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Black History Month: E. Elmhurst man, 70, aids Queens through Freemasons

Longtime East Elmhurst resident Wilbert A. Spencer has spent most of his life giving back to the community as a member of the Prince Hall Freemasonry fraternity organization and his family wants to continue that tradition through their work in the order.

The 70−year−old grandfather of five said his membership and leadership as a Mason has helped give back to the community and set a good example for his family and neighbors.

“I try to do good wherever I go and whatever I do,” he said. “People will see you and many will emulate what you do.”

After moving to Queens from his hometown in Belhaven, N.C. in 1956, Spencer, , worked at a variety of jobs at organizations, such as New York City Transit, before becoming a city corrections officer. Although all of his brothers were masons and dedicated most of their time to the order, Spencer said he really did not have an interest in joining until his early 20s.

He said he began to hang out with other men who were involved with the masonry movement and joined in 1973. Spencer would spend his free time meeting with other Masons at the Lebanon Lodge at 107−51 Guy R. Brewer Blvd. in Jamaica and said he enjoyed planning and implementing ideas to improve the community.

“Instead of going to bars, I found myself going to my large fraternal meetings,” he said.

The Freemason movement dates back to the 18th century when a group of English stone builders formed a fraternity. The group held secret meetings that focused on moral righteousness and charity. Today, the fraternity has millions of members around the world.

The Prince Hall Freemasonry was created in 1775 by Prince Hall as a way for black Americans to join the Freemasonry movement. Hall started his section of the fraternity after the Freemasons prohibited blacks from officially joining the Masons or holding leadership positions.

The Prince Hall Freemasonary has nearly 8,000 members in the state with nine lodges in Queens. The fraternity is dedicated to helping local neighborhoods through community service and charity, such as holiday food drives, according to Spencer.

Over the years, Spencer’s role in the order grew, starting with a promotion to Post Master Mason in 1982. Today, he is the Most Excellent Grand High Priest for the Holy Royal Arch for New York, Canada and Barbados. Even though he oversees more than 1,000 Prince Hall Masons across North America, Spencer said he is more focused at his lodge in Jamaica.

It is there, that Spencer and his wife, Lillian, get to spend special time with their three children, who all work as Masons.

“It allows us to see each other as a family,” said Lillian Mason, 65. “We go to the meetings once a month and spend time after talking and catching up.”

Wilbert Spencer said he is proud of his two sons, Spencer Jr., 44, a post Mason; Wayne, 34 a senior deacon; and daughter, Wanda, 42, a post matron, for passing on the values he set for them. The idea of families volunteering in charity together is not popular in the same way that it used to be, according to Spencer.

“Everyone has their own thing and goes their different ways. They just find other things to do. That’s why the drive isn’t there,” he said.

The Mason leader said he believes the magnitude and popularity of President Barack Obama’s inauguration will change that notion. Spencer was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 and said the new president’s call for service resonated with him and the crowd of millions.

“I do feel he is trying to restore those values. He wants us to step up, you know. Let men be men,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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