Four Significant PGMs


Here are four Past Grand Masters who I believe should be studied by every Mason in Iowa.  Their stories are truly significant, some in a positive way and others in a negative way.  (Interestingly enough, I have not included T. S. Parvin in this list.  While his contributions to the Grand Lodge of Iowa are nearly legendary, they have, in fact, been described extensively in many venues.  In fact, it is likely that Parvin was instrumental, for good or ill, in the fates of all four of these interesting men.) These four PGMs are ones that are not nearly as well known as they should be.  That is not to say that they are the only important PGMS.  That is far from true.  However, they are four whose stories spoke to me.  And they certainly merit your further consideration.

Oliver Cock--Iowa's First Grand Master

Oliver Cock

Brother Oliver Cock, from Des Moines Lodge in Burlington, was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Iowa on January 3, 1844.  His election was not the expected outcome.  In fact, Brother Cock was not even present at the Convention during which the Grand Lodge was formed and during which he was elected.  The installation of Grand Lodge officers was delayed for five days while a man road his horse from Iowa City to Burlington to see if Oliver would accept the job. The actual details of why and how he was elected is fascinating, and much too long to be repeated here.  I must refer you to the History of the Grand Lodge for the complete story.  However, despite the fact that the reasons were far from ideal, the results were, arguably, the best that could have possibly happened. 

Brother Cock was young, both in age and in Masonic history.  He was 36 years of age when elected Grand Master.  He had been a Mason for just over three years.  His youth perhaps gave him a freedom and a flexibility that an older and more experienced man would have lacked.  This flexibility was just what a new Grand Lodge required during this formative period


Ansel Humphreys--Iowa Third Grand Master

Ansel Humphreys

Had all gone as planned, Ansel Humphreys would have been elected Iowa's first Grand Master.  He was arguably, the most qualified.  He had been a Mason for 26 years when the Grand Lodge was formed.  He has served as District Grand Master of Missouri for the territory of Iowa for three years.  He was a great ritualist; he was a well known Masonic writer and speaker; his command of Masonic Jurisprudence was unequaled in Iowa. However, due to some interesting political machinations on the part of others, and some remarkable forbearance on his part, he was not elected.   He was the presiding officer during the Convention at which the Grand Lodge was formed.  He did serve as the installing officer for the installation of the first Grand Officers.  But he was not the first Grand Master.  And due to further external machinations, he was not the second Grand Master, either.  However, the craft of Iowa rewarded him with that exalted office in 1847.  It was largely due to his behavior during this formative period that the Grand Lodge of Iowa's formation did not prove to be an abortive failure.  He was willing to sacrifice personal gain for the benefit of the Grand Lodge, for which we should be forever grateful.


James Hartsock

James Hartsock

James Hartsock was elected Grand Master in 1858.  He was one of the hardest working men in Iowa Freemasonry.  During his two terms of office, he visited 116 of the 147 Iowa Lodges.  Remember, these lodges were scattered, and there were no 4-lane superhighways to facilitate travel.  And during a visit, the Grand Master exemplified the work, examined the books, reviewed the minutes, etc.  These were not idle visits.  However, Brother Hartsock's dedication was overshadowed with scandal.  He played a major part of the political maneuvering that resulted in Oliver Cock's election as the first Grand Master.  He had hoped to parlay that action into the position of Grand Secretary.  However, his goals in that respect were foiled when T. S. Parvin assumed that office.  Some later financial irregularity resulted in James Hartsock being expelled from the fraternity he had worked so hard to build.


George Schoonover

George Schoonover

Brother George Schoonover was a distinguished Mason.  He served at Grand Master in 1918 and 1919.  He was instrumental in the formation of the Masonic Service Association and the National Masonic Research Society.  He was instrumental in the development and publishing of The Builder.  He was champion for Masonic Education

However, he fell prey to jealousy and business competition.  He was tried and convicted of Unmasonic behavior, and expelled from the fraternity.  All indications are that his prosecution was largely driven by personal goals of a business competitor.  It appears that the situations of his trial were not completely above board.  And it appears that the activity, of which he may have been guilty, would have been viewed quite differently in the society of today. 

A much more detailed explanation of the expulsions of both Hartsock and Schoonover may be found in Keith Arrington's book Freemasonry in Iowa.  Refer to the Book Review Page for more information on this and other books.  According to Arrington's interpretation, there is a good chance that much of the facts regarding whether Hartsock was actually expelled or not, and the circumstances thereof, were highly influenced by the actions of T. S. Parvin.   While Parvin was a pillar of Iowa Freemasonry, he was also a man who was influenced by private enmities and ambitions.  Similar facts surround Schoonover's situation.

I guess the main reason I am including these tantalizing bits of gossip is to convince you all that there is much interesting material to be read in the several Masonic history books.  Go read them.  You will be glad you did.  They are not just "dull history books".  They are highly interesting as well as informative.