History of Shriners International
In 1870 a group of Masons gathered frequently for lunch at the Knickerbocker Cottage on Sixth Avenue in New York City. At a special table on the second floor a particularly fun-loving group of men met regularly. Among the regulars were Walter M. Fleming, M.D. and William J. “Billy” Florence, an actor. The group frequently talked about starting a new fraternity for Masons – one centered on fun and fellowship, more than ritual. Fleming and Florence took this idea seriously enough to do something about it.
Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
With the help of the Knickerbocker Cottage regulars, Fleming drafted the ritual, designed the emblem and costumes, formulated a salutation and declared that members would wear the red fez.
The first meeting of Mecca Shriners, the first temple (chapter) established in the United States, was held September 26, 1872.
History of Kena Shriners
Kena Shrine Temple was granted a dispensation on July 13, 1951 at the Imperial Session in New York City which allowed it to operate for one year under dispensation, and then apply for a charter.
The long time dream for a Shrine Temple in Northern Virginia came true when Kena Temple was issued a charter on June 19, 1952, at the Imperial Council Session held in Miami, Florida. The decision to grant this charter was certainly a wise one as Kena Temple has accomplished much in the intervening years and has rightly taken its place among the great Temples of North America. (now known as Shriners International)
Since the charter was received, Kena Shrine had shown a steady growth in members from 837 to 2,866 as of January 1, 1986; it has gained a reputation amongst other Shrine Temples for its friendliness, hospitality, good-fellowship and its high spirits.
To fully cover 34 years of history in the space allocated in this publication would be impossible, so these comments are limited to certain areas.
In reviewing the early years, it is found that Kena got off to a great start. While under dispensation the Temple secured an office in downtown Alexandria with a full time Recorder and Clerk-Stenographer.
Monthly meetings of the membership were held in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
In the early spring of 1952, the Imperial Potentate made an enjoyable official visit to the Temple. Later that spring the Temple held a ceremonial using its own Cast and Directors Staff, with the Cast in new robes and with a parade through the business district of Arlington displaying floats and units with some 200 Nobles in uniform.
When the charter was issued in June 1959 the Temple was free of debt and the membership stood at 1,092 with all dues paid. In addition 41% of the Nobility held Permanent Contributing Membership in Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children. (now known as Shriners Hospitals for Children)
The granting of a charter to Kena Temple was by unanimous vote of the Imperial Representatives. In announcing the vote the Imperial Potentate commented "Perhaps we ought to recommend that we have a circular on how it's done as shown by Kena Temple and have it sent out to a lot of Temples." The Imperial Sir concluded this portion of business with this statement: "I am informed Kena Temple will have units marching in the parade tonight." And march they did. It was said this was the first time, up until that time, that a Temple had received its charter and marched in a parade at the same Imperial Council Session. Truly a show of confidence and a display of commitment.
The first requirement of the New Temple was to elect permanent officers for the remainder of the year. The following Nobles became the initial Elected Divan of Kena Temple under charter:
Harry Hammond, Potentate Dr. William Meyer, Chief Rabin Orville F. Rush, Assistant Rabin David C. Book, High Priest and Prophet George G. Yeoman, Oriental Guide Frank L. Cowles, Treasurer Jack A Sullivan, Recorder.
Also elected were Dr. Macon Ware, Roger Sullivan and Albert Wasserman as Trustees and Edward Poole, Elliott Hoffman and William Oakley as members of the Executive Committee. These Nobles together with a great cadre of appointed Officers, Unit Heads, Committee Chairman, and others laid a solid foundation for future administrations to build upon.
In the beginning Kena Temple had a very small jurisdiction Arlington and Fairfax Counties and the City of Alexandria. Repeated attempts to obtain additional territory met with no success. Finally, at the Imperial Council Session in 1970 we were given concurrent jurisdiction in five adjacent counties and the City of Winchester. This helped us maintain our growth. Lastly, at the Session in 1981, at the request of the Four Virginia Temples, concurrent jurisdiction was established throughout the state with each Temple maintaining a small exclusive jurisdiction surrounding the Temple.
The growth in membership of the Temple for the first 25 years was exceptionally good. While membership in recent years has not increased, it has remained fairly constant. Membership as of December 31, 1985 was 2,866.
From the very beginning, Kena Temple has owned property. First, it was what was generally referred to as the “Kena Farm" located off Seminary Road, back of the Hammond High School, consisting of some 12 acres and a house purchased in December of 1952 and sold in April of 1961, at a very substantial profit.
The property on Arlington Boulevard consisting of some 26 acres was purchased in July of 1961 putting the Temple quite a bit in debt. Not being permitted to go further in debt, the Nobility of Kena Temple donated enough money, with no strings attached, to erect the first building and provide the necessary roads, parking lots and utilities. This building was completed in 1964 and is now referred to as the ANEK Building. The debt on the 26 acres was paid off in 1968.
As the need for an adequate and appropriate building became more evident, it was the thought of the leaders of the Temple that a program of this magnitude could be best handled by a holding corporation. After approval by all required parties, the "KTS Holding Corporation" was granted a charter on January 1, 1972.
The responsibilities confronting the Directors of the Corporation were difficult, time consuming and continuing but planning proceeded and construction followed. