MAPLETON — Dwindling membership and piled bills have plagued fraternal organizations for years, but one in Mapleton is making a short move in the hopes of reversing the trend.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Mapleton Lodge 101 has been in town since 1885, but they’ve been renting space for meetings in the same building they sold more than a decade ago.

When another building two doors down — formerly the Plaid Piper gift and floral shop — became available in February, the local branch purchased the space with the help of its state organization.

Members plan to convert the upstairs into two apartments, providing a valuable revenue source to keep the service organization going. The downstairs would then be used for the group's meetings or events.

This plan bucks the usual business model for these types of lodges. Typically they’ll have a lodge upstairs — the future apartments were once the town’s Masonic Lodge — and rent downstairs space to a business.

Knowing it’d be difficult to find a business in a small town to lease the space, the Mapleton lodge is flipping the old model on its head, said John Sonnek, secretary for the Mapleton lodge.

“That model isn’t working in small towns anymore,” he said. “We can get realistic rent to cover costs of the building by flipping the standard business model.”

The new space will also provide greater visibility for the Odd Fellows, Sonnek said. Meetings at the old space were behind closed doors, while the new space has an open, glass storefront that any passersby can look into. For an organization that’s been around for more than 100 years but still struggles with name recognition in the community, Sonnek said the openness will help.

“This building offers us the chance to open up to the community, get more community involvement, host more events,” he said.

Jerry Marzinske, member of the Mapleton Odd Fellows, is overseeing the building plans. He said they hope to have the apartments ready for rent by June. Much of what was once the Masonic Lodge has been gutted from upstairs, but wood doors, paneling and trim were preserved for future use in the future Odd Fellows lodge, Marzinske said.

Although far from finished, the downstairs already held some of its first meetings Saturday. The Mapleton branch hosted this month’s executive board for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows meeting, bringing members from all over the region to check out the new space.

David Adams, a grand representative with the Odd Fellows, came from the organization's Winnebago lodge. Like the Mapleton lodge, the Winnebago chapter was forced to sell its own building because it didn't have a source of revenue to keep it up and running. 

Adams said Minnesota once had more than 300 Odd Fellows lodges. There are now just 16, he said, so seeing Mapleton's regain its own space might be a sign the organization is adapting to change, he said. 

“These guys are stepping forward and saying ‘Hey, this can happen again,’” he said.

Sonnek said the local branch will serve as care takers for the building while the state organization oversees renting and costs. If the model proves successful, he hopes Mapleton's plan to rent upstairs and use downstairs for meetings could be emulated elsewhere.

“My ultimate goal is if we get this to work out right it could be a model for other lodges,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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