Freemasons Ox Roast in Zelienople remains a Labor Day tradition
Every holiday has its traditions and in Zelienople, many residents choose the Freemasons Labor Day Ox Roast, now in its 39th year, to wind down their summer.
Held in Zelienople Community Park on East Beaver Street from noon to 6 p.m., the dinner has been known to attract as many as 1,000 diners who enjoy a hearty meal of slow-roasted beef and all the trimmings. The charge is $10 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12.
Allen Housholder, 76, and a 20-year member of the Harmony Lodge No. 429, Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania, Zelienople, remembers when volunteers used spits on open flames to cook the meat.
“They started on Sunday and roasted the beef all night,” the Zelienople resident said. “We'd get the wood and dig a hole and watch it cook. But it got too hard to do, so we found an easier way.”
This year, Wright Meat Packing of Fombell is providing the meat, which is slow cooked for 8 to 10 hours.
“It's the best roast beef I've had in my life, and that's not hyperbole,” said Jim Knights, 60, of Adams Township, who joined the Masons in 1998.
The annual fundraiser, which supports the lodge's community work, was sparked when a local member visited the Meridian Lodge in the Enon Valley back in 1974. He brought back the idea, and a tradition was born.
Both Housholder and Knights joined the Zelienople Masons for the same reason: Camaraderie.
“I heard good things about the fraternity,” said Knights, a retired FBI agent. “Freemasonry has the longest history and the greatest amount of credibility. It makes good men better. It's a brotherhood.”
What he particularly likes is the mix of membership in a time when people seem to travel in separate circles, he said, and the focus on community service.
“I've sat next to a judge, a mortician and a plumber,” Knights, now a Master Mason, said.
Housholder asked to join because his friends were a part of the local group, founded in 1869. Volunteering had been in his blood since 1963 when he became a volunteer firefighter. Householder now has been master of the lodge twice.
Freemasonry, whose origins are traced to Great Britain in the 14th century, boasts membership from throughout the world. Zelienople's lodge is 303 strong with an average age of 55.
The fraternity's system of ethics is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to improve himself while being devoted to his family, faith, county and fraternity, explained Knights.
“Religion and politics are never discussed,” he said. “We're from different backgrounds, but we're in harmony.”
Men 18 and older of good character and who profess a belief in a supreme being can join via two sponsors. The group meets once a month and more frequently when preparing for its annual ox roast dinner. The approximate $5,000 raised from the event goes toward community needs.
“It's our only fundraiser, so we give it priority,” said Housholder, adding a guarantee to every patron. “We'll give you all you can eat.”
For more information about the Masons, visit www.pagrandlodge.org.
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.