Freemasons donate bikes to South Salt Lake students in honor of literacyJul 07, 2023 10:55AM ● By Jesse M. Gonzalez
Freemason brothers (left to right) John Liley, Andre LaFleur, Michael Clark and Hugo Rodier. (Jesse M. Gonzalez/City Journals)
The children all roared and screamed. Brand-new bikes were displayed at the front of the assembly, ready to be taken by 10 high-achieving students of literate merit. It was the afternoon of May 31, and Lincoln Elementary staff and teachers watched over the excited students in the school gymnasium.
Andre LaFleur and John Liley, two Freemasons of Wasatch Lodge #1 in Salt Lake City, stood by the bikes along with school principal Milton McCollins, checking the air pressure on the tires before beginning to slowly call out the names of 10 top-reading students in timely succession so as to give each student a chance to take in the moment.
“We had some other lodge brothers who were doing the same thing out in St. George,” said LaFleur, a Freemason of seven years and former staff member of Lincoln Elementary. “A few of the members of my lodge connected with them and talked a little bit and thought ‘Hey, you should do this program over in Salt Lake City.’”
The program is called Bikes for Books, which rewards students for their reading efforts. The individual who is running the Wasatch Lodge this year, David Harris, came to LaFleur to ask him if would put together the philanthropic program for Salt Lake City, even asking him of any area schools that would be a good fit. Conveniently, LaFleur was familiar with Lincoln Elementary.
“I ran their after-school program so I knew a lot of the kids here. I knew a lot of their struggles, and I thought that this would be a great program to start with. Eventually it will expand to other schools in the city but here I thought would be a good fit,” said LeFleur, a South Salt Lake local.
“There are six lodges that meet in Salt Lake City—we’re one of the six—the big building on 650 E. South Temple,” Liley said. “We would like to expand [Bikes for Books] to other schools. Funds, of course, we have to raise them as we go. It was about $1,000 that we put together that we collected from the members of the lodge. We used that to buy the bikes for the kids.”
“When I was a kid, my bicycle was really important to me, I figured that a lot of these other kids, they would want a bicycle too,” LaFleur said. “Milton Collins (Lincoln Elementary school principal) was telling me, ‘I only know like four or five kids in our whole school who own a bicycle, so this would be a great incentive for them.’”
Having been left uncertain as to where to get the bikes, much less the parts to build the bikes in time after a miscommunication error with a distributor, LaFleur set out on a long drive to San Pedro, a city near Los Angeles, to pick up the parts to build the bikes himself, along with the help of his Freemason brothers, including Liley.
“I contacted a manufacturer in Los Angeles and bought the bikes unassembled, and a few of my lodge brothers got together and we assembled them. It was like a three-day trip. Next year we are hoping to get things settled a little bit more,” LaFleur said.
“I think to deliver them, it was going to take too long, so he [LaFleur] took it upon himself and hopped in his van and he took his dad with him and they drove all that way out to Los Angeles, and they got them and brought them back and they weren’t assembled so the guys put them together on Sunday, and as you know, I just put the air in the tires,” Liley said jokingly.
“Our lodge covered this first set of bicycles. We only covered two grades because we didn’t have enough money to cover all the rest of the grades, so next we are going to be looking for sponsors, local businesses and the like who would like to contribute. We’ll gather money and we’ll help expand the effort for this school here and as we continue to find other sponsors we’ll be able to expand it to other schools,” LaFleur said.
The Bikes for Books program had turned out to be a benefitting success for Lincoln Elementary, with the Freemasons of Utah hoping to expand to other schools and to other similar programs where kids are in need.
“This is an organization that does a lot of good,” LaFleur said. “The three main tenants of Freemasonry are: the brotherhood of man, relief and truth. And that is what we seek to express and encourage. We gather men from all classes, all backgrounds, and encourage community involvement and community improvement.”
“It has a lot of historical tie-ins to the founders of the country, and I personally like to read and Freemasons have always come up in books, and I did a little bit of exploring and I found out that one of my friends was actually a Mason. So I asked to join the lodge 25 years ago,” said Liley, who is originally from the East Coast though has lived in Utah for the last 30 years.
“You’ll hear a lot of people say that we are a secret society,” Liley said. “But we’re really not a secret society. We’re a private society because a lot of people when they see a closed door they want to know what’s on the other side, well, it’s just a bunch of guys putting money together and buying bikes for kids.”
“A lot of people, again, will think that we are a religion but we are not a religion—we’re actually a group of men who hold a belief in a supreme being from all walks of life, so you can be a sect of any religion that you are, as long as you have a belief in a supreme being. We are a charity in so much that we do events like this. You’ll hear that we are a volunteer organization—we’re a volunteer organization to the fact that we voluntarily bind ourselves together to make ourselves and the community around us a better place,” Liley said.
LaFleur and Liley began to wrap up, making sure that the bikes were all constructed accordingly and in fine fettle, they gave each other smiles of relief and completion. The children now began to dance to upbeat songs in the gymnasium, and the 10 students who were honored with their bicycles looked at their new prizes in marvel.
“Read. Read as much as you can. Read everything you can. Read and think deeply about the things that you do read. The way to succeed in life, not just financially but just generally, is to be literate and to be strongly literate,” LaFleur told the students.
“I just hope to have a great summer,” Liley said. “The thing is, is that all of those bikes look the same. I hope they know which one to take home.” λ