Gene Leasure says stepping into the lodge room of the Towson Odd Fellows Lodge No. 79 on York Road is like stepping into a time machine.
Once inside, you're in the mid-1800s — from the architecture of the room to its appointments, from the parchments on the wall to the eyes of Gen. Nathan Towson, who look out from a portrait he donated — though he himself never belonged.
"This is the original building," said Leasure, who serves as the post historian. "That's the original lodge room."
Stepping into that time machine requires setting the dial to 1852, and it's a trip that nearly 100 people were willing to make early this month, as the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 79 celebrated its 160th anniversary with a banquet on June 2.
The event celebrated not only the lodge's founding in January 1852, but also its heritage as one of Towson's oldest organizations, and one that over the years has always worked to help others.
"We work to help the community," said Darlene Parker, who holds the title of Grand Marshal, as well as financial secretary. "It's what we do, and we hope to be doing it for another 160 years."
Baltimore is the birthplace of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that has as its motto, "Friendship, Love, Truth." There are 23 lodges in Maryland.
Over the years, the Towson lodge has contributed to organizations such as House of Ruth, the Arthritis Foundation, the Fuel Fund of Maryland, the Wilmer Eye Bank and others, and has also conducted outreach in the community to help families pay for back to school supplies and other needs.
Leasure noted that at the time of the lodge's founding, then-Towsontown was a logical place to grow an association of workers and professional men because of the commerce and transportation networks that passed through the area.
The lodge founders — who included Dr. Grafton Bosley, J.W. Van Horn, Wiliam Bowen, Charles Chew, Benjamin Payne and George Bull — decided to name the lodge after Gen. Towson, who had been a hero in the War of 1812.
Towson himself declined membership — it was against his religious beliefs to join what was considered by some to be a "secret society," but he was honored with the tribute, and gave the lodge a portrait of himself, "which continues to hang in the lodge to this day," Leasure said
"We continue to do what we've done for 160 years — and we're very proud to do it," said Leasure.
Fifth District County Councilman Marks attended a portion of the June 2 banquet, and presented a proclamation from the Council County.
He said the lodge as been "a source of continuity in Towson" amid changes in the downtown area — as well as in society and community need.
"Thank you for your good work and fellowship, and for being a source of strength and stability in the community," he said.
Parker read letters or proclamations from a number of elected officials and bodies that praised the lodge for its milestone — including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and the Baltimore City Council.
Michele Brown, an aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, attended and said the senator sent her appreciation, for people who have "stayed true to the mission of being a friend to those in need."
Like many service organizations, the Odd Fellows have been working to make sure its outreach and charitable deeds are not in the past — by recruiting new members and retaining current ones.
Parker joined when the IOOF opened its ranks to women, and has been active in promoting events and other fundraisers.
Earlier this year, the lodge installed its youngest leader ever, D'Andre McNair, who holds the title Noble Grand, and earlier this year officers said they wanted to press recruitment of young people into the fold.
Even so, some of those members may still represent the history and heritage of the lodge. Doris Storm-Smith of Lutherville said she represents several generations of her family who have been members of the lodge, and she has a son, daughter and daughter-in-law who are involved as well.
For her, it's a family as well as community tradition.
"I'm very proud of that," she said. "It's a good organization, and good for families."
The Towson Odd Fellows Lodge No. 79 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows will host its next event, a ham and chicken dinner fundraiser, on Saturday, July 21, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Historic Odd Fellows Temple, 505 York Road.
The event will include raffles, door prizes and food. For tickets contact Darlene Parker, at 410-908-8771.