Local man is honored Shriner
WORTHINGTON -- People may recognize them as sponsors of the Big Top tent filled with lions, tigers and elephants each July at the Nobles County Fairgrounds, but most know them only as drivers of the roaring motorcycles that perform figure-eights down 10th Street in the King Turkey Day parade.
The Worthington Area Shrine Club, on the heels of its 50th anniversary in 2005, is celebrating once again after one of its members was honored as the El Riad Shrine's Noble of the Year.
Gary Stewart, of Worthington, received the honor during a Jan. 11 meeting at the El Riad Shrine Temple in Sioux Falls, S.D. Stewart has been a Shriner since 1993, and is in his third year as the local club's secretary-treasurer.
Stewart was nominated for the top honor by Rick Cobb, former president of the Worthington Area Shrine Club.
"We had a lot of stuff that needed to be done (last) year with the circus," said Cobb. "(Gary) put together a 50th anniversary celebration by himself. He's just been real good about stepping up and helping, not only with the Shrine Club, but with the Cycle Patrol and the Masonic Lodge."
Cobb said Stewart is a "strong ambassador" for the Shriners organization, and well-deserving of the Shrine's Noble of the Year award. The honor is one of two presented among the 41 units and more than 2,000 Shriners that comprise the El Riad Shrine Temple in Sioux Falls.
Stewart was completely surprised by the honor, even though his wife and all of his fellow Shriners knew about the award in advance of the ceremony.
"It means a lot," said Stewart of the trophy perched atop his computer desk at home. "This is from a group of people I've looked up to all my life."
Stewart recalled the years he attended the Shrine Circus as a child growing up in Sioux Falls, and said as an adult, he oftened wondered how to become involved in the organization. Having been a Shrine member for a dozen years, he said it's been a great experience.
"It's fantastic -- the pride that you have knowing not only what you can do but what your whole unit can do," said Stewart. "We not only do for the kids -- there's so much we do for the community. We want to help out everybody."
Shriners, according to Stewart, are a brotherhood of men dedicated to fun and fellowship, as well as all children with birth defects or suffering from burns. Through their annual Shrine Circus, the fraternity raises money to help fund 22 children's hospitals across the country. Those hospitals provide free treatment and transportation for children in need.
Stewart said his greatest satisfaction as a Shriner is to see a parent or child who has benefitted from the Shrine Hospital -- or had a great experience at the circus -- come up to him and say "thank you."
To become a Shriner, men must first become a Freemason. In Worthington, Fraternal Lodge 101 operates a scholarship fund and awards a scholarship each year to a high school senior planning to attend college. Stewart remains a member of the Freemasons, now serving as Junior Warden of the local lodge.
Stewart's participation in the Shriners began in Sioux Falls in the Legion of Honor, a unit whose only requirement was that its members be veterans. He later left that unit to join a Fife and Drum unit, in which he played the snare drum. After moving to Worthington eight years ago, he joined the local cycle patrol.
"I do have a tendency to fall off my motorcycle -- little and big," he added with a laugh.