State Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, and Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers II are on opposite ends of the legal system: One creates laws, the other enforces them.
But they’re also closely tied together. They recently joined an elite group of Scottish Rite Masons when they received the highest and last degree in Freemasonry, Honorary 33rd Degrees, during a two-hour ceremony at Miller High Life Theatre in Milwaukee. There are more than 255,000 Scottish Rite Masons in the U.S. and only 450 received the honor this year.
There are two Freemasonry jurisdictions: the Northern Masonic made up of 15 states, including Ohio, and the Southern Masonic comprised of the other 35 states.
Lipps has been a Mason for 41 years; Powers joined 30 years ago. They never imagined earning the highest degree in the fraternal organization the same way no Little Leaguer picks up a bat and ball thinking about being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I never thought this would happen, never in my life,” Lipps said. “It never crossed my mind. I never thought I did anything to deserve it.”
Powers, sitting across the table from his good friend, said: “I thought the same thing.”
Then Lipps added: “I wonder if that’s universal. The kind of man who wins this isn’t trying to win this.”
Powers said 211 Masons in the Northern jurisdiction were nominated for the 33rd Degree, but three died before the biennial ceremony. The honorary degree can only be received if the vote among the state’s Supreme Council is unanimous. The next ceremony will be held in August 2021 in Cleveland.
“It’s a way to recognize what you have done, but also what you are able to do and what you are going to do in the future,” said Powers, Middletown’s former mayor. “Charity is the work of the Masons. That’s what we strive to do. For our brethren and for humanity in general. Love for mankind. That means give until it hurts. That’s what love always means.”
Lipps said the Mason motto is: “Take a good man and make him better.”
His father is extremely active in the organization and served as president of the lodge in 1976.
“He was firmly committed,” Lipps said of his father, Kenny, 85. “Loyal to it. Faithful to it.”
Growing up, Lipps watched as his father and other men gathered in the family basement to study about the Masons. Lipps was 8 at the time, and he wanted to follow his father. Since this was before the Internet or cell phones, Lipps said he couldn’t research the organization.
Then in 1978, the day Lipps turned 21, he drove home from the College of Wooster and became a Mason. He was named president of the lodge in 1990.
Lipps said his father, with an eighth-grade education, worked in the factory at NCR in Dayton. His father was proud of him when he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, owned a mattress business, was named Franklin’s mayor for two terms, then elected to a state representative seat.
When Lipps informed his father he was going to be a 33rd Degree, those past accomplishments palled.
“This mattered more,” he said.
Powers said Masons are active in several organizations. None more than Special Olympics. When the event is held every year at Middletown High School, many of the volunteers are Masons and financially, the Masons are the second largest donor behind the Kroger Co.
The highlight of the 33rd Degree induction ceremony is what the organization calls “a march of penguins.” The candidates and the active members all must wear the matching outfits: Long black tuxedos, black pants, black shoes, white shirt and vest and pearl buttons.
This year, about 2,000 men marched two blocks from their hotel to the theater. That was some kind of sight.
“The people who saw us on the street had to be thinking, ‘What is this? Who died,’” Lipps said with a laugh.
No. Everyone dies. Only a few are 33rd Degree Masons.
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