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Working Together Helps Guarantee Success

shriners standing with flags behind them

To understand some things about the Jackson Hole Shrine Club, it helps to know a little of the geography and history of the United States’ least populous state.

Wyoming is the 10th largest state by area, and has the lowest population density of any state except Alaska. To the west, the terrain is rugged and mountainous, while to the east lie prairies known as the High Plains. Wyoming is known for its cowboy life, and although mining and tourists are its main industries now, animals and the outdoors remain an important part of the life and culture.

Two Shriners temples serve Wyoming: Korein, based in Rawlins, covers the area south of the 43rd parallel, while Kalif, based in Sheridan, covers areas north of that line. Located on the far west edge of the state, across the Continental Divide, Jackson is a nearly five-hour drive from Rawlins, assuming good weather, and nearly seven hours from Sheridan.

The Jackson Hole Shrine Club began in 1954, when the Kalif Potentate visited Jackson and asked local Shriners to form a club. On January 1, 1955, the Jackson Hole Shrine Club was officially founded.

shriner and lady sitting in a sleigh courtesy of the jackson hole historical society

Small Yet Mighty

A tight-knit club in a small community, the Jackson Hole Shrine Club has fewer than two dozen members. But they are proud to make an outsized impact on the world around them.

Nobles are proud of the Jackson Hole Shrine Cutter Races, which ran from 1972 through 2016. These exciting and fast horse-drawn sled races attracted locals and tourists. Noble Tom Needham said keeping the races going was a challenge because although volunteers donated their time, it was still a labor-intensive endeavor. But after a pause in racing, new partnerships brought the event back this year.

“For clubs looking to grow,” said Jackson Hole Shrine Club member Lou Scarlett, “my experience has taught me that finding the producers of events that are looking for a way to give back to the community and we Shriners giving them that opportunity, without clipping their wings or trying to control, has paid off tenfold.”

That worked with both chariot races and rodeos. “The racing association in Afton came to us,” Needham said. “They wanted to do a race for the Shriners.”

Combining the association’s safer sand-track venue that is not dependent on weather conditions, with the Shriners' community and philanthropy created a President’s Day event to remember. The first one attracted about 300 spectators, Needham said. “This year, we had 1,700 people, including some who flew in from Texas to watch!”

Another example is the rodeo. “We asked the rodeo producer to provide stock for a ranch rodeo we wanted to do,” Scarlett said. “They liked producing their own style of rodeo and made us an offer of two days of rodeo after their season, not only supplying stock, but their whole crew to put it on.”

individuals on horses at the rodeo

As many temples throughout Shrinedom are finding, partnerships are the key to success. “Shriners don't really know how to produce a rodeo or chariot race,” Scarlett said. What Shriners do know, however, is how to rally around children and support Shriners Children’s.

Being hosted by those with the expertise is what raises funds, Scarlett said. This past year, those two events raised more than $100,000 for the healthcare system.

Another partnership the club has cultivated is a Christmas tree sale with a local interior design firm. Needham said designer Melinda Shirk asked the club to help with a tree sale in honor of her sister, who was treated by Shriners Children’s for burn injuries when she was a child.

In March, the club partnered with the Jackson Hole Snow Devils for the 45th World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb. The Jackson Hole Shrine Club and the Jackson Hole Snow Devils have had a long relationship, and over the years the Snow Devils have raised nearly $1 million for the Shriners Children’s Salt Lake City location.

Changing Demographics

In Jackson, club meetings tend to be small and action-oriented, Needham said, identifying what needs to be done, who can help and who they could potentially partner with. Opportunities to wear the fez in the community include the occasional dinner in a public venue and the Fourth of July parade.

Needham, Scarlett and their friend Bob Lundy are all Legacy members. “My dad and Lou’s dad were all Shriners,” Needham remembered. “Bob’s dad signed my petition. We were all born and grew up here, and we have a vested interest in seeing the club succeed.”

For Shriners, understanding the state’s demographics is critical to serving its members and recruiting new nobles. As younger people are leaving the state to seek other opportunities, the population is growing older. Wyoming has one of the highest proportions of Baby Boomers and one of the lowest proportions of Generation X in the country.

Needham noted that not as many younger men participate in events such as the chariot races. But “younger members will carry on or create something new we haven’t even thought of yet,” he said.

shriners walking in the snow

Temple Cooperation

“The Jackson Hole Shrine Club is in our jurisdiction, but about 400 miles away and located close to our jurisdictional border,” said Kalif Past Potentate Bill Rathburn. “Many of the club members come from our sister Wyoming temple, Korein, so we have many functions that involve cooperation with both temples.”

While in the past the 43rd parallel was a solid line dividing the temples, that’s changing. “Now the temples go to a great deal of effort to support each other, and attend one another’s ceremonials,” Needham said. They also try to hold joint ceremonials, although the pandemic put that on hold for a while.

A big event for the state is the Wyoming Shrine Bowl, a North-South high school all-star football game held in centrally located Casper. The game has been played since 1974, except for an interruption due to the pandemic. Korein and Kalif Shriners sponsor the game, with proceeds benefiting Shriners Children’s.

Younger members will carry on or create something new we haven’t even thought of yet.
Tom Needham

Focus on Philanthropy

How does the small Jackson Hole Shrine Club consistently create such successful events? By keeping the focus on the inspiring patients of Shriners Children’s. The club makes an effort to include patients at every event, sharing their stories of the life-changing care they received at Shriners Children’s.

“We are really dependent on community involvement,” Needham said. “People like to come and support us. Some people at our events may have never heard of Shriners but they love to support the kids.”

Planting a Seed

Noble Tom Needham has been a Shriner since 1975. In his career as a pilot and flight instructor, he sometimes had the opportunity to share the Shriners mission. “On a 12-hour flight, you have a lot of time to talk,” he smiled. He remembers one flight in particular when he chatted with an associate about the fraternity and the philanthropy. Years later, that associate reached out with an interest in joining the fraternity. “You plant the seeds,” Needham said. “Some of them grow. They may not grow in my lifetime, but that’s not important.”