Shriners from across East Texas gathered Saturday to walk down memory lane in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sharon Shrine Temple on Texas Highway 31 East in Tyler.
The Sharon Shrine was chartered in July 1963, culminating a yearlong effort to earn a charter.
Approximately 1,300 members attend monthly meetings for business and pleasure.
Members come from a wide area, stretching from Atlanta to Hemphill, the Texas-Louisiana border to Gun Barrel City and from Mount Pleasant to Lindale.
The anniversary celebration was a come-and-go affair with cake, punch and ice cream. Attendees could walk around and look at displayed memorabilia including pictures, newspaper articles, programs and trophies.
“All the units and clubs could come in and see the history of Sharon Shrine and what we do,” Joe Youngblood, potentate, said. “We’ve come a long ways.”
Shriners are known to have a good time, but they also work hard at raising money to support Shriners hospitals, Youngblood said. It takes approximately $2 million a day to run the hospitals, he added.
Before Sharon Shrine was organized in Tyler, Shriners in the area would travel 135 miles to attend Shriner meetings in Waco, recalled Gerald Emmons, public relations director.
“Our first potentate was Dr. Harry Jenkins, of Tyler Junior College,” Emmons said, followed by William Nennney, Peppy Blount and Eugene Oliver.
The Shriners International was organized in New York City in 1872. When a typhoid epidemic hit the south in the 1920s, Shriners from New York raised money and built the first Shriners hospital in Shreveport, La., in 1922, Emmons said.
Today, there are a total of 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across the country including a burn institute in Galveston and an orthopedic hospital in Shreveport, Emmons said.
“Everything (for patients) is free. We even furnish a building for their family to stay in while their child is in the hospital, and we furnish transportation to and from the hospital,” Emmons said.
Shrine hospitals have helped more than 1 million crippled and sick children worldwide, officials estimate. The hospitals treat children from 18 months old through age 17, Emmons said.
According to Joe Barron, assistant rabban, the members come from all walks of life including businessmen, blue-collar workers, professionals and retirees.
Sharon Shrine Temple members wearing a distinctive red hat called a fez stand on street corners to receive donations and conduct fund-raising events to provide care for hospitalized children.
They also raise money to fund operation of the Sharon Shrine Temple building. They recently took the Shrine circus to Tyler, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Carthage, Henderson and Longview as a fund-raising event.
But Shriners also are “like a bunch of little kids,” Emmons said. “We party, we ride little jeeps, motorcycles and have a horse patrol, and some dress as clowns.”
Just like high-schoolers competing in athletic events, Emmons said, Shriners from the 13 temples in Texas and the Texas Shriner Association compete in their jeeps, horse patrol and other events. Then Shriners compete against the 191 temples in the U.S. and the International Shrine Association, Emmons said.
Staff Writer Adam Russell contributed to this report.