GRAFTON, Mass. - If you get the chance to meet Henry Rand, be sure to thank him. Odds are, in his long history of community service, he's touched your life in one way or another.
Rand, whose friends know him as Hank, has lived in North Grafton nearly his entire life, and he has never let life get in the way of what he believes is his true purpose: giving back to children and the community.
"You know, you can't let grass grow under your feet. If you're going to be there, you might as well do something," said Rand at his home in North Grafton.
His awards, medals, certificates and honors for dedication, service and loyalty are too many to count, and the stories that accompany them are too long and numerous for this space.
As we spoke, his awards were spread out over his dining room table in the house in which he lives alone. His son, Wesley, was killed at 15 in an auto accident on Brigham Hill Road. Six years ago, Rand lost his wife, Alice, of 48 years after a long battle with emphysema. She had already overcome pancreatic and ovarian cancer, with her husband by her side every step of the way.
Rand speaks as a man who has come to terms with mortality, having been confronted with it a number of times in his life. It's not something he dwells on, however, and that is because he's a man who is truly content with how he has spend his hours, his days, and his years. Instead, Rand focuses his energies on turning every bump in the road into a positive for someone else.
"You either live or you die," he said. "You either crawl under a bush or something, or you continue to give back to the community. I figured I might as well be productive. It helps me a lot to stay active."
Back in December, Rand received the Scottish Rite Sovereign Grand Commander’s Distinguished Service Medal, presented to him by John William McNaughton, 33rd-degree Sovereign Grand Commander for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America at a ceremony held at the Masonic Center in Worcester.
The award is given at the discretion of the Sovereign Grand Commander and is bestowed upon a deserving Masonic or Scottish Rite brother whom he considers to have rendered “outstanding, distinguished and exemplary service to the Masonic fraternity at large.” Rand is only the third person from Massachusetts to receive the medal.
Rand’s affection for the Masonic Organization began when he joined DeMolay in 1944, when he was just 14 years old. His older brother and cousin were already members of DeMolay, and his parents thought it would be good for him as well.
Almost 68 years later, Rand has never stopped serving others. Over the years he has been actively involved in the Scottish Rite, Melha Temple Shrine and Worcester Country Shrine Club.
He is also very active now with the YMCA of Central Mass, where he has been named volunteer of the year, and also does aerobics and free weights to stay in shape, something he's managed rather well at his advanced age.
A former expert rifleman in the United States Marine Corps, Rand even completed the Marine Corps Marathon at the age of 63, his first ever marathon.
The Scottish Rite Masons devote a substantial amount of time and resources toward helping and supporting children with dyslexia, a cause that Rand has been at the head of for more than a decade in his efforts to aid children with different disabilities.
In 2000 Rand helped establish the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Central Massachusetts. He served on their board of governors from 2001 through 2011 and held the role of chairman of the board from 2007 through 2011. Throughout the years the center has honored 126 children for their accomplishments.
Those children are the reason Rand stays involved. He's happy to show off his medals and share the stories behind them, but it's because he knows the real reward has already been given in bettering to many kids' lives.
"These are all nice," Rand said, waving his hand over the awards that commemorate so much of his life. "But the man I want to please is upstairs. That's where I hope to go some day. "It's nice to be recognized, but I don't do it for the medals and the honors and everything. I just do it because I enjoy it. It's part of my blood."
And that blood is still pumping with the energy of someone one quarter Rand's age. His zeal for life is something someone even this writer's age could envy.
Rand is still active with both the Masons and the YMCA. He's also got a girlfiend in Walpole who he takes out for dinner every Friday. At nearly 82, he's never regretted what's gone wrong in his life. He simply looks ahead and wonders what else he can do to make the lives of those around him better.
"Sometimes it's a good thing that we don't know what's in front of us," he said. "When it's all done, and they plant me out in Oxford next to my wife and son, at least I will know that I did the best I could. I think it keeps you young."