Spending a weekend with Shriners is enjoyable and inspiring.
That was my experience, after driving 900 miles in a mini-van from Ohio to Minnesota with my older brother and sister.
The final 450 miles went smoothly. My nephew Ed and his wife, Mary, joined us in DeKalb, Ill., dropping the average age of the mini-van travelers. No longer were we an exclusively senior citizen tour group.
As the five of us drove north out of Illinois, we noticed the fields and lawns along the highways became greener, first in Wisconsin and then in Minnesota. Later I learned that Minnesota and Wisconsin had received considerably more rain this summer than had Midwestern states farther south.
In fact, the day before we arrived in Mendota Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, a strong line of showers had passed through and doused the area, followed by a cool front. Our Minnesota weekend weather turned out ideal, highs around 80 with cool breezes.
We came to Mendota Heights to honor the 2012 potentate of the Osman Shrine, a district covering roughly the eastern half of Minnesota.
Shriners call districts "shrines," and each shrine director "potentate." Every shrine's name has a Middle Eastern derivation. The other Minnesota shrines, for example, are Zuhrah and Aad.
This year's potentate of the Osman Shrine is Frank Spevak III, my nephew.
The extended Spevak family traveled to Minnesota not only to celebrate the accomplishments of Frank (we call him Bud) but also to have a mini family reunion. The travelers consisted of Bud's father Frank, brother Ed, sister-in-law Mary, aunt Joan and uncle John.
Ed and Mary came from St Louis, Frank and Joan from Ohio, and I came from California. During the weekend we reunited with Bud's family: his wife, Joan; daughters Kate and Mari and son Frank IV; and aunt Evelyn. Our last time together was in January 2010.
The highlight of the weekend was a Saturday evening gala for Potentate Frank and his wife (Lady Joan), including dinner and dancing in the new Osman Shrine building, which had been completed this year, a new two-story building ideal for receptions.
The extended family also attended an informal gathering of Shriners on Friday night and a ceremony inducting new persons into the Shrine on Saturday morning. During this time, I learned a lot about the Shriners, especially the Osman Shrine and its potentate.
The Osman Shrine, like the other 190 shrines in North America, is very active. Osman Shriners participate in many parades around the state, and they sponsor a circus every year in St. Paul.
For parades, a group of Shriners usually ride on different types of motorized vehicles, from large motorcycles to "Mighty Mites," tiny cars that Shriners don't really sit in but sit on. Wearing their fezzes and driving their cycles and mini-cars in patterns, they are fun to watch.
The annual circus, which is their main fundraiser, requires many hours of work from many members. It includes elephants, tigers, clowns and the rest of a typical circus entourage. Bud was the director of the St. Paul Circus last year.
All of the fun and work serve an overriding purpose: raising money to help support the 22 Shriners children's hospitals in North America, including one in nearby Minneapolis.
In talking with Bud, I discovered that becoming a potentate requires a 10-year commitment of Shriner apprenticeship. Bud served in nine other increasingly responsible positions for nine years.
During 2012, his year as potentate, Bud will put in more than 500 hours of Shriner work. Many other Osman Shriners also volunteer hundreds of hours.
Members thoroughly enjoy all the hours they invest in the Shriners cause -- because they work together as a team and have fun along the way. I experienced the Shriners' spirit in their congeniality and laughter during the weekend.
All five of the visiting Spevaks agreed that their trip to Minnesota was worth it. We were able to tell Bud how much we appreciate him, not only as a Shriner but as a person. We learned a lot, and we had one heck of a good time.
Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.