Austin Area Shrine Club continues to lend a hand

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow can keep the Shriners from their duties.

At least, not for the last 40 years.

The Austin Area Shrine Club and Osman Temple Oriental Band again continued the tradition for The Salvation Army Austin Corps annual Christmas appeal, by ringing bells to announce the season of giving and otherwise do whatever was necessary to help the Austin Corps help others at Christmas time.

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It all began in 1962 on the Mower County Courthouse lawn. Frank King was there.

"Oh, brother, it was a cold one that day, but we all made it because we wanted to help and believed in what we were doing," said King, now 85 years old.

King is a charter member.

He was there for the first Shriner bell ringing kickoff and the latest in late November.

The money raised will help buy gifts for children and others, furnish Christmas trees and food baskets, and otherwise take care of the needy in Mower County.

A sign on the Mower County Courthouse lawn announces the "Tree of Lights" campaign.

When the campaign started, Norman Hecimovich, treasurer of the local club, presented checks for $100 for both the club and the Osman Temple Oriental Band.

In early December Shriners were at all eight Salvation Army bell ringing locations in Austin, wearing their familiar fez hats and bright yellow jackets.

In all, they worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at some locations.

The day started outside the Hormel Foods Corporation corporate offices gates and the entrances to the company's flagship Austin plant. Shriners also were outside the entrance to Quality Pork Processors, Inc.

They even made a few visits to some lesser-known places in Austin, where the generosity of all was tested.

Ross Mickelsen, president of the club, said there is a lot to be proud about when you're a Shriner.

"I'm personally proud of all the great charity work the Shriners do each year," he said. "For instance, there are the 22 Shrine Children's Hospitals nationwide.

"But helping The Salvation Army also makes me proud. I'm happy so many of our members want to be a part of this at Christmastime each year."

Bill Newell, who is also a Salvation Army Advisory Board member, said there is both tradition and pride at stake for the Shriners.

"We have fellows like Frank King and Chuck Van House, who have been doing this for so long and it's just a nice thing to do for others at Christmastime," Newell said.

King, elder statesman for the organization, was a member of the Oriental Band in 1962, when the club's president, Frank Spence lit the first Tree of Lights sign for the Shriners.

"I'm an original member of the band and

I've been to all 40 tree lightings for the Salvation Army," he said. King was director of the Shrine band until he retired.

"I'm very proud to be a Shriner," he said. "We do some wonderful work for others and the Shriners are probably the largest philanthropic organization in the world."

Also sharing the pride was Van House, a member of the distinguished Legion of Honor in the Shrine organization.

This is as good as it gets at helping others when you're a Shriner," Van House said.

Both Van House and King remember the days when the Shriners formed a four-man "Oompa-pa Band" and played on street corners and visited local businesses for donations.

House, a 37-year member of the philanthropic organization, said, "Helping others is what the Shriners are about."

Also in late November, Jim Middleton of The Salvation Army Austin Corps presented the organization with the Golden Bell Award symbolizing the four decades of charity work the Shriners have done for the Salvation Army.

Anyone wishing to assist the Salvation Army Austin Corps in its Christmas season activities should call 437-44566.

According to Middleton, "We need more volunteers all the time."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at