End of an era: Lakes area charitable group, Olive Branch, disbands after 150 years
The Detroit Lakes-based Olive Branch Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, which had members from Perham and the surrounding lakes areas, will be consolidating with the Moorhead Chapter on April 25, meaning the lakes area chapter will be no more.
DETROIT LAKES — A charitable group that has been serving the lakes area since 1897 is disbanding.
Due to declining active membership, the 125-year-old Olive Branch Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star is no more, as of this spring.
The Order of the Eastern Star is an international fraternal, nonprofit service organization associated with the Freemasons, similar to the Shriners.
The Olive Branch Chapter was the local chapter headquartered in Detroit Lakes. It included current or former members from the surrounding lakes area — namely Perham, since Perham's local Cleopatra chapter disbanded and consolidated with Olive Branch in 2002, due to low membership.
In recent years, Olive Branch was best known for its food shelf fundraisers, held at Perham's Pizza Ranch every March. Funds from those events went to the Bridge Pantry in Perham, New York Mills Area Food Shelf, Becker County Food Pantry in Detroit Lakes, and Helping Hands Emergency Services Food Shelf in Mahnomen — all the food shelves that serve the group members' hometown areas.
While the Olive Branch Chapter is closing, the small handful of active members who are left insist they're not giving up: They're consolidating with the Moorhead chapter of Eastern Star. There will be a ceremony for that on April 25.
After that ceremony, Detroit Lakes will no longer have an official chapter, but anyone from the lakes area who is willing and able can continue in Eastern Star as members of the Moorhead chapter.
Olive Branch members said they're sad to see the local chapter close, and those who don't plan to continue with the Moorhead chapter will miss the opportunities for charitable work and friendship that the organization provided them.
"(Eastern Star) is about the ability to do service to my community — because one person just can't write big checks — and it was so heart-warming to find that," said Ann MacGregor, who was a member of Olive Branch for three years.
She added that she also enjoyed being a part of the group because of "the people I've met. The people that are still with us have had an impact on my life and made me a better person. At age 72, you can still become a better person."
Olive Branch donated $1,000 to each food shelf through its Pizza Ranch fundraiser this year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, chapter members would bus tables at the Perham restaurant about once a month to earn a percentage of sales to donate. Minnesota FoodShare and the Freemasons would match Olive Branch's earnings in March, so the group was able to donate three times the amount of money they raised on their own.
In addition to the food bank donations, Olive Branch worked alongside the Minnesota Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star to provide statewide services and donations. They donated to the Masonic Cancer Hospital, for example, helped provide and train service dogs for veterans, and supplied academic scholarships.
As a fraternal organization of the Freemasons, Eastern Star members must have a Masonic family member in order to join.
One Olive Branch member, Marv Enslin, had no Masonic relations when he first learned about the Eastern Star, but was determined to join the group anyway. His wife, Judy, joined a few months before their marriage in 1968.
"She was going to meetings, and I finally chose to say, 'This is something we can do together,'" Enslin recalled with a smile. "So I decided to become a member. Before I could become an Eastern Star member, I had to become a Mason… I had to do it myself."
Judy died in 2020, but Enslin and the rest of the Olive Branch members said her charitable spirit lives on in the group's dedication to community service.
"I miss her still," MacGregor said. "The impact that Judy had was huge. She was very devoted to Eastern Star."
Net Kupferschmid is another example of a devoted, longtime Olive Branch member. She joined Eastern Star in 1962 after moving to the Perham area in 1959, and thus is the longest-running Eastern Star member in the Perham area. In 2006, she was installed as a Grand Officer at the state level.
MacGregor said Olive Branch has a lot of older members who have been with the group for 50 years or more, but, "They're not active anymore because they can't be. Net's kind of a treasure and an exception to the rule."
"In April, I will become a 60-year member," Kupferschmid said. "It's been kind of in my heart. I've had two chapters now that have had to close up, and it hurts because you want to keep going."
Kupferschmid was the reason MacGregor was introduced to Olive Branch. About three years ago, the two of them were swimming together at the Perham Area Community Center when Kupferschmid made an offhand comment about an old friend from Eastern Star. That led to a conversation, and soon after, MacGregor and a friend, Karen Chobot, joined up.
Chobot has a family history with the Masons that goes back a couple generations, she said, so she thought joining Eastern Star just made sense.
"I'm really sorry I didn't get involved with it earlier," she said. "We've had a good time and met some really nice people."
Kupferschmid, Enslin, MacGregor and Chobot all expressed their gratitude to Pizza Ranch and the Perham branch's owner and general manager, Nick Price, for allowing them to run their community fundraisers there. They also thanked all those who have contributed to their fundraisers through the years.