HUGHESVILLE - Fifty years is a long time to commit to an organization and two local women have been given the recognition they deserve for their long standing membership in the Order of the Eastern Star (OES).
Tyrella Thomas of Muncy and Grace Houseweart of Hughesville were given a special award and ceremony at a luncheon on Feb. 26 in their honor in Danville at the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania's Eastern Star. Both women met each other through the Eastern Star and have been close friends for more than a decade.
The General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star is one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the country.
BARB BARRETT/The Luminary
Tyrella Thomas of Muncy and Grace Houseweart of Hughesville were honored for their fifty year commitment to the Order of the Eastern Star at an honorary celebration and luncheon at the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania’s Eastern Star.
It was established in Mississippi with humble beginnings by Rob Morris in 1850, a poet laureate of the Masons, and a Master Mason. He wanted to create an organization that would inspire the teachings of the bible and to create an environment of noble principles and service to others.
The first chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was in 1874. Today there are 10,000 chapters in 20 countries with over 500,000 members.
The Order of the Eastern Star is open to both men and women, and usually there is a family connection to the Masons. Grace said it was her late husband, Dallas Bitler who was a member of the Muncy Lodge No. 299. "He passed away in 1981," she said.
Tyrella said her father was her link to the OES. Originally from Titusville, she said he joined in 1928. She moved to Muncy 43 years with her husband, Roland Thomas who took a job with Gibbs Pontiac in Hughesville in 1971. Her neighbors, the late Connie Brown and her husband, were members of the Eastern Star and got them actively involved in the 90s according to Tyrella. "Connie was a 'Worthy Matron'," she said.
Meanwhile Grace owned a 100 acre farm with her husband in Jordan Township and would travel to the Order of the Eastern Star meetings in Muncy on the 2nd Thursday of every month. The two women met during the meetings and instantly became best friends.
"We never missed a meeting," said Houseweart. "We come all the time."
There are 7 chapters in the local region. Thomas and Houseweart joined as members of the "Monsey Indians" but it closed and had to merge with the Watsontown #282 chapter due to declining memberships. "The older ones are leaving, and the young ones are not coming in," Grace explained.
The Monsey Chapter No. 481 of OES was instituted October 13, 1937 in Muncy, PA. Meetings were held in the Masonic building on E. Penn Street, Muncy. Currently there are 177 active members regionally who pay their dues and close to 75 "Living Worthy Matrons."
Every month the list is updated to include deaths, suspensions, transfers, initiations and reinstatements. Thomas is a Past Matron and substitutes as needed, she said. Houseweart said she has served in the position three times, an elected position.
During the meetings they follow the Bible, similar to the Grange book according to the two women. "We give and donate funds to non-profits," Thomas replied. Other projects include delivering Christmas presents to low income families in the area and providing statewide scholarships in education. Houseweart added that three families in Hughesville benefitted from their fundraisers. "There is a project almost every month," said Houseweart. "One year we raised over $100,000 for Lou Gehrig's disease," she added. "Another year it was MS."
There are only two local OES chapters remaining, the one in Watsontown and one in Jersey Shore.
In February for state recognition, the two women were each presented with a corsage, a photo showing them as "shining stars", a commemorative pin, and a certificate for 50 years of service.
On March 9th they attended another ceremony for their 50 years of service on the local level in Watsontown.
On June 17th they will travel to York, PA for the Grand Chapter recognition and a Golden Stars Ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 18 following a Divine Service.
The desire to help others and to stay active is what keeps the two women going every month. "We put our needs aside to help others," they said. Grace is 86 and Tyrella is 75. The two friends travel together, not only to their OES meetings but to other countries. The retired women have visited Bermuda together, Canada, Nova Scotia, and many places in the US such as Atlantic City, New York City, and Williamsburg, VA. Both are members of the Red Hats Ladies Society and take cruises and tours together. They love visiting the casinos, they said.
Grace was employed with American Airlines for 40 years and Geisinger for 20. Tyrella worked at Brodart's and Hess's Department Store.