The Shriners organization has come a long way since its founding in 1872, and one example of the organization's success is located in the Avenues area of Salt Lake City, the Shriners' Children Hospital.
The hospital is one of 22 operated by the Shriners. The Salt Lake hospital and 18 others are devoted to orthopedic medicine. Three others are world-class burn centers. All serve children without regard to race, religion or ability to pay.The Salt Lake hospital is sponsored by the El Kalah Temple, which is celebrating its 100th birthday in 1992. John W. Dean III, Deputy Imperial Potentate for the Shriners, was in Salt Lake City on Saturday to help celebrate the Temple's Centennial.
"This has been an active temple over the years, and we are proud of the members," Dean said. "They have done a good job of supporting our hospital."
Dean said the biggest challenge facing the Shriners is one of image. Born in 1872 as an organization devoted primarily to fun and entertainment, Shriners developed a reputation noted mainly for hard drinking and partying. Formed as an adjunct to Free Masonry, the 13 original organizers saw it as an opportunity to provide masons some relief from the stiff and ritualistic
side of Free Masonry.
And, Dean noted, the familiar red Fez hats and Middle Eastern attire, have also affected public perceptions. Dean said the attire was used simply because one of the organizers, a medical doctor, had recently returned from the Middle East and suggested its use. Leadership titles were also derived from Middle Eastern culture.
The organization's popularity was immediate. Within 10 years, more than a dozen shrine temples were operating along the East and West coasts of the United States. Many more were springing up in the country's mid-section.
By the turn of the century, though, many members were becoming concerned at the organization's image. Leaders sought a way to change that image. One suggestion was creation of a children's hospital. The proposal was defeated the first time it was voted on but won passage the following year. In 1922, the first hospital opened in Shreeveport, La.
Dean said the polio epidemic then sweeping the United States was the hospital's initial focus. Over time, emphasis has evolved to orthopedic medicine and burn treatment.
This year, the 22 hospitals will spend $306 million to treat the growing numbers of children in need. Of that amount, $21 million will go to research.
"We operate entirely without federal, state or local government assistance," Dean said. "We are entirely supported by the fund-raising efforts of our members. No one (under age 18) is denied treatment."
While most people are familiar with Shriner groups riding miniature cars and trucks or marching in parades, few people realize the involvement Shrine members have in supporting the hospital operation.
"The local temple (El Kalah) recently spent $8,000 to fly a burn patient down to our burn hospital in Galveston. They paid for the air ambulance and are paying for the mother to stay down there and be with the baby."
The child was burned by hot grease accidentally spilled as the parents tried to douse a kitchen fire in their Clearfield mobile home.