My path to the Shrine was not like that of most of the Shriners I talk to. You see, I did not have a relative who inspired me to join. In fact, I was the first in my family to join the Masons, much less the Shrine. I grew up a child of the fifties. My parents raised three sons on my father’s modest steel worker salary. My older brother, Wayne, and I watched as both of my parents struggled to financially care for our younger brother, Ricky. Ricky not only suffered from mental deficiencies which caused him to be retained in school and receive special academic classes, but Ricky was also born with what the doctors called a “club foot.” His foot was, in fact, turned completely around. Ricky was not able to walk at all. He had to literally be carried everywhere he went. It took countless doctor visits, procedures, and braces on his leg and foot to get Ricky able to walk on his own. My father paid for all of these visits, procedures, and braces himself. Wayne and I saw the toll this took on him. Through this bond we shared, Wayne and I became closer than most brothers are.
Even though he was five years older than me, Wayne and I were inseparable. We did everything together. You rarely saw one of us without the other. But shortly after I had turned thirteen, my family’s world was turned upside down again. Wayne was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and given only six to ten years to live. I was devastated. My older brother, the young man I looked up to, I admired, my best friend, would not be with me. Wayne started receiving treatments for his disease, and our life continued. The closeness we shared was even stronger than ever.
When I was twenty-five years old, I learned about the Masons. I noticed a group of men in my area that tried to make a difference in the community. After much research, I decided that was something I wanted to do; a group I wanted to be a part of. I petitioned and was raised a Master Mason early that year. Then it happened. I heard about an independent body of the Masons. I discovered the Shriners.
Initially, I heard the Shriners were just “the fun side of Masons,” but I later learned that they have fun with a purpose. When I heard about the Shriners Hospitals and what they specialize in, orthopedic and burn care for children, my thoughts immediately were drawn to my younger brother, Ricky. How I wish we had known about the world class care my brother could have received. I thought about the financial strain my parents would have been spared had we only known.
I was sold. I immediately joined the York Rite, and upon finishing that, I petitioned the Shrine and became a Noble in May of 1971. My best friend and brother, Wayne, saw the difference in me. He noticed how much time I was spending with my new friends, and he asked me about how he too could join. I was ecstatic! Being the younger of the two of us, it was not often that Wayne asked me for advice. For just a short time, we changed roles, and I became the mentor. Despite having Hodgkin’s disease my brother followed my path and joined the Masonic Lodge, York Rite, and then the Shrine by the end of 1971.
Wayne and I were able to spend two years enjoying everything the Shrine had to offer together before he lost his battle with his disease in July of 1973. I cannot put into words the happiness I felt during the short time that my brother and I were able to “Shrine together.” I would not take anything for those memories.
I became consumed with trying to raise money for our hospitals. That is something I continue through this day. I am lucky to be a member of Gadsden Shrine club, which has the hardest working group of men in Alabama. We lead our Temple in fundraising projects each year. You see, I have extra incentive. Not only am I raising money on my behalf, I am also raising Wayne’s portion because there is no doubt in my mind he would be beside me today doing exactly the same thing. Because during the two years we were able to share the Shrine, each dollar we raised we saw going to help a child like Ricky and a family just like ours.
Now both of my parents have passed away, and Ricky lives with me. I lost Wayne, my physical brother, and miss him each day. The fact is, when I joined the Shrine, I gained more than a thousand brothers. “Brother” is not a term I view lightly. I have men at my Shrine center that are truly brothers to me. Men that I choose to spend my time with, confide in, and share life with. The Shrine is more than a social club-- it is a Brotherhood.