Brother Colonel Christopher Van Deventer was born in Clinton, IA, on 1 July 1874. He grew up in Tennessee and was educated at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan, achieving a Masters Degree in Engineering. He worked as an engineer at Stanley Electric Company, the predecessor of General Electric Corp. where he pioneered hydroelectric power on the Tennessee waterways and worked to bring high-tension electricity to San Francisco. In 1906, he established the Van Deventer engineering consulting firm in Chicago. During WWI, he was Director of Operations and Personnel for the Chief of Engineers in the American Expeditionary Forces in France, where he attended the meeting which organized the American Legion and later founded the Castle Post of the American Legion in Chicago. During the war, he earned the Purple Heart (USA) and the officier d’Academie (France). Brother Van Deventer was President of the Adventurers Club, leading Federal and State participation for the 1933-34 World’s Fair. He was also President of the Chicago Post of American Military Engineers, and was a Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago) representative.
Brother Van Deventer was raised as a Master Mason in 1905 in Woodlawn Park Lodge #789 (Illinois). He was a member of La Fayette Chapter #2, Royal Arch Masons; Palestine Council #66, Royal & Select Masons; and Apollo Commandery #1, Knights Templar, being Eminent Commander in 1912. He was coronetted as a Scottish Rite 33° Inspector General Honorary in 1912; was Most Wise Master of Gourgas Chapter, Rose Croix, in 1920; Minister of State and Orator, Oriental Consistory, in 1927; and Grand Sovereign, Red Cross of Constantine in 1927. He was Chief Rabban of Medinah Temple during WWI, and was installed as Illustrious Potentate in 1920 on his return.
Brother Christopher Van Deventer, was President of Chicago Chapter, National Sojourners, in 1922-23. At the National level, he was National 1st Vice President (1924-27), the Father of the Heroes of ’76 (1922-26), elected National Commander (1926-30), and elected National Commander Emeritus (1930-64). He was undoubtedly the most important person in the history of the Heroes of ‘76 and one of the most important in the history of National Sojourners. Although many hands and minds are associated with Heroes of ’76 development, Brother Van Deventer’s contributions and efforts far exceed those of anyone else. Without him, the degree would never have come to National Sojourners, and would not have achieved the importance in Freemasonry and in National Sojourners that it has.
In 1922, Brother Van Deventer realized that the Heroes of ’76 Degree, a one-man show for the previous 50 years, might provide the “shot-in-the-arm” that National Sojourners sorely needed. Brother Van Deventer coined the term “Camp,” and organized the first Camp (Bon Homme Richard) in Chicago Chapter in 1922. In 1923, he and several Heroes from Chicago organized George Washington Camp in Washington Chapter #3. Camps were subsequently formed in most Chapters of National Sojourners.
Brother Van Deventer’s belief that Heroes of ‘76 would stimulate Sojourners has proven true well beyond his vision. He instituted a military organizational structure, gave the officers military titles, and called meetings “bivouacs,” and candidates “recruits,” who were “mustered in,” vice initiated. Instead of one man conferring the degree on a class of recruits, a group of men conferred the degree upon one recruit. Brother Van Deventer carefully retained the original degree as he received it and became the driving force behind forming a National Heroes of ’76 organization, similar to National Sojourners, to preserve the original degree and its landmarks.
Brother Christopher Van Deventer died on 23 February 1964 at Rockford, Tennessee and he is buried in the family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee at Old Gray Cemetery. The March-April 1964 issue of The Sojourner reported, “Colonel Van Deventer was, without question, one of the greatest men, Masons, and Sojourners who ever lived. His kindliness and wise counsel served well in the early days of the organization of National Sojourners, and his gift of the Heroes of ‘76 did much to expand its membership.” To honor Brother Van Deventer for his hard work and contribution to both National Sojourners and the Heroes of ‘76, in 1963, he became the second recipient of the National Sojourners Legion of Honor Medal, the highest honor bestowed upon members of National Sojourners. The Van Deventer Award, the highest honor bestowed upon members of the Heroes of ’76, is named in tribute to Brother Colonel Christopher Van Deventer.