A little over 22 years ago, as I pulled off the Highway an Old Shriner stood to the side with his bucket in hand. Reaching into my pocket, I passed a handful of change to my young son, Owen, in the back seat and told him to place it in the man's bucket when he held it out. My son did so with great curiosity and asked, "Dad, why did I give that man that money?" My son was only four years old at the time, so in a humorous way I said, "Son, didn't you notice that man's hat had no bill on the front to keep the sun out of his eyes? Well, he's saving up for a new hat."
As time passed, we came across the Old Shriner many, many times and we went through the same ritual. Then one day my son piped up and loudly exclaimed "DAD!! How much do hats cost?...He is still wearing that same old hat." I had almost forgotten teasing my son the first time we passed the Old Shriner. So I explained the true story - that he was collecting to help little kids like you who had been born less fortunate, who had physical problems or who might have been in an accident. My son liked that idea better than that old hat story.
For years we saw the Old Shriner and learned his name was Clif. We always threw Clif all of our change and he always had a huge smile and 'Thank You' in return. To this day my (now) 25- year-old son remembers about 'The Hat' and will never forget Clif.
We watched Clif out there in all kinds of weather, steadfast at his post. His smile and dedication was one of the driving forces that drew me into Freemasonry. I knew you had to be a Freemason to be a Shriner so I asked Clif one day how do I become a Mason? Clif, not knowing me at all, but knowing I had asked a very important question, told me to ask everyone I knew until I found a Masonic friend. "They would set me straight." So my journey began! Shortly into my journey I asked an old retired Lt. Col. named Dutch who was a very close friend for years and he lit up and smiled...He told me that he had waited years to hear me ask that question. I was on my way!!
After being raised in the Blue Lodge, I joined the Scottish Rite, and as soon as possible became a Shriner. Much time had passed and time had not been kind to old Clif. His health was failing and his trips to 'Clif's Corner' were shorter and less frequent. Even in ill health he would be there with bucket in hand, with a huge smile, and a USMC T-shirt. He was an old Marine and very proud of his service. As Clif's end drew near, he was seen on 'Clif's Corner' wearing a mask with an oxygen tank by his side. This man's dedication was awe inspiring.
Clif died this past year. In my little town, Clif was an icon. Everyone loved his smiling face. He is truly missed. He set a standard that as a Shriner will be hard to live up to.
'Clif's Corner' is now MY home. I'm there every chance I get. I love this place. I love the stories of those who throw into my bucket about how and who in their family we have helped. I thank the man who inspired me to be here and thank the Good Lord for every day I'm allowed to be out there on 'Clif's Corner.' Just about every day I'm out there with my bucket in hand someone will pull up and say, "Where's that Old Marine?" I sadly tell them he is gone and they are always very sad to hear this, but in the same breath they almost always say how glad they are to see a Shriner there in his place. Last year I was a Platinum Aide with donations collected at 'Clif's Corner.' The good people of my little town remember Clif well and are very generous to our cause. God is Good!!! Thank God for Old Marines!! Thank God for one that changed my life!!
Now my son Owen is 25 years old, grown, and on his own. These days Owen gets to ride by and see his own old dad walking with a bucket, wearing that 'Hat' with no bill to keep the sun out of his eyes!!!