Walking through a field of stone carved skulls and faces, transports visitors to a rare and unique collection of...
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Father and son Worshipful Masters is a rare occurrence in masonic lodges. In 2020, Jephtha’s own W:. Richard Harris is the son of W:. Rod Harris, Past Master of Jamaica No. 546. But to have a father and his two only sons all elected as Worshipful Masters has only happened with one family in the long history of Jephtha Lodge, and it began one hundred years ago in 1920.
Robert Kennedy Toaz was master of Jephtha Lodge No. 494 starting in January 1920. Born on August 23, 1869 in Rochester, New York, Toaz spent a lifetime in public education that eventually led him to become the first Superintendent of the Huntington Union School District in 1906.
At the University of Rochester, he was a member of the Delta Psi fraternity before graduating in 1893, earning a master’s degree at Columbia University and studying at the Albany’s College and Clark University.
Toaz‘s professional career included heading the science department in Canandaigua for one year, assistant principal in Waterloo for four years, and an additional four years as a high school principal in Marion, New York. From 1899 until early 1906, he was principal of Oxford Academy and Union School, before moving to his next and final stop in Huntington and started as high school principal and superintendent of the Huntington School District in February 1906.
From his earliest days in Huntington, Toaz took on several responsibilities, including teaching English and Math and coaching the high school football team. He helped expand Huntington from a one wooden school building to a district with a modern new junior high school at Huntington Station and five grammar schools. During his tenure, new schools were constructed including School Street School (aka Station School, 1906), Halesite (aka O’Hara Street School, 1908), Huntington High School (1908-09), Woodbury Avenue School (1923-24) and the Lowndes Avenue School expansion (1927), which was renamed Roosevelt School in honor of the late President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s widow Edith and youngest son Archibald attended the dedication ceremony.
Toaz retired as principal of Huntington High School in 1930 and as superintendent in 1933, a few months after he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the New York State College of Teachers. After his “retirement,” he served as vice-president of the New York State School Master’s Association. Several months before his death in 1938, ground broke on a new Huntington Junior High School on 300 Nassau Road. The school was renamed Robert K. Toaz Junior High School in honor of the former superintendent, the first Junior High School in Suffolk County and a state and national leader of education of students in grades 7-9 in the decades that followed. The 11-acre campus officially closed in 1982 and was rented and later purchased by Touro Law School. In 2007, the law school sold the building and today is the home to the School of Mahanaim.
Toaz was raised a Master Mason in Oxford No. 175 in the town of Oxford near Binghamton, New York and affiliated with Jephtha No. 494 in 1907 shortly after his relocation to Huntington. Toaz’s one year as master was a very productive term in the east. In October 1920, the pipe organ was dedicated. Formal permission was granted by Jephtha for two other masonic lodges to be formed in neighboring towns: Amityville No. 977 and Bethpage No. 975 in Farmingdale (now Bethpage-Hicksville No. 975).
Over 110 men attended the second annual outing at the Albert G. Milbank Estate, the first mayor of Lloyd Harbor. The event included a baseball game, tug of war, 100-yard dash, 50-yard dash for “fat men,” potato race, blindfolded boxing match, swimming match and dinner.
His participation in the local community did not end with Freemasonry. Toaz was also a charter member and President of the Huntington Rotary Club; President of the Board of Trustees of the Old First Presbyterian Church; chairman of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts; member of the board of directors of the Huntington Hotel; trustee of the Heckscher trust which administered the Heckscher Park and art museum; and member of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Huntington and Trust Company with several other Jephtha past masters.
Robert K. Toaz was alive to see his oldest son, John Clark Toaz (1904-2000) ascend the east of Jephtha Lodge in 1937. A graduate of Harvard Law School, John C. Toaz was a member of the Berman & Toaz Law Firm and Justice of the Peace in Huntington and was President of the Suffolk County Bar Association for several years.
John’s younger brother Robert T. Toaz (1912-1984) was elected Worshipful Master of Jephtha in 1949. Robert was a long-time appointed musician at Jephtha, sitting behind the organ for over 20 out of 33 years from 1950 until 1983.
A member of the Toaz family has been a member of Jephtha Lodge for 93 years until the passing of John C. Toaz in 2000, far exceeding the period of another local Toaz legacy.
“We at Toaz will be faithful, loyal, brave, and true;
We at Toaz will be faithful to the gold and blue.
