AUBURN | WoodmenLife Regional Director Rodney Barber believes his organization is "the best-kept secret."

But if the new downtown Auburn office of WoodmenLife Chapter 1025 is any indication, it won't remain so secret for much longer.

The chapter moved into the city's Plaza of the Arts building from Elbridge Sept. 27, and celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon-cutting and reception Thursday.

As regional director, Barber oversees the nonprofit, nondenominational life insurance society's chapters — and 15,000 members — in eight states: New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Connecticut. But the move from Elbridge to Auburn takes him significantly closer to home: Barber owns and operates the 10 Fitch bed-and-breakfast with his wife, Cheryl.

Barber said Woodmen had been looking for an Auburn location for about four or five years. Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner helped the chapter find the spot in Plaza of the Arts, which hosted Encore Eateries until this summer. Barber also cited Plaza of the Arts owner Dan Soules and Auburn Mayor Michael Quill as sources of support during Woodmen's transition. 

From the new location, Woodmen can more directly pursue its mission of community service. The $13B Omaha, Nebraska-based former Woodmen of the World sells life insurance and mutual funds and, as a nonprofit, gives money back to its local chapters' communities.

Thursday's ribbon-cutting, for instance, included a $500 check presentation to The Episcopal Church of SS. Peter & John's soup kitchen. The Auburn-area chapter is also helping the town of Owasco build a playground accessible to children with disabilities, Barber said.

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Ryan Carr, president of WoodmenLife Chapter 1025, said the trimming of the 15-20-minute drive to Elbridge will help the chapter's Auburn membership become "a whole lot more" involved.

That membership consists of local WoodmenLife policyholders, who can choose to make the decisions about whom they help, Carr said. The chapter has given back about $120,000 to the area in the four years he's been part of it, he said.

"The more members we have, the more money gets into the community. It's a win-win," Carr said. "And nothing's better than deciding your money's staying here in Auburn."

WoodmenLife's membership isn't exempt from the perks.

Members' children ages 8 to 15 are eligible for $150 scholarships to athletic and educational camps if they're at least five days long, Barber said. Member day trips to Darien Lake and Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George cost $15 per person. Admission to a recent Mets game also cost $15 for WoodmenLife members, and included food.

Locally, members will also take part in a big Christmas party at Welch Allyn this holiday season, Barber said.

"We're getting our name out there," he said. "They don't know who we are yet."

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.