MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You see them everywhere during summer parades — Shriners.
They’re recognizable by the fezzes they wear on their heads and the little cars they drive.
They were at it again Tuesday night in downtown Minneapolis with the International Shriners Parade.
But even with 300,000 members in seven countries, not everyone knows what the Shriners are really about.
“Being a Shriner is the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” said Jerry Oliver. “My son is a Shriner too and I’m very proud of him.”
Oliver is the director general of the 2014 Imperial Shrine Session, also known as the five-day Shriner Convention in downtown Minneapolis.
“Back in 1872 in New York City is when it got started,” he said. “A couple of guys who were Masons wanted to find something they could do that involved family and was fun.”
Oliver said for 50 years the shrine just kind of existed without a purpose.
Then in 1922 that changed.
“In 1922 in our Imperial Shrine Session, we decided we were going to help kids,” Oliver said.
At the time, polio was running rampant, so the shrine built the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, known today as Shriners Hospitals for Children. There are now 22 such hospitals in the world, and they treat children for cleft pallet, burns, spinal injuries, and more.
Dr. Walter Fleming and William Florence are credited with starting the Shrine. Oliver said Florence, an actor, was once in a play with a Middle Eastern theme. He became intrigued by the culture and he’s credited for putting the scimitar and the crescent on the fezzes.
The go-carts you see in parades are another story. They are designed for tricks not speed, with an ultimate goal of keeping kids entertained.
“We ride to help kids,” Oliver said. “We march to help kids. That’s what we’re about. It’s about them.”
Oliver said you have to become a Mason first in order to become a Shriner.
He said becoming a Mason involves a secret initiation.
But you just take a pledge to become a Shriner.
Oliver said Shriners raise money through endowments, wills, and gifts. Two Canadian auxiliary groups donated a combined $2 million during the convention this week.
There are a lot of famous Shriners, including Kenny Chesney, John Wayne and Charlton Heston.
They even have their own language.
A potentate is the CEO or president of a Shriner chapter. A chief rabban is similar to a vice president.
The Shriners are also the organizers of the Shrine Circus and the annual East-West Shrine game, which features some of the top college football players in the country.