A chapter of the left-leaning fraternal organization Woodmen of the World (WOW) once existed in Hellertown, and perhaps still does.

Wow! This is ordinarily an exclamation; however, not now. How did W.O.W. begin and develop is the interogative. The Modern Woodmen of America or Omaha Woodmen Life Insurance Society was founded in Omaha, Neb., by Joseph Cullen Root in 1883. It became among the largest fraternal benefit societies in the U.S. Twenty years later, a youth program called Woodmen Rangers was begun.

Membership was limited to white males, but a women's auxiliary started later named Royal Neighbors of America. The society provided insurance for members, and the money was given to the family upon the member's death.

After an internal division, one group separated and formed W.O.W., Woodmen of the World, led by Fred Falkenburg. The new women's auxiliaries were Woodmen Circle, Supreme Forest Woodmen and Neighbors of Woodcraft, depending upon geographical location. These organizations still functioned during the Great Depression.

The local connection to Hellertown is a home on First Avenue with W.O.W. inscribed on the front cement steps. According to Hellertown historians, it was a liberal or far leftist group governmentally, and this home provided a meeting place for local members and an establishment to host social functions.

Several years ago, after I located several Hellertown members, they were unwilling to reveal information about the group, which apparently still functions. As with members of other fraternal organizations, members keep their internal dealings and traditions secret.

During the late 19th century and early 20th, fraternal organizations provided health care and insurance for members. According to statistics, in 1920 about one quarter of Americans belonged to these groups, as did several of my paternal and maternal ancestors. They were disappointed when I chose not to join the Masonic Lodge in Hellertown. However, I had just completed many years in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts, first in Troop 48, next in Troop 32 and finally in Troop 19. At age 17 I was about to become a freshman at Ursinus College. I was not in any mood to join any group. Academics always was top priority in my three generation household.

I thank my ancestors for saving family history and memorabilia. After teaching for decades, I decided to continue my education by research and interview of prior generations and to volunteer for all local historical societies.

After teaching traditional junior high English basics of grammar and writing for so many years, it has been necessary to continue this tradition. Fortunately, I have also been able to assist friends, acquaintances and children to write research papers for classes leading to degrees, including a community college student, a former president of Hellertown Borough Council, other teachers and four of my six children. Unlike the Rolling Stones, I get satisfaction in so doing. This, tome, is a WOW!

Karen Samuels May 29, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Fascinating, Lee! Looking forward to reading more of your columns.
Richard Berkheimer May 30, 2011 at 02:54 AM
I discovered Woodmen through family out of town. I've been involved with their free youth camp for members for 5 years now. Their fraternal activities are great for familys. There are lodges not too far outside the Lehigh Valley, so if you are looking for life insurance, anuities, or just free youth camp for your kids its a great organization to be involved with. Here is the number of a Pennsylvania sales rep for further questions, he would be happy to anwser. Jeffery P. Shoemaker 570.362.0062
Jeffrey Shoemaker August 22, 2011 at 02:41 PM
WoW! Thank you for your support, Richard. And of course, thank you Lee for your article. If you or anyone you know has any questions for me regarding Woodmen, as the agent for eastern PA, I'd be happy to oblige. Fraternally, Jeffrey P. Shoemaker Field Representative (570) 362-0062


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