Eye on KELOLAND: Shrine of the times


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Shriners are said to be “first to fun”, while also changing the lives of children through their philanthropic work.

However, the El Riad Shrine in Sioux Falls has seen fundraising efforts take a significant hit over the past 19 months due to COVID-19.

The El Riad Temple has been a piece of South Dakota since 1888, when the 40th state to join the Union was still a territory.

“My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather were all Masons and Shriners here in Sioux Falls,” El Riad Shriner Lee Lewis said.

“When you have an organization that doesn’t have a purpose it doesn’t seem to last,” El Riad Shrine Potentate Les Kruse said.

The El Riad Shrine has survived and thrived for more than 130 years by helping children and their families.

“People that belong to the Shrine have big hearts and they continue to support the mission, which is the support of children’s medical needs for orthopedics, cleft palates, and burns,” El Riad Shrine Past Potentate Rico Johnson said.

“We’re responsible for getting kids from our area to the hospital and that is the main goal for our fundraising,” Lewis said.

The organization’s mission has been challenged since the arrival of COVID-19.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of the Shrine Circus in 2020 and again in 2021. The loss of six circuses, stretching from Winner, South Dakota to Windom, Minnesota, including nine performances in Sioux Falls, took a toll on the budget.

“Very substantial part of it. It was very substantial. I would say probably somewhere in 1/3 of the total budget, maybe more,” Kruse said.

This year, the organization limited its losses with a virtual circus.

“Members, who normally buy circus tickets so the kids can go free, we had them pay anyway this year and the money was used to help the Shrine instead of pay tickets for the kids,” Kruse said.

Kruse expects the real deal to return next spring.

“All indications are that we’re going to have a circus in April of 2022,” Kruse said.

The Shriners are currently preparing for another important fundraiser.

“I think this was the one that really started adult Halloween on its road,” Johnson said.

Rico Johnson joined the Shriners in 1984 and helped start the Halloween Bash in 1992 because he was tired of selling onions and pecans as a fundraiser for ceremonials.

“That’s where the units present money to the Shrine for transportation and other expenses of the Shrine and there were times where we couldn’t give any money, we’d have to write an IOU on a napkin,” Johnson said.

The Halloween Bash has proven to be a money maker over the past three decades.

After limiting attendance inside the Arkota Ballroom to 1/3 capacity last October, Lewis hopes to double that number this Halloween.

“This is the largest dance floor in South Dakota. It’s been here for I would say 60 years, long before it was in the Shrine, and it is a great place to dance,” Lewis said.

“It seems like it works better when it’s not right on Halloween night because it’s hard for parents to get away when the kids are trick or treating, so this is the night before Halloween,” Kruse said.

A night out helping the El Riad Shrine assist local kids.

“Knowing the fact that you’ve made the world just a little bit better by your actions gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your self-worth,” Lewis said.

“There’s nothing that feels better than being able to help a child. I was able to sponsor three children to the hospital and just means everything as far as being a Shriner,” Johnson said.

It’s a busy Saturday for the Shriners. The El Riad Shrine Football game featuring Augustana and Winona State kicks off at 1:00, while the doors at the El Riad Shrine open at 6:30 p.m. for the Halloween Bash.

Click HERE for a complete list of upcoming events.

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