FREDERIC HARPER STEVENS
FREDERIC HARPER STEVENS
Father of the Scottish Rite Supreme Council...
FREDERIC HARPER STEVENS was born on January 11, 1879, in the small town of Rowlett, located in Hart Country, Kentucky. His father died when he was about one year old. When he was six, his mother was requested by her pregnant sister to come to Chicago to help her out during the infancy of her first child. The planned short visit extended into months. In the meantime, his mother met Charles Stevens. They were married the following year, and later he adopted the child, who was attending the local public school, and gave him his surname. During the summer months, the stepfather, who was a printer employed by E.J. Decker & Co., took the boy to the shop and taught him how to set type, run a printing press and perform other duties.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, the young Stevens joined the First Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. At the end of the war, he returned to Chicago, but by this time he was too old to return to school, so his formal education was at an end. Unable to find employment in Chicago, he went to New York City where he became a member of the New York Typographical Union. Several years later he returned to Chicago and was employed by the printing firms of A.R. Barnes & Co. and the Rogers-Well Co. At about this time, the Lanston Monotype Machine Co. of Philadelphia opened a branch office in Chicago to distribute its typesetting machines. It also opened a night school to teach printers how to operate the machines, and operated the complex machines at both the A.R. Barnes & Co. and later, at the Gunthrop-Warren & Co. plant. Sometime later, Charles Skerritt, manager of Lanston Monotype Machine Co. offered Stevens a job as a salesman. Skerritt was a Mason and he impressed Stevens very highly. One day Stevens approached his new boss and informed him that he too would like to become a Mason. Skerritt was a member of Lawn Lodge No. 815 in Chicago, Ill. so he recommended Stevens to his lodge. Accordingly, the usual steps were taken, and on December 1, 1907, Frederic H. Stevens became an Entered Apprentice of that Lodge. He was Passed to the Second Degree on December 2, 1907, and was Raised to the Sublime Degree on December 5, 1908. It was a small beginning in a long and distinguished Masonic life.
In 1909, Steven's work took him to San Francisco, California. Later, he was requested by his employer to travel to Japan, China and the Philippines for one year, but his duties kept him in the area for a much longer period. He arrived at Manila in 1912 and soon thereafter was taken in as the vice-president and manager of E.C. McCullough & Co., a printing firm. When McCullough, the president of the firm, retired in 1918, Stevens and John Howe purchased the business and Stevens succeeded as the new president of the firm. In 1921, Stevens transferred to the Pacific Commercial Company, the largest commercial firm in the Philippines, as assistant to the vice-president. John Howe, meanwhile, carried on the business of the printing company. Stevens stayed with the Pacific Commercial Company up to 1932 when he formed an import and export business which he named F. H. Stevens & Co. In that year he became the Department Commander of the United States Spanish War Veterans.
In the twenties, Stevens was also active in the field of education. From 1921 to 1923, he was president of the American School of the Philippines, an educational institution exclusively for American kids and his primary duty was to raise money to pay the salaries of the teachers.
When the Japanese invaders entered Manila during World War II, they methodically rounded up Americans and nationals of other enemy countries. Stevens, then the Chairman of the American Coordinating Committee, was among the first to be picked up. He was brought to the University of Santo Tomas Concentration Camp along with other Masons. Inside the camp, Stevens and the other Masons lost no time in devising ways of assisting their distressed countrymen. They agreed to use the funds and credit of Mount Arayat Lodge of Perfection to feed their brother Masons and the members of their families. To do this, however, Stevens first had to get out of the Concentration Camp. He feigned illness and obtained a certification that he needed special treatment at the Philippine General Hospital.
Once outside, Stevens enlisted the help of charitable persons to relieve the hardship existing in the Camp. Food and clothing were donated to the internees, thus making life a bit easier for them. Stevens also managed to get his hands on Lodge funds and borrow money on its credit which he distributed to the families of internees who were living outside the Camp. In due time, Stevens was discovered by the Japanese and was taken to Fort Santiago where he spent the next seven months in dungeons and in the torture chamber. Incidentally, in 1944, while Stevens was in the Concentration Camp, his son, Captain Lee R. Stevens, of the United States Army, was placed on a Japanese ship with other American prisoners of war to be taken to Japan. United States bombers, however, sank the vessel, and Captain Stevens lost his life.
After Stevens was released from the concentration Camp at the end of the war he wrote a book in which he recounted his experiences during those trying years. Aptly the book is entitled Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Former internees refer to this book as their "bible".
At the end of the War, Stevens was destitute. His only worldly possession was a folding card table and a portable typewriter, but he had a host of friends acquired over the years who unhesitatingly came to his assistance. Many of his former employees, likewise, returned to help him restart his business, agreeing to work for a pittance. One friend, Robert Clarkson, the President of Smith Kirkpatrick & Co. of New York, sent him a hundred dollars with a letter informing him that he was being given unlimited credit with the firm. Several days later, Clarkson sent him, on credit, valuable items which were in great demand. Other firms also gave Stevens unlimited credit. Gradually, but surely, his business was reestablished. In 1964, Stevens then already 75 years old sold his interest in F.H. Stevens & Co. to his employees.