Shoulder to shoulder, this we proudly cry;
Always onward for our school: Toaz Junior High.”
Robert K. Toaz Junior High School alma mater song (1938-1982)
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Over twenty-five years ago, I started researching my family tree. In the mid-1990’s, online databases filled with thousands of scanned documents were not available online. A genealogist had to travel to downtown Manhattan to the National Archives, scroll through reels of microfiche just to find the index number of a possible match to the actual Federal or State Census page. To obtain a birth, marriage or death certificate, a dedicated researcher would travel to the Municipal Archives and research again via indexed microfiche before possibly obtaining a certificate.
Depending on when it was recorded, a census page is filled with valuable information, including occupation, birthplace, language, home value, salary and parents’ birthplace, while a birth, marriage or death certificates include additional information, including birth and death date and place of burial.
While these valuable records retain a treasure trove of important information, they never include any data if an ancestor was a member of a fraternal organization. If you are lucky, maybe a masonic square and compass can be found on a long-forgotten headstone, or a worn relic was preserved by nostalgic minded older relatives. But chances are, most of these artifacts were discarded by descendants who did not appreciate who their ancestor really were.
My maternal grandfather was a Knight of Columbus for many years. I have his gloves and sash in my archives, but sadly, he was mugged in the early 1980’s and forever lost his beautiful ring. I never heard any tales of great grandfathers who were masons or any other fraternal society. My fraternal heritage began and ends with him.
Or so I thought.
I recently signed up for an interesting online database that has a large collection of digitally scanned newspapers dating to the late 18th century. The website is searchable, and despite not being perfect, it led to me some new discoveries with my ever-expanding family tree.
One of my 2nd great grandfather’s was born in Whitechapel, Middlesex, England on July 21, 1845. Although both his parents were of German descent and only stayed in England for six years, Peter Sanger’s national pride was toward his birthplace of the United Kingdom. His devotion to Queen Victoria and his homeland was told to me by his granddaughter, my great-aunt, to the point that he would proudly argue with anyone who would listen, that England would one day regain control of the American colonies.
I was able to obtain Peter Sanger’s death certificate many years ago, which includes his premature death at the age of 42 on September 29, 1887 on the second floor of 297 Stagg Street, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. The location was a mystery to me, as the Sanger family lived on 41 Stagg Street, and his parents Cornelius and Mary were living on 41 Leonard Street. There were no other records of 297 Stagg Street that I could locate, so any leads on his death location went cold.
In the “Secret Society Matters” section, which reports on the “Doings of Brooklyn Lodges and Councils,” of the Saturday, October 8, 1887 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union, an interesting paragraph buried in the second column piqued my interest.
The regular meeting of Progressive Lodge No. 339, I.O.O.F. (International Order of Odd Fellows) was conferring the third degree on five candidates on Thursday, September 29, when Brother Peter Sanger, suddenly became sick and passed away one hour later. The funeral already occurred on Sunday, October 2 by the time the article was published, with many of his brothers in attendance.
Based on his death certificate, I knew Peter Sanger passed away of a cerebral apoplexy, also known as a stroke, which can lead to a sudden death. There was no other Peter Sanger’s living in Brooklyn with the same age, based on an extensive search of census and directories.
Was the lodge meeting held on the second floor of 297 Stagg Street and was my 2nd great grandfather a dedicated Odd Fellow who passed away on the night of a meeting? I have concluded that my long-forgotten ancestor was indeed a dedicated Odd Fellow, devoted to his lodge meetings until he took his last breath.
In many ways, it is comforting to learn that this man was surrounded by his concerned and caring brothers almost 133 years ago, and not dying alone. His last thoughts were probably of concern for his wife and seven children, including my great grandfather Charles. Peter Sanger died too young, but he left behind a legacy that includes several generations of hundreds of descendants. I would like to think that the two of us share our common DNA that has brought us together in similar fraternities over a century apart.
When I continued to read about the other fraternal meetings held in the autumn of 1887, yet another piece of information caught my eye. Joseph Irwin, Past Commander of Huntington Council No. 1176, was appointed District Deputy Grand Commander over the councils in Suffolk, Queens and Richmond counties. Could this be the same Joseph Irwin, raised as a Master Mason in 1871 in Jephtha No. 494 and was Master of the lodge in 1884-1885? That story is for another day…
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSAPhotos by Brother Drew MacCallum A brief discussion, ten minutes of preparation, and a...
