This expat’s secret? Reach out to othersDon Kidney is not only the longest-serving civilian employed by a U.S. military base in Korea, but also the longest-serving Freemason in Korea. “Not many are aware that we exist in Korea,” says Mr. Kidney, 74, the mechanical supervisor at the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison. “But the original members, many of whom were American gold miners who were working here in Korea, existed as far back as the early 1900s.”
Mr. Kidney likes to joke about his unusual last name. “My wife calls herself ‘Mrs. Kongpat’ ” -- which is ‘kidney’ in Korean. However, he takes his affiliation with the Freemasons seriously.
“We are a global fraternal organization, with the main base in Scotland and lodges, or meeting places, all around the world,” he says. The group relies heavily on symbols and it is said that one can spot a Mason by one of three distinctive characteristics: their handshake, their membership cards and questions relating to the group’s secret ceremonies ― all of which Mr. Kidney declines to divulge. “Our basic belief is this: honesty, purity and integrity.”
A resident of Korea since 1955, Mr. Kidney joined the Freemasons in 1961, went on to become a Grand Master of the Hanyang Lodge in the ’80s and is now the treasurer of the group. Mr. Kidney is proud of his Masonic affiliation. “You know, there are a lot of misconceptions about Freemasons, but we are not a secret organization,” he says. “Like any college fraternity, we are a group that meets every so often and holds business meetings, social functions and bonds regularly.” The Freemasons in Korea meet in four lodges around the country, with the oldest lodge being Hanyang, located in the Seoul Club on Mount Namsan, where 30 or so members, including five Koreans, meet two Wednesdays a month. The agenda typically involves three main activities: the business of running the lodge, charity work and personal development.
Members of the nondenominational organization, says Mr. Kidney, come from many races and creeds.
“I wouldn’t be here without the teachings of the Freemasons,” Mr. Kidney says. “You learn to think about others. The key axiom of our set of beliefs is, ‘Do unto others as they would have done to you.”
Kris Stevens, a member of Hanyang Lodge, says, “Don is a walking history of Freemasonry in Korea. He is a tremendous resource.”
Over the years, Mr. Kidney has seen many changes in the composition of the Hanyang Lodge. “We’ve had a normal turnover. Before, members were military-oriented, but now we have many businessmen.”
The youngest member is 28. Freemasons are not allowed to persuade others to join. Discussion of politics is also a taboo.
“Many people I've known are buried in Seoul’s Foreigners Cemetery Park” Mr. Kidney says. “I’m still standing. I’m going to continue doing what I do until I become crooked.”
by Choi Jie-ho