November 26, 2021

Making a better world

Order of the Eastern Star creates fellowship

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Sharyn Snyder of Cortlandville has traveled all over New York for the Order of the Eastern Star, a charitable organization, with three chapters in Cortland County. She is seen Oct. 4 at the Cortlandville Masonic Lodge on Route 13

Sharyn Snyder of Cortlandville knows she has an extra family, thanks to the fellowship she’s found in the Order of the Eastern Star.

“I can go anyplace in the state, find a Masonic Lodge, and find anyone to help me in an emergency,” Snyder said.

The Order of the Eastern Star is a sister organization of the Masons fraternal organization, with an emphasis on women, who raise money for charities and support the Eastern Star Home, an assisted living center, independent living center and nursing home in Oriskany.

“My husband is a Mason,” said Snyder of Ray, a former Sears, Smith Corona and Borg Warner Automotive employee. “He’d been a member for several years. I was eligible to join but I didn’t join till our two boys graduated from high school. I had an interest in being part of the organization. I knew what they did in support of the Eastern Star Home.”

Members are bound to help others in their group in their time of need. And they learn moral lessons to enrich their lives and be useful to others, according to the Grand Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star in New York at

Snyder, a switchboard operator who retired after 29 years at the Cortland Enlarged City School District, has been all over New York attending statewide chapter meetings. After 32 years, she’s now the grand representative, on the state level, as well as a trustee for Cortland Chapter 591.

Ray Snyder is an associate patron, or a vice president, in the 591 chapter. He too, has served at the state level, as a historian.

“My parents were both in it,” said Agnes Morris of East Homer, worthy matron or president of the Cortland chapter. “They tried to get me to join years ago. When you’re raising five kids and working two jobs, you don’t have time.”

When her responsibilities eased, she signed up.

The group was founded by Robert Morris of Kentucky, a Mason, in 1850, incorporating five Biblical women examples into its program to inspire the group. Anyone can be a part of the group, but must be sponsored by a Mason.

To Join
People interested in joining the Order of the Eastern Star can call 607-753-3569 or 607-753-0197. Email

Ask them for contacts for other local groups.

The 33-member, 1-5-year-old Cortland chapter meets twice a month at the Cortlandville Masonic Lodge on Route 13. The 40-member, 120-year-old Homer chapter meets once a month.

“We were founded in 1901. I wasn’t there then,” said Homer chapter member Shirley Randolph, laughing. “Although I have been a member for 61 years.”

“Our motto for the Order of the Eastern Star is, we strive to live our lives in truth, in charity and in loving kindness,” said Randolph, retired owner of Bowker Shoe Store in Cortland. “We are the largest fraternal organization in the world, which both men and women can belong to. We have chapters in all 50 states and 27 countries around the world.”

Randolph’s husband was a Mason as well.

“I just wanted to be a part of that,” Randolph said. “I heard such good things about it. It’s a great organization. It’s a fraternal charitable organization. You make great friends all over the state. If you choose to travel, which we did.”

New York has 34 districts, Randolph said. The Cortland-Madison district has five chapters: Cortland, Homer, Marathon, Cazenovia and Oneida.

“Each year, the grand matron has a special project that (chapters) earn money for,” Snyder said. “This year, we raised money for St. Jude’s Hospital.”

Statewide chapters raised $20,000 in 2012 for breast cancer awareness, $12,000 in 2014 for food banks throughout New York, $37,000 another year to the Masonic Medical Research Lab in Utica for heart disease research, $23,000 in 2018 to the Special Olympics, Snyder said.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Agnes Morris, left, of East Homer, is a worthy matron, or head honcho, of the Order of the Eastern Star, Cortland City Chapter No. 591. On the right is Ray Snyder of Cortlandville, an associate patron. They are at the Cortlandville Masonic Lodge.

The chapters also support the home in Oriskany, which also features day-care for children of nursing home staff and community parents. A memory-care wing on the premises is in the works, Snyder said.

At the Cortland chapter: “We used to have 24 chairs in the chapter for a meeting. We used to have them filled and sidelined. Now our membership has dropped because of age, like any club,” Snyder said. She said Cortland’s thriving Masons group is made up of young men. But the fellows don’t have wives to recruit.

Morris, a retired administrative assistant at Cornell University, is worthy matron at the Cortland chapter, and a member since about 2007. She also serves at the state level. Members have a business meetings, find out who’s sick to support them, tabulate their records, initiate new members and organize fundraisers.

A statewide meeting of all groups, the grand chapter, takes place in October to elect officers for the next year. This year, to limit attendance for social distancing, the grand chapter will only be attended by office holders.

But state officers visit all the districts in the state between March and June. Snyder was a grand color bearer in 2010, formally setting the flag up and taking it down in meetings. Two weekends of each month she was visiting chapters from Long Island to Rochester and everywhere in between, when the grand matron and state officials made an appearance.

After a person serves at the state level, they get a title attached to them, “right worthy,” to show their commitment. “It stays with you,” Snyder said.

People are initiated with special traditions. A worthy matron decides what clothing will be worn, said Randolph. Usually long white gowns for women and formal wear for the men.

“But it’s up to the discretion of our worthy matron. It’s either formal or informal. That’s just part of the organization,” Randolph said.

Meetings tend to be closed to the public, unless it opens a meeting to show the public what it’s about. Members are asked to believe in a supreme being. While not a religious organization, its values are based on the Bible.

“We are open to all faiths,” Randolph said.

“We do a lot of charitable work and a lot of fun things that go on in the fundraising part of this,” said Randolph.

The chapters host chicken barbecues in association with Masons. They serve coffee and goodies at the Interstate 81 rest stop in Preble in return for donations.

“Normally between Friday and Saturday, we earn $400, $500,” Snyder said.

And they host a bake less bake sales for members, just to provide support.

“This is one of the biggest things you have,” Snyder said. “During 9/11, one of the fellows we met traveling had been at Ground Zero. He was a policeman. He never got home for three weeks.” He didn’t have to worry, the Snyders said. “Masons got groceries for his wife, mowed his lawn,” took care of his family.

“This is what Masons and Eastern Star do,” Snyder said. “They are there for each other all the time.”
“And anyone else we know that needs us,” Morris said.