The Palestine Commandery No. 13 of the Knights Templar in North Platte is staring in the face of the same challenges many fraternal organizations confront today. An aging base. Declining membership. Too many interests competing for new recruits’ time and attention.
Yet, a faithful core meets regularly on the first Thursday of the month at the Masonic Temple Lodge on McDonald Street and believes strongly in the Knights’ values of fellowship, education, and service.
“It pays to be involved and keep your mind sharp,” says Walter Johnson, 74, a retired railroad inspector and member for almost 50 years. “As long as I am here and can do anything about it, we will continue. If we close, it will never start again. If we keep going, maybe younger generations might decide this is something they would like to do and might join us.”
For now, there is still work to do. As part of his duties as secretary-treasurer, Johnson kept close watch on a CD held in a North Platte bank. So, he was surprised when he received a letter from the Nebraska Treasurer reporting that the CD had been turned over to the state as unclaimed property. “Someone decided it was an inactive account,” he said.
Johnson got to work, made copies of minutes showing he was an elected officer entitled to claim the money, and filed the claim for $15,928 on behalf of the organization. The money now has been reinvested in another CD.
The Palestine Commandery No. 13 was chartered in 1883. Members trace its glory days back to when it hosted a drill team that marched in local parades and to 1907 when 13 of its members escorted Buffalo Bill Cody’s casket to its final resting place on Lookout Mountain near Denver.
Commander Larry Linstrom says he appreciates the friendships, the focus on high moral standards, and the degree work that teaches members about the Knights. At age 77, he, too, wonders about the future. “You go to any fraternal group and look around, and they are all old just like me,” he said. On a bright note, his son joined the Knights a few years ago and the latest member to join is just 18 years old.
When Ann Zacharias Grosshans visited the Treasurer’s Office last summer to pick up a check for $47,645 in unclaimed property, she brought along a family photo album. With her were photos of her great-grandfather, G.W. Hopkins, and his four daughters, including Ann’s grandmother, Mattie Hopkins Zacharias, who died in 1963.
G.W. and his wife, Lizzie, were prominent residents in early Nemaha County. G.W. bought “a little land and then a little more,” his great-granddaughter said, and eventually moved to town, building a big house at 1720 M Street in Auburn. He lived there with his daughter Lucy for 31 years after his wife’s death. After G.W. died, Grosshans’ grandparents, Mattie and John Zacharias, an Auburn banker, moved into the big house. And when Mattie died, John remained in the house along with Lucy.
In addition to buying farmland, G.W. took an interest in petroleum stock for his four daughters.
In one of the more complicated claims processed in 2017, unclaimed property specialist Ginny Smith tracked down 327 properties connected to the Hopkins family, all under variations of the daughters’ names. Most of the properties were interest and royalties from the shares of petroleum stock that G.W. had purchased years ago for his daughters. Grosshans is the sole heir.
“My great-grandfather worked hard to purchase bits of land that is now our family farm. I’m sure he had no idea when purchasing the oil leases that his great-granddaughter would be so richly blessed,” Grosshans wrote in a thank-you note to the Treasurer’s Office. “Nebraska is a great state. Families making sacrifices to keep their farms in the family. I am thankful all the pictures, wills, and death certificates were saved.”
Those letters, photos, wills, and death certificates helped the Treasurer’s staff verify the claim that totaled 35 pages. In contrast, most of the 16,748 claims paid last year were only two pages.
“They were a good family. They shared a love of the land and a love of each other,” said Grosshans.
Tom Rock’s partially completed claim form sat on a desk in the kitchen for a while, gradually covered by other papers and resurfacing from time to time, just long enough to serve as a reminder of unfinished business.
Tom couldn’t bring himself to deal with bureaucracy. “I started the process more than eight years ago when Shane Osborn was Treasurer. It wasn’t that the process took that long or was that difficult; it was just me procrastinating,” said Tom, a director at KETV in Omaha.
He cited two reasons for his procrastination: First, he never wins anything, and he was sure the property in his late father’s name probably wasn’t much either. Second, “I didn’t want to deal with government bureaucrats like filling out taxes or standing in line at the DMV. I knew once I started, I was going to have to deal with some office of government drones who weren’t going to care, and I didn’t need the hassle.” Ouch!
Tom’s attitude changed once he talked by phone to unclaimed property specialist Mary Jones. She told him he needed a new form and she would email it to him. By the time Tom walked to his computer, the form had arrived. “That's what impressed me. It's like we were doing this in real time. She actually cares about us completing this process,” he said. “She’s my BFF now.”
