Shortly before the passing of Dad Frank Kell, Vice President of the DeMolay Foundation Paul Bohannon sat down with Dad Kell for an interview. After posting highlights from the interview previously, here is the full transcript.
Bohannon: This is Paul Bohannon and we're here today to interview Frank Kell, Past Grand Master of the International Supreme Council of the Order of DeMolay and frankly was an active DeMolay in his young career. Frank, first before I start, I want to thank you for all of your service and activities with DeMolay through the years.
Kell: I appreciate that. Thank You very much. So.
Bohannon: Starting it off Frank, let me ask you to tell me when you first became acquainted with DeMolay and how that happened, then anything else you want to relate to me.
Kell: OK just go back to my youth now. In 1952 I was 14 years old. We had a little country general store out west of Shreveport, Louisiana. I was born and raised in the Shreveport area and My Dad was a Master Mason; he was a 32nd degree Scottish Rite and a Shriner. But when your business is your own, you don't have a lot of time to devote to your outside interests.
So my dad wasn't that active as he wanted to be. But one day he was reading a paper and told me to fill it out. Now back in that day nobody should question their father. I did not know what DeMolay was about but he gave me the paper to fill out, which turned out later to be my petition for DeMolay. Never thought anything else about it; forgot about it. Then one Saturday, about 4:00 in the afternoon, he said go in the house; take a bath and put on some good clothes as we are going to town. Well those opportunities to go somewhere with your Dad in our situation were very limited. I did exactly as I was asked to do. And away we went! Next thing I know we were in this beautiful building in downtown Shreveport. I didn't know what it was, found later it was the Scottish Rite Building and I wasn't alone. Five other gentlemen, young men my age, we were being initiated into the Shreveport Chapter, Order of DeMolay. Some of the people there that were members that I had seen at school, but I didn't know any of them! It was quite a quite a revelation. The Initiatory Degree as I learned later went well. I was very much impressed with the play that was put on, the DeMolay Degree as I learned later and as of July 1952 I became an active DeMolay and I stayed active. You get a lot of people from all over the area. We averaged about something I think we have about 25 to 30 members. My first assignment was Fifth Preceptor, Fidelity, and then I was appointed First Preceptor and then went up the line. Now later on, less fortunately my father was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I joined. He became bedridden and by 1953 he passed on. That left a pretty good void in my life, and DeMolay helped fill the void really well. That's how I got started & I stayed active for most of my life.
When my son became of age I had him initiated in Houston the biggest chapter I think in the world at the time and I then we got transferred to Midland, Texas. They had a membership of three so we saw both ends. And then we moved to Tulsa.
I didn't get active for a year. I did not get active because I didn't want my presence to keep him from doing his thing. One evening he said we need some more adult help. Chapter Advisor is 24 years old & they just had their first child. He was being transferred to Chicago, so I jumped in there. We took a bunch of them up to Kansas City as DI was hosting a large youth recruiting event. I told the members that if they can have at least six active members, [they were down to about eight] and three prospects, we would go. And, we did! Well I was working with Texaco and I called a couple of marketing people in Kansas City and said I need some tickets for the exhibition football game between the Houston Oilers & the Kansas City Chiefs. And so we really had a good time. I took them over to the office. They were able to tour the office where it is now. They were able to buy some items at the DeMolay & More Store. I stayed active from then to now, serving on the Advisory Council of Highland Park Chapter.
On the state level, I served as the Director of Workshop, Ritual, District Governor and so forth. I was selected a Deputy Member and later an Active Member of the Supreme Council serving as Chairman of the Session Planning Committee for 14 of a 16 year period. I was elected to the progressive line, serving as Grand Master in 2002-2003.
Bohannon: When you were an active DeMolay was there any particular individual that was a mentor so to speak for you during those DeMolay years.
Kell: Absolutely, his name was J. C. Deason., an adult advisor who worked very hard to assist the members of the Chapter and more about him later. Years later became Executive Officer of Louisiana DeMolay. We were up there in the northwest end of the state. Other Chapters were located in each of the 3 other corners plus 2 in the middle of the state. Really the only time we met with the other guys was at Conclave and that was a real treat every year. Our entire Chapter traveled with a blue suit, white shirt, a maroon string bow tie, a walking cane and a Maurice Chevalier flat top straw hat.
Bohannon: Oh yes.
Yes. We didn't have access to enough cars -- most of us. So most of us would go on a Greyhound or Trailways bus and usually 15 to 20 of us dressed like that. People didn't know what was going on, but that's the way we were. J.C., better known as Dad Deason was our Scribe, a Senior DeMolay and a Master Mason. He never married, strictly devoted his work to Masonic and DeMolay. His profession was he was office manager for an advertising agency.. He's the one that really worked with us. A bunch of us, I'd say seven or eight who really relied on him and worked closely with him. He was a tremendous mentor. Unfortunately he had a stroke and he was bedridden for several years before he passed on to the better world.
Bohannon: Well you know Highland Park always had a tradition in Oklahoma of wearing the tuxedos in competition and I was a kid at that time as you know. And Del City Chapter when they got competitive decided they needed something of distinction the way Highland Park did and this sounds like a tradition that started with you folks with your description of the outfits you wore.
And Del City ended up wearing as you'll recall the black pants, the white coat, and the red bow ties and cumber buns in competition. So that's interesting that that kind of came from that. That's a fun story.
So you became Grand Master when?
