Shriners of the Al
Chymia Shrine Temple came together on the third weekend in
October for the Eighth Annual Shrine Trail Ride at Natchez
Trace State Park. The event takes place each year to raise
monies for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network
of 22 hospitals offering cost-free orthopedic services,
burn care, and spinal care injury treatment for children
from birth through the age of 18.
You've seen them. They're the grown men who, grinning
wildly beneath their red-tasseled fezzes, delight children
in parades as, like whirling dervishes, they twist and
turn in their funny little cars.
Chances are you've seen them at roadblocks or other
fundraisers, again wearing the red, sequined fez that
symbolizes the Shriner, and wondered what they are all
Perhaps you've seen some of them on horseback, their
cowboy hats bearing a distinctive curved band reminiscent
of the fez.
Likely, you see them on the streets, in businesses, or
right next door. To many people, the Shriners are a
mystery, like their brethren the Masons. Indeed, only when
a man achieves the status of a Master Mason may he become
also a member of the "Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the
Mystic Shrine for North America."
Quaint stuff to those on the outside looking in on the
closely-knit group of men who follow a tradition and
ritual with roots so far removed in history that some
facts seem to have become obscure.
Perhaps some insight can be gained by perusing a list of
famous Masons, a roll too long to list here. More telling
than the number of men who have served under the banner of
Freemasonry, however, is the diversity of the men
involved: musicians like Roy Acuff and Louie Armstrong;
actors like William "Bud" Abbott of Abbot and Costello and
John Wayne; writers like Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling;
presidents like George Washington and Gerald Ford, with
each of these categories bearing more distinguished
members. The founder of the Boy Scouts of America was a
Mason, as was the founder of the Red Cross, the man who
invented the steamboat and the one who discovered
penicillin. Baseball great Ty Cobb, artist Marc Chagall,
Great Britain's King Edward, Indian Chief Joseph Brant and
Wendy's founder Dave Thomas are just a few other great
names in Masonry.
Of the above, Roy Acuff and John Wayne were also Shriners
as were President Gerald Ford, Ty Cobb, and Dave Thomas.
Of greater importance than the names and talents of these
famous men is the great, common heart of the Shriners,
whose life work is to support the Shriners Hospitals for
Children that now cater to both crippled children and burn
patients from birth through the age of 18.
Their dedication is obvious. At a recent gathering of
Shriners at the Eighth Annual Shrine Trail Ride at Natchez
Trace State Park, sponsored by the Carroll County Mounted
Patrol (a group of horsemen with members derived from the
Bruceton branch of the Al Chymia Shrine Temple, which is
based in Memphis), a poster provided a clue as to why the
men work so hard to raise money for the hospitals.
Alongside a photo of a fez-decked Shriner carrying a child
with one strong arm while holding her crutches in his
other hand, a slogan declares, "Today I helped a child
walk and I feel great!"
The powerful statement gains even more meaning when tough
cowboys with calloused hands and jangling spurs take in
deep breaths, while describing their work with the
children, in an effort to check tears that well up in
recollection of children whose crooked limbs are
straightened over time thanks to the cost-free efforts of
the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Carroll County Mounted Patrol Lieutenant Kenny Chandler of
Hollow Rock shared the story of a special child who lives
nearby in Henry. Born with multiple birth defects that led
doctors to believe he would weaken and succumb early in
life to ailments that included severe heart and lung
disorders, little James Sentel Snyder proved to be a
"If you'd seen him when we first met him and see him now
that'd be all the story you need," asserts Chandler.
James accompanies his father, Jim Snyder, to the trail
rides each year where Jim shows his appreciation for the
Shriners' efforts by providing music for the occasion.
Normally a steel guitar player for Loretta Lynn's
daughter, Cissie, at the Lynn Family Ranch in Hurricane
Mills, Jim displays his skills for the enjoyment of the
trail riders while little James, nicknamed Puddin' and
Sugar-man by his doting father, sits on stage enjoying
every minute of the music.
"He was our spokeschild last year," Chandler expounded,
"His daddy played steel guitar in the band and the kid sat
there and grinned the whole way through it."
"He's part of the show," acknowledges Snyder, who enjoys
sharing his talents with his son, who is just excited as
his dad, becoming animated at the mention of Cissie's
name. He has his own small guitar and becomes wide-eyed
and happy looking at photos made of himself and his father
at the ranch.
At four and one half years old, James has the stature of a
much younger child. He functioned with a ventilator and
tracheotomy for two and a half years and only recently
graduated to regular food from the baby food he was
finally able to begin eating three months ago. Before
that, he survived on infants' formula.
Little James Sentel Snyder hams it up with Dad, Jim
Snyder of Henry. James was born with severe birth
defects that caused him to require surgery as well
as leg braces that he still wears today at four and
a half. “He’s trying as hard as he can to walk,”
says his proud father.
Although he still wears leg braces, he's come a long way,
everyone agrees. "He's trying as hard as he can to walk,"
his father says proudly.
