and Cedar Falls districts. Edwin R. Opstad was placed in charge of the new Snoqualmie Valley School District, No. 410.

"All district numbers that begin with 4 were a result of the reorganization," Edwin A. said.

Edwin R. moved his wife and two children to Snoqualmie, but he remained a member of the Falls City lodge. Edwin A. liked what he saw and admired the men in his father's lodge, causing him to want be a Mason as well.

"As soon as I was old enough to petition the lodge to be a member [21], I did," Edwin A. said.

While Edwin A. became a member of the Falls City lodge, he was not close to home for many years. In 1956 he joined the Army, where he would stay until 1981 when he retired as a colonel. Edwin A. and his family returned to Washington and settled in Federal Way, close to his parents who had moved back to Fall City. Edwin R. had retired from the school district in 1959 and passed away in 1983. He was honored in 1988 when the district's new elementary school in North Bend was named after him.

Starting in 1968, the lodge in Fall City, the Unity Lodge in North Bend and the Myrtle Lodge in Issaquah followed a Mason trend and started to recognize the top five or six juniors from each high school in their local school districts. Edwin A. said the Masons chose to recognize the juniors since most academic recognition goes to seniors and the Masons wanted to encourage good students earlier in their high school years.

"It's the first one [recognition] they get," Edwin A. said.

Those three local Mason lodges, recognizing the legacy of education Edwin R. had in the Valley, later set up the E. R. Opstad Masonic Memorial Scholarship Award to give to the top students out of that group. Since 1986, the lodges have put together a scholarship for the top boy and girl in each class. This year the students, who will be announced at the ceremony, will each receive $250.

The awards will be presented on May 12 at the Falls City lodge, which, the masons boast, is the tallest building in Fall City and was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. While there is now a preschool on the bottom floor, little has changed about the building. The upstairs meeting hall still has an original light switch from when the building was electrified in the 1920s and historic paintings still line the walls.

"It's good to be recognized for something historic," Edwin A. said.

The ceremony will continue what has been a long history of service in the Valley as well as remembering the role Edwin R. Opstad had in local education.

* The award presentation will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, at Falls City Masonic Lodge, 4304 337th Pl. S.E. For information, visit www.fallcitylodge.com.

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