In recognition of his many years of outstanding service, numerous honors were conferred on Stevens. For example, in 1949 he was presented with Business Writers' Award with the designation of Trade Leader of the Year. In 1950, he received the Distinguished Service Award of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. A past President of the Rotary, he was given the Distinguished Member Award by the Rotary Club of Manila in 1952. In 1969 the same Club gave him the Special Award of the Club. On June 23, 1955, Governor Lawrence W. Wetherby, of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, commissioned him a Kentucky Colonel. In April 1956, he was awarded the Diploma of Merit by the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. On March 15, 1961, he was conferred the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa by the Siliman University in recognition of his work as an author, civic leader, and for his wartime service and his interest in education.
Over the years, Stevens delivered many talks at business, educational, community and Masonic meetings. A reading of these talks displays a rare combination of subtle humor and an important message. He also wrote a number of books. In 1956, he wrote Within the Memory of Man, a brief account of the establishment of the York Rite in the Philippines. In the same year, he translated into English, La Masoneria Filipina, a book written by Teodoro M. Kalaw. In 1922, he wrote a brief history of the Craft in the Philippines and the history of Southern Cross Lodge No.6. As already stated, after World War II, he wrote Santo Tomas Internment Camp, describing his experiences as a prisoner of war.
Stevens had a brilliant and extensive Masonic career. Here is a partial and brief presentation of his achievements in this area of his long life.
-- He received Masonic Light in Lawn Lodge No. 815, of Chicago, Illinois, in 1907-1908. In 1915, he demitted from this Lodge to become a Charter Member of Southern Cross Lodge No. 6, under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. He served this Lodge as its Worshipful Master in 1916-1917. In due course he became an Honorary Member of Lawn Lodge No. 815; Kanto Lodge No. 143, of Tokyo, Japan; Mount Lebanon Lodge No. 80, of the Philippines; Laguna Hills Shrine Club; Saddleback Hi-12 Club, the Scottish Rite Association of Orange Country; and the Saddle-back Valley Scottish Rite Association of Orange County.
-- In 1913, he joined Luzon Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, located at Manila, and he served this Chapter as High Priest in 1916.
-- The following year he became a Royal and Select Master. In the Scottish Rite, Stevens was one of the first Masons to join the Rite in the Philippines. Between 1916 and 1920, he served as Venerable Master of Mt. Arayat Lodge of Perfection; Wise Master of Kadosh of Gautama Consistory.
-- In October 1917, he was honored with the rank and decoration of Knight Commander of the Court of Honor in the Scottish Rite. He was elevated to Inspector General Honorary on October 24, 1919. In October 1921 he was appointed Deputy of the Mother Supreme Council in the Philippines, a position he occupied continuously until he was Elected and Crowned Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Mother Supreme Council on October 21, 1949, and was designated Sovereign Grand Commander to form and constitute the Supreme Council of the Republic of the Philippines. The Philippine Supreme Council was constituted on January 1, 1950, and he was elected its first Sovereign Grand Commander, serving for 11 years. At the Supreme Council Session of 1964, he was presented with the Fifty-Year Pin of the Scottish Rite.
-- He became a Shriner in the first class initiated in the Philippines, when Nile Temple of Seattle, made a pilgrimage to our country in 1914. He was elected to honorary life membership of the Shrine in 1955.
-- In 1916, he served as Royal Patron of the Mayon Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in Manila.
-- In 1921, he served as Eminent Commander, Knights Templar, of Manila.
-- In the years 1923-1924, he served as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines.
-- He initiated General Douglas MacArthur into the mysteries of masonry in 1936 and eleven years later conferred the Thirty-third Degree on him.
- On March 19, 1959, he became an affiliated member of Perla del Oriente Lodge No. 1034, E.C.
-- On June 13, 1959, he became a member of Asoka Conclave No. 30 of the Red Cross of Constantine.
-- In 1958, he received his Fifty Year button.
-- In 1961, he received the Jose Abad Santos Award from the Supreme Council of the Philippines.
-- On September 27, 1962, he became a member of the Knights of the York Cross of Honor, Los Angeles Priory, California.
-- He acquired, plural membership in Mar Vistal Lodge No. 820, of California, in 1970.
-- He was a Past President of the National Sojourners, having been a member of Far East Charter No. 15 in Manila. The group surrendered its Charter as a result of World War II and never resumed work.
-- He was a Charter Member of and the Provincial Grand Lodger of the Royal Order of Scotland in the Philippines.
-- In August 1977, at a meeting of the Laguna Hills Masonic Club, the Grand Master of California, Most Worshipful Kermit A. Jacobson, presented him with a Certificate of Appreciation for all the work he had done for Freemasonry.
-- In 1979, when Stevens was already one hundred years old, the Supreme Council of the Republic of the Philippines conferred on him the Grand Cross Court of Honor Award, the highest award within its gift.
-- On September 13, 1982 death with invariable indifference came tiptoeing in the silence of the night to claim the life of Stevens. He was 103 years of age.