Kell: In 2002. When I became an Active Member, they asked me to take over the Convention Planning Committee. It had just been formed because some jurisdictions that had a Grand Master, weren't large enough or financially able to host a session. So they decided to go to the committee concept rather than relying on the jurisdiction of the sitting Grand Master to plan the session and so forth. I renegotiated a three year contract and got going from there and we did really well with future contracts. For two years I had been, I want to use the word "encouraged" to run for the line.
I had no interest in it and finally to get them off my back, I said " I'll run one time." Win or lose, that's it. And sure enough I wound up unopposed. And I said something about that and somebody said they were afraid to run against you. I said no they just had better sense than I did. So I got elected Grand Junior. And what I liked about Grand Junior and Grand Senior and my term as Grand Master is that your top three could split up where we could cover all the regional conferences.
And our biggest thing was for each region conference to interview individually and privately the executive officer of every jurisdiction in that region pointing out his strong points and things he needed to consider. And if he was having trouble in some areas, find out what we could do.
If the executive officer wasn't going to perform, what you would normally do is put him on the 90-day program. Get his act together or we're going to replace him. And we replaced a number of some of their own volition. Some of them had to be removed because they weren't truly getting anything and it was pretty bad. Unfortunately that policy has not been followed for a number of years. And we're really hurting for executive volunteers in some areas. And part of the problem may not be their fault. There's only one person and nobody working with them from DI staff to compliment them on what they're doing and then show them where we need some help. And that was a program that did work really well.
Bohannon: Did you did you ever have the opportunity to meet Dad Land?
Kell: I did. When I was an Active DeMolay & Dad Land was Imperial Potentate of the Shrine of North America, Dad Land came to Shreveport to visit the first Shriners Hospital built in the World.
We had a regular meeting that Wednesday night Dad Land was in Shreveport and he came for the meeting. I took my Mom’s Kodak box camera & asked Chuck to get a photo of us meeting Dad Land.
Chuck did a good job as the photo shows Dad Land approaching me as I was about to greet him.
I still have books of pictures at home but I did not remember having them. My mother had put them in a photo book and I guess it must have been at least 30 years after my career that I found those pictures in there. In my travels as Grand Master, I took hundreds of copies of that photo when I was in visiting DeMolay in South America & Europe. I visited with Active DeMolays at each opportunity, giving them a copy of that picture, so they would have a personal photo of Dad Land. We knew he was the man who founded the Order, we did not know anything else about him except he became the Imperial Potentate. It was really, as I look back, I guess 20-30 years ago, it really hit me, Wow! I can't believe how fortunate I was to have met the man. The memory means more as time passes.
Bohannon: As you look back over the many years of DeMolay experience you've had obviously it's been 50 years or so. Are there any individuals that that you, if I can say mentored, in DeMolay that kind of stand out to you today.
Kell: Now when I mentored some of the younger ones. I worked with some in my chapter but others within the state -- just talking to them. If they had a problem visit with them. Especially if they came from a one-parent family. And if we were important figures in their lives, I think that's a part of it is part of an advisor or anybody that's an adult to work with the kids. There's been a number of them were tip-toeing where they shouldn't be but I think maybe, just maybe, I had a positive influence on at least one kid's life.
Bohannon: I know that you have served for a number of years as the chair of the DeMolay Foundation scholarship committee. Would you like to do a little pitch for them.
Kell: Absolutely. I wish we'd had more money to give but we don't have it. You have about 25 to 30 thousand a year in scholarships.
So we try to do the best we can with what we have. We open it up to all Active DeMolays as defined by the statutes of DeMolay International, and then we have some money also coming in from the Foundation for graduate students. The Frank S. Land Fund is restricted to active DeMolays only. The Foundation finds money elsewhere in their coffers to allow us to do more -- generally at least one scholarship for graduate study. A lot of times, what we award is not what gets them through, but it helps get them through the financial part. These colleges and universities are not inexpensive by any stretch. And it's fulfilling. The kids, even if they only get a thousand dollar scholarship they are very, very thankful and compliment Foundation in our community. And we tell them you earned it and don't ever let anybody tell you that you were given that -- you earned it.
Bohannon: So aside from DeMolay, have you been active with any other type of institutions or groups that support what I'm going to call charitable or community activities?
Kell: I have been working with the OK Rainbow girls the state level. And now I'm one of three men that serve on the Grand Executive Committee. We do whatever the Supreme Inspector wants us to do such as holding fundraisers. A good friend of mine in the Oklahoma City area has a dinner once every other year here to raise money for the scholarship fund. In his off years I host a dinner in the Tulsa area to raise money for the Scholarships as a service project. If you work with these young ladies, you have to give them encouragement. It's been a lot of fun.
Oh, it is a whole different world working with the young ladies than working with the boys!
Just seeing some of these young ladies how they mature and grow.
Bohannon: I was I was almost smiling when you commented on the fact that they are two advisory capacities the boys and the girls are so different because I was thinking exactly the same thing.
Kell: Oh yeah, its a different ballgame!
Bohannon: And now you had kids, you said you had a son.
Kell: Right. We raised 3 Rainbow girls and 1 DeMolay boy.
Bohannon: Right. Is there anything you'd like to offer for our readers, when we get this posted, before we close the interview?
Kell: No sir, other than live life to the fullest. Take the time, make the opportunity to visit with these kids because they are the future of this country.
Anything you can give to them and guide them or suggestions that will make them a better person -- which in turn will make this country strong again. It is up to the adults of today to encourage the youth of today as they are the adults of tomorrow. They are the future!
Bohannon: Well thank you for your time Frank.
Kell: All right. Bye bye.