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Md. Eastern Star celebrating centennial

April 20, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

When Hilda Sprecher and Blanche Schwinger of Hagerstown get together, they celebrate decades of friendship, and a commitment to the charitable work of the Order of the Eastern Star.

The women, and Sprecher's husband Harold, are members of the Order's Queen Esther Chapter No. 3 of Hagerstown, which has been quietly contributing to local charities and individuals in need for 102 years.

The Order, which is named for the Star of Bethlehem, is a Christian fraternal organization. Women who are related to people in the Masons and men who are Master Masons are eligible to join.

Harold Sprecher said the first Order of Eastern Star lodge was in Jerusalem and dedicated to St. John. "It was called the Lodge of the Holy St. John of Jerusalem," he said.

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Beginning April 26, the Order's 14,000-member Grand Chapter of Maryland, which consists of 72 smaller chapters statewide, will hold its centennial celebration in Hagerstown. Members from all over this country, and some from other nations, are expected to attend.

The Sprechers and Schwinger plan to be there. They say they wouldn't miss it for the world.

For them, the Order has meant a way of life, a path to personal growth, and a vehicle through which they can give to others less fortunate than themselves. Members are considered family.

Harold Sprecher is a Master Mason who has been in the Order for 15 years. Hilda Sprecher, 79, has been in the group for 39 years. Schwinger, 93, has belonged for 70 years.

"I'll stay active in the Order as long as I can get around, and have someone to hold onto," Schwinger said, laughing.

When the Sprechers and Schwinger talk about the Order of the Eastern Star, they talk about friendship and good works that many know nothing about.

"Fidelity, constancy, charity, faith and love" are the foundation of the order, Hilda Sprecher said. "These things are important, and we absolutely practice them."

The local chapter, one of two in Hagerstown, gets requests for funding from organizations, and also helps individuals in need.

Among the organizations they've donated money to are Community Rescue Service, Salvation Army, heart and cancer funds, the eye foundation and the veterans hospital.

The Order works to raise money for their charities.

"We serve banquets, have rummage and yard sales, card parties, bus trips, dinner theater parties, and make and sell crafts and ... yes, we used to sell Easter eggs," Sprecher said. She and Schwinger laughed about the time they boiled and colored countless Easter eggs in the Sprechers' basement.

Schwinger said she has particularly enjoyed being a volunteer bell-ringer for the Salvation Army.

"I used to walk down to the square on my dinner hour from work, and ring the bell," she said.

Schwinger remembers she was a little afraid when she joined the Order.

"I knew the Order was related to the Bible, and I walked a mile in those days to go to Sunday school and church. But I was a little leery, because I thought they did so much to you when you got initiated."

Hilda Sprecher laughed. There is no "hazing" in the Order's initiation ceremony, she said.

Both Sprechers and Schwinger have held top posts in the Order. It's a job, a joy and a way of life, they said.

The Order of the Eastern Star has given as much to them as they have given the organization, they said.

"I feel like I've helped people and been an influence on others," Hilda Sprecher said. "That's such a good feeling to have."

She said the Order's philosophy of life reflects her own. "I believe in being kind to one another, helping one another and reaching out," she said.

Sprecher said if she needed a motto it would be the one about stooping low to help a child, and the words from a song: "He's not heavy, he's my brother."

"That's the way we feel in this Order," Sprecher said.

"She couldn't have said it better," said Schwinger.

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