With documents in hand, Tom claimed 100 shares of stock valued at $9,526 to be split with his sister, Edie Skrobo. The siblings had joked when clearing their deceased parents’ house that they wished they would find a shoebox of money, but instead only found more hankies and old school papers. The unclaimed property turned out to be that “shoebox of money that we didn’t find in the house,” Tom said.
The stock had been purchased by Tom and Edie’s father, Donald, who retired early and settled into a hobby that became a thriving business—collecting and restoring antique coin-operated arcade game and slot machines. One slot machine he refurbished went home to the El Cortez in Las Vegas in a hand-carved basswood case resembling Cortez himself. Tom’s dad had ordered the case from a Hallam woodcarver.
Tom and his wife, Chris, used part of their unclaimed property money to take their three sons to Las Vegas, a fitting destination, given his parents’ love of the city and his dad’s fascination with old gambling machines. ”We thought about what would make my dad happy,” Tom said. They topped off the trip with an anniversary dinner at the El Cortez.
Fern Roszhart was a pastor’s wife. She gave children rides to Sunday school and visited the elderly. She hosted missionaries and evangelists in the family home for weeks at a time. She raised a son and a daughter and found her calling in the Christian Book and Gift Shop she and her husband opened in 1946 on the courthouse square in Aurora. It was one of the first Christian bookstores in the nation.
Fern and her husband, Herb, had moved from Illinois to Aurora in 1943 to pastor Pleasant View Bible Church. They later pastored Bethel Mission Church and Stockholm Bible Church. Herb Sr. died in 1975, and Fern died 19 years later. As in many strong Nebraska families, the couple’s legacy lives on through four generations.
Their daughter Karen Sawyer, who lives in Brady, and their son Herb Jr., who lives at Turtle Beach near Marquette, recently claimed almost $3,000 each in death benefits from a life insurance policy for their mother. Karen and her husband, Ken, have three living children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Their daughter Tami died of the rare disorder progeria at age 14. Herb Jr. and his wife, Ardys, who managed the bookstore, have five children, 16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
“At first we didn’t believe it. There is so much craziness going on. The longer we communicated (with each other and with the Treasurer’s Office), the more we came to believe. It was a nice surprise,” said Karen, a retired paraprofessional for the Gothenburg schools. Ken is a retired ranch hand and lay pastor. “I was very appreciative and felt like Mom was taking care of us, too,” Karen said.
“We were surprised. We thought we had taken care of everything in her estate. We didn’t realize she had that insurance money,” said Herb Jr., who built and managed Christian radio stations in Nebraska and neighboring states and is now retired. Ardys’ father, the late Maurice Kremer, and her brother, Bob Kremer, both served in the Nebraska Legislature.
The Christian faith of their parents has been “the cornerstone of our lives,” said Herb Jr.
The unclaimed property specialist mentioned “pennies from heaven,” and Alicia Deats of Lincoln was hooked. Alicia still sheds a few tears when she thinks about her phone call with specialist Ginny Smith as they discussed the $3,194 in death benefits due from her mother’s life insurance policy.
“I totally teared up when Ginny said that. I even teared up when I told my brother,” she said, confident that her parents, William and Pauline Deats, would be very happy that the life insurance proceeds found their way home. An equal amount is waiting for her CPA brother, Dan, to claim.
Pauline Deats died in 2007, followed by William in 2011. To help care for them, Alicia had retired from a 17-year career as a research analyst at Gallup, where she specialized in analyzing demographics about race, sex, and age. “I was fascinated,” she said about her work.
When the call from the Unclaimed Property Division was left on her answering machine, Alicia was suspicious. Later when she looked up the number and saw the call was from the State of Nebraska, she had the assurance she needed to call back. Because her parents had established trusts, the process for claiming the property required more documentation than she expected, complicated by the fact that her financial papers were packed away in her garage while her house was being restored. A broken pipe had flooded the first floor and basement.
Alicia believes her grandparents took out the life insurance when her mother was young. Her father, a very organized retired Air Force colonel, had found similar policies when her mother died, but must not have known about this one. “He was so meticulous. He had a list of every asset so Dan and I would know, but this was not on the list,” she said.
Because of her father’s military career and his later work as a teacher and school administrator, the Deats family “lived all over the place,” including Japan, as well as in California, Texas, South Dakota, and Nebraska. While Alicia’s father rose through the ranks to become Minuteman Missile launch control officer at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, her mother learned to speak Japanese, French, and Italian; developed her talent as a watercolor artist; and became proficient at packing the family home for the next move and the next great adventure.
“I miss them,” Alicia said about her parents. “The memories are wonderful.”