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA On a late summer day, the clouds were grey, and the sound of...
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Jephtha Lodge receives phone calls and emails from a wide variety of people. Interested petitioners and telemarketers are just the tip of the iceberg on the daily correspondence our teams receive daily. On one such recent occasion, both the lodge and the caller could not predict what the result would have been better.
Last March, a local resident contacted Jephtha Lodge to see if we would be interested in accepting a Masonic-related donation. The long-time Huntingtonian donated his grandfather’s well-preserved 1908 Masonic certificate. Traveling certificates, or passports, were commonly folded and placed into leather wallets and was a form of Masonic ID for traveling Brothers visiting other lodges.
Brother Léon E. Berthaume was a Mason for only 22 months before demitting on November 12, 1908, according to the archives in the Grand Lodge of New York. Raised a Catholic, it is possible that Brother Berthaume demitted from Freemasonry due to the Church’s long-standing ban on its members from joining the fraternity. Given the name Emile Léon Berthaume at birth in France in 1880, it was customary to call people by their middle names. He immigrated with his parents to the United States at the age of nine in 1889. Because he had no French accent when he spoke English, he soon became Leo Edward Berthaume. His Master Mason’s certificate has his name listed as Léon Berthaume.
He managed to finish high school and The Cooper Union all at night since he had to work during the day to support himself, and most probably his parents as well. Eventually his parents divorced, and his father lived with him until his death. “I often think of my grandmother, who worked from home as a Swiss trained artist for Tiffany, Ames & Rollinson, managing the lives of her husband, two children, mother, father-in-law and her household,” the donor says. “How extraordinary that seems in today’s world, but quite the norm then.”
Brother Berthaume was a New York City Civil Engineer for 40 years before retiring in 1950. Married to Elvire, the couple had two children, Leo and Evelyn and two grandsons. For several years in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Brother Berthaume and his wife were summer residents of Huntington.
In speaking with this generous donor, his curiosity about his grandfather led to our conversation about Masonry and what we do. Although this gentleman respected and loved his grandfather, his memory of him is limited due to Brother Berthaume passing away in 1955 when the donor was only eleven years old. Our conversation led to the principles of our fraternity and how one joins Masonry. He was surprised that he can join the Masons and that he had the necessary requirements to enter the brotherhood. What was once a simple donation of an old artifact to a local lodge, this gentleman became more interested in Freemasonry, Jephtha Lodge and the organization.
Today, that gentleman is Brother Richard Gentile, one of several Entered Apprentices who have joined Jephtha Lodge in 2019.
By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Working in the Jephtha Lodge museum over the past several years, we have rediscovered long lost secrets, corresponded with other Historians and accepted many donations of Masonic regalia on behalf of our lodge. As we build upon the museum and display more of these items in the gallery adjacent to the third-floor lodge room, many of these finds will be shared in our regular newsletter and the Jephtha website.
Earlier this year, Jephtha Lodge received a phone call from a Past Master from Indiana. About ten years ago, he purchased the 1917 Past Master’s jewel belonging to W:. Russell Morgan Young, from a dealer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A collector of Masonic regalia, the brother paid approximately $900 for this rare artifact. Impressed with the quality of the medallion, he was curious on the background of this mysterious brother and our conversation led us on a quest to research on a forgotten brother who once sat in the east over 100 years ago.
Russel Morgan Young applied for membership at Jephtha on June 21, 1912 with an application fee of $5 ($135 in 2019). Born 1879 in Hartford, Connecticut, Young was a Fire Insurance Special Agent in Huntington for the New York Underwriters Agency and moved to Huntington from New York City in 1903. Proposed by Brother W.B. Willard, one of his references was W:. Douglas Conklin (Past Master, 1886-87, 1899). Initiated, passed and raised to the degree of Master Mason within two months in late 1912, Brother Young was elected to Worshipful Master just over four years later for the 1917 Masonic year, which at the time began in January. After sitting in the east for one year, W:. Young was Jephtha Lodge Secretary from 1922 to 1926 and sat on several committees during the 1920’s including Transportation, Instruction and Reception. An active member of the Cryptic Council, W:. Young passed away on February 2, 1939 in Huntington.
W:. Ron Seifried, DSA