Photography by KATIE MCGEE
WITH A JET-SETTING, decades-long role in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Jimmy Humphrey has logged his fair share of airline miles. But it was only after several invitations that on New Year’s Day 2022 he found time in his busy schedule to wave to the crowds alongside polar bears and penguins from an Arctic-themed float at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.
“They caught me at a weak moment,” he jokes.
Humphrey is no stranger to representing the fraternal organization: He’s served in nearly every high-level position as part of Savannah’s Oglethorpe Grand Lodge No. 1, established in 1842. The international distinction of Sovereign Grand Master took him around the world to Poland, Iceland, England and more — places where the Odd Fellows are still big even as they’re aging out in the U.S.
One of the few surviving fraternal orders left over from the early 19th-century boom, the Savannah chapter counts 50-plus members who gather at an eclectic clubhouse on Bonaventure Road. While the past few years have been quieter than usual due to the pandemic, the order continues to raise money for scholarships and for the Arthritis Foundation, and pitches in on the odd job around town, like building wheelchair ramps for homes. (As Humphrey describes it, many of the functions of the fraternal orders established in a male-dominated society, like taking care of widows and educating orphans, are now the province of government programs or insurance companies.)
Humphrey’s daughter Monica McMasters, owner of B Street Salon, says much of the Odd Fellows’ charity work is done in secret. Her childhood memories include ringing doorbells before dropping holiday meals off on doorsteps and driving off in the family’s beat-up Cadillac and, as an adult, she was on the receiving end of the order’s helping hands.
“You need somebody when you stumble and fall who can pick you up by the scruff of your neck, dust you off and give you a pat on the back of encouragement. And you need to be able to do that for others to get some worth in life.” — Jimmy Humphrey
“My dad would always tell me, ‘If you ever need anything, always look for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows sign,’” McMasters says. “Then a number of years ago in Maine, my car ended up in a ferry incident — as in, my car was on the ferry but I wasn’t — and one of the local guys helped me.”
To Humphrey, that type of personal connection is the point of the whole affair, recalling innumerable people his family “has gotten to know and love” through the organization.
“You need somebody when you stumble and fall who can pick you up by the scruff of your neck, dust you off and give you a pat on the back of encouragement,” he says. “And you need to be able to do that for others to get some worth in life.”
Rocco, a chihuahua, is an honorary member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and is a regular at the Bonaventure clubhouse.