He can’t speak for the Freemasons, but when it comes to the Odd Fellows, David Lent of Epsom promises that there is no clandestine and infamous message hidden somewhere in the currency of the United States.
The NEOFA (North East Odd Fellows Association) Camp Director has spent nearly 30 years immersed in the Odd Fellows community, tirelessly promoting the annual summer camp and spreading the selfless ideas that the Odd Fellows have stood for for 200 years.
According to historical documentation, his core belief is “friendship, love, truth”.
“At the time, it was to help widows and orphans,” said Lent, who is 68. “We were educating them and burying the indigent and bringing relief to the distressed.”
Its reputation as a secret organization with something to hide has faded over the years, reflecting the backlash Masons have occasionally received since the 18th century.
“There are only a few things that are secret, the signs and the passwords,” Carême said. “But you can find the whole thing on the internet and find our rituals and all the words. We are not secret about anything. It’s a secret society only because nobody knows anything about us.
The Odd Fellows umbrella covers assisted living facilities, nursing homes and nursing homes. Camp NEOFA, however, does not receive the same type of funding as residential care, which means Lent struggles each year to attract campers and donations to keep the camp afloat.
That’s why Epsom resident Kevin McCarthy nominated Lent for Hometown Hero recognition, noting that his work at camp, unmatched by anyone, is done on a voluntary basis.
“Dave has been incredibly generous with his time as a member of the Odd Fellows,” McCarthy wrote in an email to Monitor. “He has worked tirelessly to ensure that Camp NEOFA in Maine is open to hundreds of underprivileged children and teens each summer. He does everything from organization, fundraising, camp maintenance and any other thankless chores that need to be done.
The camp opened in 1957 in Montville, Maine after the Odd Fellows Northeast Chapter purchased a whorehouse in the area from the town for $1 and agreed to maintain it. This gave Camp NEOFA control of a swimming pond and $225,000 was raised to hire engineering and construction companies to build it.
Lent, who is chairman of the board of directors of Presidential Oaks, a nonprofit retirement community, began volunteering at Odd Fellows camp in the 1990s. He controlled all facets of the camp and its upkeep once he retired from AIG Insurance in 2007, simply because he was the only individual willing to commit full time.
There are 12 cabins, each able to accommodate eight campers and two monitors. There is no electricity in the cabins, so flashlights are used.
The camp includes waterfront, kayaking, canoeing, arts and crafts, archery, nature trails, kickball and soccer. Carême said government grants helped fund the camp, as well as private donations. Still recruiting, he said the weekly price of $400 was well below the cost of most other summer camps.
“Cheapest around,” Lent said. “No fancy stuff like the YMCA.”
The camp begins July 3 and lasts four weeks. Lent says there are still openings, both for campers and counselors.
Meanwhile, his volunteer work begins each summer about six weeks before camp opens, and Lent will definitely depart for the summer program on June 26.
It will train advisors on safety and professionalism, fix the drains in the showers and fix the toilets. He will take care of frozen valves, water leaks, mice and squirrels, fallen branches and carpentry work.
Free of charge, of course.
“Wherever I’m needed,” Carême said. “That’s what I do.”