ST. JOSEPH — When Walter Ignatovich joined the Masons in 1949, gasoline cost 17 cents a gallon, a new car could be bought for $1,400 and Harry Truman – a fellow mason – was in the White House.
“We were in good hands then,” commented Leonard Davis of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, who came to St. Joseph to present Ignatovich with his 70-year service pin.
Ignatovich, 92, a Benton Harbor native now living at The Whitcomb, received his lifetime membership in 1989, the same year that Davis joined the fraternal organization.
Davis said that in his 30 years with the Masons he had only seen one other 70-year pin issued.
“It’s a real surprise,” Ignatovich said of the gathering. “It’s an honor.” Along with his Masonic brothers from St. Lodge 437, Ignatovich was joined by his sister, Ruth Bahm, also a Whitcomb resident.
Davis also presented Ignatovich, who served in the Air Force during World War II and the Korean War, with a veterans pin.
“In my opinion you are true American heroes,” said Davis, the father of a U.S. Marine.
Ignatovich first served from early 1945 to 1948 and fought at Saipan and Okinawa.
It was during the late days of World War II that Ignatovich’s plane was sent out on a mission over Japan. It was quickly recalled when it was announced that the first atomic bomb had been dropped which, followed by a second bomb, soon ended the war.
Ignatovich was called back to active duty in 1949 and was sent to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He served for another three years through the Korean War as a mechanic and radio operator.
At the time of his second enlistment, Ignatovich had two brothers, Edward and Arthur, in the military all at the same time. In December 1950, Arthur had just enlisted in the Army for a three-year hitch, and Edward had joined the Air Force in 1948 for a three-year enlistment, including service in Korea during the war.
The local paper called them “The Three Musketeers.”
It was in Alabama that Ignatovich joined the Masons. It was also in Alabama that he met his future wife, Zula, who was an assistant to the governor at the time. They married in 1947 and had two daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She passed away in 2015, as did his brother, Edward.
When he returned to Michigan, Ignatovich worked for Whirlpool Corp. in several capacities, including as a chauffeur to one of the top executives, as well as in sales and service. He retired in 1984 after 34 years with the company.
Ignatovich said he had enjoyed becoming more educated about things over the years, in and out of the Masonic Lodge.
Also attending the ceremony was Brandon Schmidtke of St. Joseph, who at 21 has recently applied to join the Masons.
Schmidtke said he was attracted by “all of the history and principles” of the Masons and the opportunity “to make a good man better.”
Ignatovich said he’d have to give some thought to what advice he would offer a novice Mason. He did offer a prescription for a long marriage, which could be applied to any walk of life: “communication and patience.”
“Your life has been a tribute to our fraternity,” Davis said. “It’s because of brothers like you that we are still here, that we are still strong and that we are still prosperous.”
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