The Northern Light recently sat down with Michael Russell to see how he’s settling into his new role as Executive Director of Scottish Rite, NMJ. We learned his work style, what he hopes to achieve over the next few years, as well as a few of his favorite things.

Michael Russell, Executive Director of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jursidiction

Q: What does being a 32° Scottish Rite Mason mean to you?

MR: Being a 32° Scottish Rite Mason means we can do more than just talk about our obligations. As Brothers in the craft, it means we can live our values. It all comes down to our Vision statement: “We will strive to be a fraternity that fulfills our Masonic obligation to care for our members.” I have seen how we can change men’s lives through the Grand Almoner’s Fund, there is nothing like it in Freemasonry and I wouldn’t change what we do for the world.

Q: Tell me a bit about your experience prior to your time here at Supreme Council? How have your past roles prepared you for your new role as Executive Director of the Supreme Council, as well as your former role as VP of Charities?

MR: My training and education really started at Northwest Missouri State University, where I majored in Speech Communication and minored in Criminal Justice. I also met my wife, Megan at Northwest, which is one of the most impactful and amazing relationships of my life. A few years after graduation while working I continued on to complete my Master’s in business administration at the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University.

While working towards my bachelors, I interned at Tau Kappa Epsilon, Inc., and shortly after graduation I was offered a full-time position on the Membership team working expansion. Working in day-to-day membership trained my thought process to always be member-driven. After many memories and nearly six years of incredible, measurable success, led by my mentor Kevin Mayeux, I was offered a position at a trade association, the Institute of Internal Auditors, in Orlando working in Chapter Relations. Two years there helped me truly fall in love with all non-profit work, not just fraternal. The friendships and professional experience gained there I still cherish to this day. My wife and I wanted to, at some point, move back to Kansas City, my hometown, and settle down a bit. At this time, I had been a Freemason for about 4 years, a Brother sent me a LinkedIn message on a job with DeMolay, and as they say, the rest is history.

I have spent 12 years working in both trade and Fraternal non-profit associations. I couldn’t be happier with the trajectory one internship has made in my life.

Q: When did you first become a Freemason? What made you decide to join the fraternity?

MR: I became a Freemason in 2010 but wasn’t raised a Master Mason until 2012. I was working in Indianapolis and had a few friends who, at the time, were Masters of their lodge and they sort of got me into it. I think I discovered Freemasonry the way a lot of men do: I randomly asked the question, ‘So, what is Freemasonry?’ and my friends and fellow 32° from the Valley of Indianapolis, Louis LeBlanc, helped me on my journey as my first line signer and 33° from the Valley, Tim Murphy, was my second line signer.

Q: What has surprised you the most about Freemasonry?

MR: The impact of communities across the nation. You go on a road trip, and suddenly you see how Masonry is immersed in every community, from spotting that square and compasses symbol on a lodge door or seeing an “Adopt a Highway” sign sponsored by Masons as you’re driving across the country. The impact of those buildings, and the people in those buildings, continues to astound and surprise me.

Q: What’s your favorite blue lodge or Scottish Rite degree?

MR: I keep in my iPhone notes on my degrees and I believe I only have four degrees left to complete my passport. My favorite degree is the 26° Friend and Brother Eternal. This message from Gettysburg is one of the most powerful we can display as Brothers.

One of my most memorable traveling experiences was with Brother Darrin Catts, 33°, who gave Commander David A. Glattly, 33° and I a personal tour of Gettysburg. When you show up to see the Friend to Friend monument it is really something special, and then witnessing the impact and the true story behind it in the degree gets me every time. It so beautifully shows how Brothers take care of Brothers no matter what. You’re a Brother for life.

Q: For those who aren’t familiar with Scottish Rite, NMJ’s initiative known as “The Path Forward,” how would you describe it?

MR: The Path Forward is a physical and emotional direction for Freemasonry. When working on a program of this magnitude, there is no magic bullet, but there is a direction. The Path Forward gives lodges and Grand Lodges a direction but does not give exact coordinates. The materials and resources available are there to grow the Fraternity.

The Path Forward enables us to market Freemasonry by providing better materials to bring more men into Freemasonry and continue to take care of our community. It’s a physical and emotional direction that we can continue to embark on but allow people to take their own path once we start moving in the right direction.

Q: Speaking of moving in the right direction, what can members expect from Scottish Rite, NMJ over the next few years?

MR: Continued communication. I think we do an effective job at communicating now and it’s only getting better. We must consistently communicate with our members in a positive way and I wanted to extend that beyond just the telephone. The launch of the Scottish Rite Insight newsletter and having Jim Dill, Support Services Director more solidified in his role of producing videos was kind of the first big digital thing we did at Scottish Rite. Our Thursday Night at the Rite events was the brainchild of a couple of people sitting in a room brainstorming how do we continue to connect with our members virtually in the midst of a pandemic.

The entire trajectory for our membership recruitment and retention programs has shifted as well.

Finally, looking at the financial side, we need to continue to be sure we’re being good stewards over members’ money in the right way and giving them every tool they need to be successful to grow members, to help our Brothers, and be able to make an immediate impact in their community.

Q: The age demographic you work with are mostly men aged 55 and above. As a younger man in your 30s, do you ever have conflicting opinions with older generations in the workplace? If so, how do you advance new ideas?

MR: I understand it goes back to the old adage: ‘How many Masons does it take to change a light bulb?’ And the answer is that for every Mason who changes the light bulb, there are three on the sidelines saying that’s not how lightbulbs were changed in their day.

You're going to make people angry when you change anything, but what you want to do is make sure that you're changing it for the right reasons. Some of the big initiatives we've made recently were with our dues standardization process, a huge undertaking. We have 102 Valleys who were sending out dues notices at different times, with different messaging, and it just wasn’t working. We needed to provide everyone with a good strong explanation as to why we were making this change, with logical reasoning. We needed to show that we fully researched it and devised a proper solution. Masons, and all people really, are more willing to change if they understand the reasoning and logic behind the decision. Again, that’s where transparency and communication plays a role for Masons to be more confident about change.

Q: You have a young child at home. How do you explain to her what your job is, or has she asked yet?

MR: Well, she’s only three, but when I do tell her what I do for a living, mostly I'll tell her it’s to help people. Everything comes down to the core beliefs of Freemasonry, right -- reaching out the brotherly hand of love, relief, and truth and making sure that Brothers and their families are happy and are taken care of.

Q: What has been your proudest moment thus far being a part of the Scottish Rite, NMJ?

MR: Seeing the three leaders of Scottish Rite Northern and Southern Jurisdiction and Shriners International up on stage to present to the world. Watching that plan come to fruition, really, out of a napkin drawing two and a half years ago, was incredible.

And from the charities side of things, helping with the telling of our “Three Stories” and watching that come to life. It’s those stories that continue to inspire and motivate me.

This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Northern Light. You can read the full Q&A in the August issue here.