"What the Shriners did, they done everything in their
power to help him," says Jim. "They picked us up in
Dyersburg in a van and took us to St. Louis (to the
Shriners Hospital). The thing that impressed me is they
gave us first class treatment, put us up in a hotel and
fed us fine food. Then when you go in the hospital you can
see the money is being spent on the care of the patients."
Jim was flabbergasted to find that the Shriners paid for
everything. "The treatment they showed him and us was
second to none," Jim says, amazed. "He's had the finest
care in the world. If there's one group of people in the
world I'd rather help out, it would be them, so I play
music at their trail rides every year to try to help them
The eighth year was the best year for the popular trail
ride, with all 78 camping sites filled with two to three
campers at each site. Cars, trucks and horse trailers
overflowed from the campground to an adjacent site and
some would-be campers had to amend their plans to a
one-day ride when facilities were full when they arrived.
Every year, the number of riders grows, with each year
bringing in more money for the children served by the
Shriners. Last year, $10,000 was raised from the trail
ride with this year's proceeds reaching $12,000.
That's not a bad track record for the trail ride that
started in 1994 with just six riders, including founders
Jack Adkins, Phillip Higdon, and Larry Spencer of
Bruceton. At the time Jack and Larry were simply Masons
who were also horsemen, with the mounted patrol organizing
in Carroll County three years ago.
Jack, who was a member of the Memphis temple, had
approached Spencer about organizing a trail ride as a
fundraiser for the hospitals. Spencer agreed
enthusiastically, picking the third week in October for
the annual time period when "the trees were pretty and the
weather was good." The first trail ride raised an
Sadly, Higdon passed away on July 21, 2000 after which
last year's ride was dedicated to the memory of the man
who was not a Shriner but who, along with his wife, worked
just as hard to make the rides a success.
"The most that was raised before last year was $4000, then
we started taking donations and started doing the saddle
raffle," says Phillip's wife, Wanda Higdon, who hasn't
stopped working for the cause. Wanda and all the Shriner's
wives play a major role in many events, participating in
both the work and fun that fuels the success of the their
West Tennessee businesses came through for the Mounted
Patrol, with 207 sponsors donating an incredible array of
items for the auction. Smaller items were sold by silent
auction earlier in the day with larger items sold by
auctioneer Don King of Medon, Tennessee in the evening,
after riders and campers had a delicious barbecue dinner
prepared by six members of the Memphis Al Chymia Temple,
including Randy Waddell who will be potentate of the
temple next year. The auction brought in $5,802 while the
saddle netted another $2000 at last count. Proceeds from
the barbecue brought in another $940.00.
The 16-member Carroll County Shrine Mounted Patrol is an
impressive sight astride their solid black walking horses.
One member of the patrol, Thom Henning of Arlington,
belongs to both the Carroll County Shrine Mounted Patrol
and the Al Chymia Mounted Patrol Memphis Unit. The two
units joined forces under Thom's expertise to compete
three months ago at the South Eastern Shrine Competition
and "took it all", winning nine first place categories out
of eleven, taking also the high point trophy that has been
placed in the Temple pending next year's competition.
After the third successive win, a temple gains permanent
possession of the coveted trophy. The wins marked the
first time the Al Chymia riders have come in first in the
competition in 23 years.
"Thom met with the group every Sunday then carried us off
down there and showed them what a bunch of old country
boys can do," said Captain Larry Spencer, who is the
leader of the Carroll County group.
"It was a labor of love," Thom replied on his way to get
The Carroll County Mounted Patrol is thankful for the 207
participants in the ride who came from as far away as
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in the United States and,
internationally, as far away as Bosnia.
"To help the children, that's what we're here for," says
There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children world-wide
with 18 orthopedic hospitals, three burn hospitals, and
one hospital that provides orthopedic, burn and spinal
cord injury care. The hospitals operate under a total
budget of $576 million per year, or one and a half million
dollars every day.
"That's eighteen dollars per second we spend on our kids,
and 95 cents of every dollar goes to kids," says Spencer.
"Without things like this we couldn't do it. The hospitals
operate at no charge to families - they don't charge
insurance companies, kids, parents, or anybody - the way
we do it is stuff like this right here. We don't take any
insurance or government money, because if we did somebody
could dictate patient care and that is strictly decided
between the parents, the patient and the doctor."
"I come away totally amazed at what they do," says one
The Shriners declare they are the "World's Greatest
Fraternity" operating and maintaining the "World's
Greatest Philanthropy." If you know a child that Shriners
Hospitals might be able to help, call toll-free at
1-800-237-5055 (in the U.S.) or 1-800-361-7256 (in
Canada). Visit the Shriners Web site for more information
about this important organization: http://www.shrinershq.org.
Mark your calendars for next years' Ninth Annual Shrine
Trail Ride at Natchez Trace State Park on the third week
of October, 2002.