Shriners work to build up membership, continue good works
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John Kelleher Havre Daily News [email protected]
Several years ago, Bob Brandon found himself pressed for time. Work, family and community activities were all taking their toll. He wondered if he would be able to continue his longtime participation in the Shriners. Maybe he would have to drop that activity. Then he took a trip to Spokane, Wash., to see first-hand the work done at the Shriners Hospital for Children. He saw young people with serious injuries having a good time while being treated by expert professionals who gave their all. He saw a dedicated staff. He saw the Spokane community volunteering to help the young patients and their parents cope. He knew then that he would have to continue his work with the Shriners. “I saw what they did there. That's what got me going,” he recalled. Forty-six dues-paying Shriners in Havre give it their all, as they work in a variety of community programs and fundraising activities to pay for the Shriners' good works. If you talk to Shriners you can see the pain in their faces when they talk about the possibility that some of the hospitals may close. The economic downturn has made it more difficult to break even, and the Shriners took a look at the possibility of shutting some of the hospitals. They've seen children have their faces rebuilt and their spines rehabilitated. This year at the East-West Montana Shrine football game an event sponsored by the Shriners to raise funds for the hospitals they saw a cheerleader who has undergone years of treatment at the Spokane hospital. The Shriners voted down that idea of closing some hospitals, but they know a lot of work is ahead of them if they hope to keep them open in the long run. Several youngsters who have been served by the Spokane hospital are from Havre, and the local Shriners have gotten to know and love them, as they helped raise money to get transportation and lodging costs for patients and their parents. They get teary-eyed as they talk about seeing the near-miraculous recovery of some of the patients. Kevin Tweeten recalled seeing the services provided to children at the Spokane hospital. “Everything is top of the line,” he said. “And they like to have patients go home on weekends.” Children who may have thought they had no chance in life receive the gift of hope at the hospitals, he said. “If that doesn't tug at your heart And it is so colorful,” he said. “It is the happiest hospital in the world. “It cost nearly $2 million a day to keep the hospital open,” he added. The Shriners take pride in taking their work seriously while having a good time doing it. They are active in community programs. For many years, they have driven small cars in formations at parades and other community events. The members formed a band to entertain people. They are now refurbishing a 1950s ambulance that they will display in parades starting later this year. They hold beef raffles, sell onions and sponsor a pancake breakfast on clean-up days in Havre. “Their thing about joining the Shriners is that you have fun while you are helping the kids,” said Hank Tweeten. But members of the Havre organization have concerns about the future. Like many service organizations, they are having a hard time attracting younger members. They joke that when Hank's son, Kevin, became a Shriner, “it brought the average age down to 71.” That's an exaggeration, but they see their membership declining and the average age rising. And they want to share the excitement of being a Shriner with younger generations. So they are encouraging young people to take a look at what their organization does. There are some mi s c o n - ceptions, they feel, including that people can just walk in and sign up to participate. To be a Shriner, you first have to be a Mason. There is no religious or ethnic discrimination in the groups, said Noel Davidson, a veteran Shriner. “It's all fine fellowship for a good cause,” Hank Tweeten said.