Father, sons serve as Master Masons for three consecutive years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SALISBURY — The Hagers are forging a legacy connected to machines and Masons.
Tony Hager Sr. and Tony Jr. are the men behind Hager’s Garage, a longtime business off Cauble Road that specializes in heavy trucks. Heath Hager, Tony Sr.’s other son, has run his own landscaping business since 1997.
So that’s the machine part of it.
But the Hager men also have built an incredible foundation of leadership as Masons. For three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009, each of the Hagers served as master of Andrew Jackson Masonic Lodge No. 576 in Salisbury.
It was Tony Jr. in 2007, Heath in 2008 and Tony Sr. in 2009.
“I know of no precedent,” says Charlie Peacock, a fellow Mason.
Ric Carter, editor of The North Carolina Mason magazine, says it’s not so rare for two or three generations of a family to be masters of the same Masonic lodge, but it is unusual for three members of the same family to be lodge masters in three consecutive years.
“That’s the kind of thing (story) I would run,” says Carter, based at the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina in Raleigh.
Becoming master at the Andrew Jackson Lodge is a seven-year process. the Mason has to serve in the positions of junior and senior steward, junior and senior deacon and junior and senior warden. That’s on top of successfully completing the three symbolic degrees of Freemasonry.
It also was unusual for the Hagers that the sons, Tony Jr. and Heath, started the leadership journey before their father, who has been a Mason since 1973. Tony Sr. says he delayed even thinking about becoming master for years because of his work schedule and heavy involvement in the Franklin Fire Department and Rowan Shrine Club.
He was in his 50s when he decided he was going to go through the various chairs toward being a master with his sons.
In those three consecutive years a Hager presided over the lodge, “people were calling it ‘Hager’s Lodge,’” Tony Sr. laughs.
When Tony Jr. was master in 2007, his senior warden was Heath; his junior warden, Tony Sr. They filled the top three leadership positions in the lodge.
Rowan County has Masonic lodges in Spencer, Rockwell, Cleveland, China Grove and two in Salisbury. Together, they take in more than 1,000 members. There are three notable public events connected to the local Masons: the annual Brunswick stews and barbecues in Salisbury and the yearly fish fry at the Rowan Shrine Club.
Much of the Masons’ charitable work goes toward supporting children’s homes and retirement homes.
Freemasonry is considered the oldest and largest fraternity. It has always carried a flavor of secrecy, but Masons emphasize they are not part of a secret society. It does, however, have some secrets it tries to preserve.
Members don’t try to hide their membership in Masonry. Tony Sr. proudly wears his Masonic ring, for example, when he’s not at the garage.
“A mechanic and a ring don’t work,” he explains.
Freemasonry’s history, teachings, rules and regulations are available, and its meetings are often advertised. The secretive things Masons try to preserve generally involve “modes of recognition” among members and the mode of instructing new members in the fraternity’s three symbolic degrees.
Freemasonry is religious in nature, requiring members to believe in a supreme being. The organization says it accepts men from every religious faith.
The Hagers say a misconception is that Masons solicit new members. That never happens. A man must seek out a Mason and ask to become a member of his own free will.
To a man, the Hagers say they like being Masons for the fraternity’s traditions and its charitable work. As past masters, they have been heavily involved with the Brunswick stew events, and they often are called into meetings to fill chairs of any officers who are absent.
Tony Jr. now runs the Cauble Road garage, which Tony Sr. established in 1978. The 62-year-old father “retired” about a year-and-a-half ago, but he’s at the garage almost every day. On this particular afternoon, he’s outside, working on a generator.
“I always liked doodling with this stuff,” Tony Sr. says. “… I try — you know what I mean. A lot of people like my work.”
After high school, Tony Sr. worked in the garage at Foil Motor Co. before starting a 20-year career as a brakeman for Southern Railway, first in the Spencer Yard, then at Linwood.
While working with the railroad, he also had a shop and worked on vehicles behind his father-in-law Jim Shoaf’s place, the Wagon Wheel on U.S. 601.
In 1987, after 20 years with the railroad, he went to working on trucks full time at the Cauble Road garage.
Hager’s Garage takes care of several local truck fleets, such as the Budweiser distributor, Orrell’s Food Service, Transit Damage Freight, Salisbury Millwork and Goodman Lumber. Hager also has worked on the Franklin fire trucks.
“I tell you,” Tony Sr. says, “the best thing to do was to specialize in one truck.”
The Hagers’ expertise lies especially with International trucks.
They also have found a nice side business in stripping down International trucks and selling the parts. Other mechanics know to call Hager’s Garage if they’re scratching their heads over a particular International problem in their shops.
“Most of the problems we have been around,” Tony Sr. says.
But he adds a disclaimer about the truck-repair business overall. It can be humbling.
“I would never, ever hire someone who says they know everything about a truck,” Tony Sr. declares. “That will come back to bite you.”
A couple of years ago, the Hagers bought Salisbury Auto Truck Electric off Julian Road and moved that business to their site.
The garage employs three people besides Tony Jr., who is 44.
“Heath knows it, but he doesn’t want to mess with it,” Tony Sr. says, adding that probably makes Heath the smart one in the family.
On this day, Heath, 41, is working on one of his mowers next to where Tony Sr. is tearing apart the portable generator.
Both Tony Jr. and Heath attended North Rowan High.
Tony Jr. worked a few years with McKenzie Taxidermy, then tried landscaping before returning to the garage about 15 years ago.
The boys grew up around the shop, of course. Before leaving in the morning for his first-shift job in the rail yard, Tony Sr. could tell his young sons to pull out a truck’s motor before he got home.
“There ain’t but one way to do it — just go in there and do it,” Tony Sr. says. “Colleges don’t teach common sense.”
All three Hagers have built homes on a beautiful piece of land off Potneck Road. In “retirement,” Tony Sr. actually has gone to the beach on a vacation. Only the grandchildren made it tolerable not to be back home, working on something, he says.
He and Kay, his wife of 45 years, also have taken their motor home to Michigan, to visit the first guy who ever worked for Tony Sr. at the garage.
Still, Tony Sr. likes to get to the garage about 6:30 a.m. and open things up. After that, he “piddles” and says he isn’t going to quit, though maybe he has slowed down.
“It’s better now that he did retire,” Tony Jr. says. “It was almost intolerable before.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.