To say Mickey Hirni is an active person over the age of 50 would be like describing George Washington as just someone who fought in the Revolutionary War – a huge understatement!
Since semi-retiring 20 years ago, Hirni has cycled across Utah, scaled Mt. Whitney, traversed the Western United States, served on the school board, led the Mural Committee and helped continue small town traditions as a member of the Exeter Lions Club. But to truly understand the depths of Hirni’s passion for his fellow man, you need only know that he has spent more than 50 years as a Mason.
“Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I didn’t know much about the Masons,” said the 80-year-old Hirni. “What I did know is that the kind of people associated with the Masons seemed to be role models who held themselves to a higher standard of morals.”
Hirni remembers his father heading off to the Exeter Masonic Lodge on E Street in downtown Exeter which was a hub of activity at the time. As a teenager, he remembered waiting for girls to get out of the Rainbow Girls meetings at the Lodge because they seemed different from the other girls, more driven, confident and caring. But Hirni’s first real exposure to the bond of brotherhood shared by Masons came at a difficult time in his life. Hirni’s father died when he was a teenager and he and his mother were unable to keep up with the family farm. Shortly after his father’s passing, many men began coming by the house to work the fields outside of Exeter and keep the farm running.
“They never said they were Masons but I knew,” Hirni said. “They never said anything or expected anything and always looked over the farm and my mother. Taking care of a brother is part of the obligation you take on as a Mason.”
Hirni joined the Masons in Sanger at the young age of ___. “If I helped another Mason, no one would know except him and me,” Hirni said.
Six months ago, Hirni received his 50-year pin during a ceremony involving the Deputy Grand Master for the State of California John Heisner.
“I wish every good man would become a Mason,” Hirni said. “It makes good men better men. My father would have been very proud that I became a Mason.”
Whether you are 25 or 50, the Orange Belt Masonic Lodge is always looking for men who want to improve themselves, and in turn, help improve the world around them. All you have to do is ask. As part of the Masonic code, a Mason cannot ask someone to join, that potential member must request to become a member from an existing Mason.
Often shrouded in mystery and steeped in tradition, Masons are more misunderstood now than when they began nearly two millennia ago. In the Middle Ages, the term “freemason” was awarded to highly skilled stonemasons hired to build castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland. Because of the dangerous work, stonemasons formed lodges in each area to take care of sick and injured members as well as the widows and orphans of those killed on the job.
Hirni said many of the organization’s traditions stem from the time that every Mason was a skilled craftsman. He said today the secret handshakes and phrases uttered between brothers might seem cult like to some, but still serve to help identify those who have the character associated with freemasonry.
“Back then, masons would travel great distances to work with people they had never met,” Hirni said. “The only way to tell if someone was truly a Mason was to have those traditions that only Masons knew about.”
The first grand lodge was established in 1717 in London. In 1733, the first American lodge was established in Boston under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England. Of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution, 13 were Masons, a fact that has taken on both legend and lore in books and film. But Hirni said the ideals of freemasonry can be boiled down to believing in God, working to improve yourself and taking care of your brothers and their families.
Like Hirni, Robby Gill joined the Masonic Lodge because his father and both grandfathers were Masons. But it is the tradition of self-improvement and brotherly love that keeps Gill entrenched in the family tradition that goes back at least three generations.
“I wanted to be a better version of myself,” Gill said. “We are contantly working to improve ourselves, be gentlemen, and continue improving ourselves.”
At 35 years old, he is one of the youngest Worshipful Masters to lead the Exeter lodge after being installed earlier this month. He is also one of four members under the age of 40 that are members of the lodge.
“The camaraderie and community involvement are why I think this appeals to men of any age,” Gill said.
The Exeter Masonic Lodge #424 was established in 1912 and still exists today as part of the Orange Belt Lodge #303. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Lodge, located at 128 S. E St. in Exeter.