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In the early 1890s our people began to gather about the country in groups, and subsequently organized lodges in order to be in better position to aid each other. Some of these groups became temperance lodges, while others again worked for the purpose of paying sick benefit. They all worked independently of each other, but in the year 1900 the Grand Lodge, named The Swede-Finnish Benevolent and Aid Association of America, was organized in Bessemer, Michigan. Then, also in the year 1902, the Swede-Finnish Temperance Association was or ganized in Crystal Falls, Michigan. These two organizations worked side by side, one for cultural aims and the other mostly for sick benefit. The membership in the two varied, but neither exceeded an enrollment of 3000. At least 50 per cent of the members were members of both organizations.
As years passed by it became greatly evident that more and better work could be done if the two organizations were to combine into one. When prohibition came into being the members of the temperance organization thought that they would not have much to do unless they added some new purpose to their program. In 1920 a joint meeting was held in Waukegan, Illinois, and there the two organizations merged under the name of the Order of. Runeberg. Johan Ludvig Runeberg, one of the greatest poets of Scandinavia, was born in Finland and his name was selected to honor the new organization. The Order of Runeberg grew steadily both in membership and in finances. Especially was such the case during the period from 1925 to1929 when there was a large increase in membership and the Grand Lodge treasury more than doubled in four years. Then came the depression, which has raised havoc in all organizations. Among these organizations, the Order of Runeberg has suffered losses both financially and in membership, but has yet 72 active lodges with a total membership of approximately 7000, and with a very substantial grand lodge treasury.
The Order of Runeberg has from 1920 to the first of July, 1935, paid the following sums to its members: for donations made at the death of 778 members a sum of $97,250, and the local lodges have during the same period paid out in sick benefit something over $400,000. Then, too, there have been made many other donations to members in distress, of which payments no record has been kept. Therefore, the benefit in dollars received by our members when sickness and sorrow have befallen them reaches well over half a million dollars. In these times we are used to speaking and hearing in terms of millions and billions, but when we consider that our organization is as yet only a small one, comparatively speaking, we must say that a wonderful work has been done, and that it is worth while to keep forging ahead.
For administrative conveniences the lodges are grouped into districts, the divisions being decided by location. We therefore have the eastern, central and western districts. Most of the lodges hold two meetings each month, of which one is for business only, and the other for a social gathering. During the winter season many socials, concerts and good programs are rendered. Some of the lodges have short programs at every meeting, consisting of music and short talks or readings. In the summer time numerous picnics are held. Each district has one big festival every summer. The eastern district holds its "Kulturfest" on the Fourth of July, the central district holds its picnic near mid-summer, and the western district holds its Singerfest around Labor Day. These are all large affairs, where our people gather in thousands. On the west coast, in Washington and Oregon, we have many Choirs which also are organized into the Order of Runeberg Singing Society, an organization which visited Finland in 1930 and gave many concerts there. The Society is again planning a trip to Sweden and Finland in 1936. We also have many choirs in California and in the eastern states. The central district seems to be less vocally inclined, as there are no choirs there existent at the present time, to our knowledge.
Special mention should be made about February 5. This date marks the birthday of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, and on and about that day almost all of our lodges have some grand festivals. Large halls or high school auditoriums are rented, and many times filled to capacity. The best of programs are then rendered by speakers and musicians, not to forget the field of dramatics, which is also exploited in an able manner. All those festivals are carried on in a spirit which advances education and culture, and so the Order of Runeberg is carrying on the aims of the two paternal organizations, and in spite of the long, drawn-out depression, is succeeding quite well.
Among our people there are yet quite a number of so called independent lodges which have not seen fit to join the Order of Runeberg; but we are hoping that they will soon do so. The old slogan still holds good: "United, we stand; divided, we fall."
The Order of Runeberg has held the following conventions: the merger- and organization-meeting in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, the next convention in.Tacoma, Washington, in 1922, one in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1925, and the latest convention was held in New York in 1929. There it was decided to hold the next meeting in Berkelay and in San Francisco in 1933, but on account of the depression that meeting was postponed for two years, and will now be held the last part of August. We expect that this coming convention will be the largest and most important convention we have ever held. When we gather to this, our Grand Lodge Convention, in the two aforementioned cities we again stretch out our hands to all the independent lodges of our people, and extend to them the most sincere invitation to join with us for a bigger and better Order of Runeberg.
Published in Official Souvenir Program. Order of Runeberg National Convention and Singing Festival. San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif. August 28-31, 1935. 1935, p. 44.
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