Hometown Heroes: ‘Friendship, love, truth’ – a guiding motto for David Lent of Epsom

  • Dave Lent lives a busy but quiet life out in his Epsom home. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Lent lives a busy but quiet life out in his Epsom home. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Lent lives a busy but quiet life out in his Epsom home. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/19/2022 7:07:12 PM

He can’t speak for the Freemasons, but when it comes to the Odd Fellows, David Lent of Epsom promises that there’s no clandestine, nefarious message hiding somewhere in United States currency.

The director of Camp NEOFA (North East Odd Fellows Association) has spent nearly 30 years immersed in the Odd Fellows community, tirelessly promoting the annual summer camp and spreading the altruistic ideas that the Odd Fellows have represented for 200 years.

According to historical documentation, its core belief is “friendship, love, truth.”

“Back in the day it was to help widows and orphans,” said Lent, who’s 68. “We would educate them and bury indigent people and bring relief to the distressed.”

Its reputation as a secretive organization with something to hide has subsided through the years, mirroring the reaction that the Masons have sometimes received since the 18th century.

“There are only a few things that are secret, the signs and passwords,” Lent said. “But you can find the whole thing on the internet and find our rituals and all the words. We’re not secret about anything. It’s a secret society only because nobody knows anything about us.”

The Odd Fellows umbrella covers assisted living facilities, nursing homes and retirement homes. Camp NEOFA, however, doesn’t receive the same kind of funding as residence care does, meaning Lent annually struggles to lure campers and donations to keep the camp afloat.

It’s why Epsom resident Kevin McCarthy nominated Lent for Hometown Hero recognition, noting that his work at the camp, unmatched by anyone, is done on a volunteer basis.

“Dave has been incredibly generous with his time as a member of the Odd Fellows,” McCarthy wrote in an email to the Monitor. “He has worked tirelessly to assure that Camp NEOFA in Maine is open for hundreds of underprivileged children and teens every summer. He does everything from organizing, fundraising, camp maintenance and any other thankless task that needs to be done.”

The camp opened in 1957 in Montville, Maine, after the Northeast Chapter of the Odd Fellows bought a damn in the area from the town for $1 and agreed to maintain it. That gave Camp NEOFA control of a swimming pond, and $225,000 was raised to hire engineering and construction companies to build it.

Lent, who is president of the board of trustees at Presidential Oaks, a nonprofit retirement community, began volunteering to work at the Odd Fellows camp in the 1990s. He controlled all facets of the camp and its upkeep once he retired from AIG Insurance in 2007, simply because he was the lone individual willing to make a full-time commitment.

There are 12 cabins, each with the capacity to house eight campers and two counselors. There’s no electricity in the cabins, so flashlights are used.

The camp features a waterfront, kayaking, canoeing, arts and crafts, archery, nature trails, kickball and soccer. Lent said government grants have helped fund the camp, along with private donations. Always recruiting, he said the $400 weekly price tag is far lower than the cost of most other summer camps.

“The cheapest around,” Lent said. “No fancy stuff like the YMCA.”

The camp begins on July 3 and runs for four weeks. Lent says openings remain, for both campers and counselors.

Meanwhile, his volunteer work begins each summer about six weeks before camp opens, and Lent will leave for the summer program for good on June 26.

He’ll train counselors on safety and professionalism, fix drains in the showers and fix toilets. He’ll attend to frozen valves, water leaks, mice and squirrels, fallen branches and carpentry work.

At no charge, of course.

“Where ever I am needed,” Lent said. “That’s what I do.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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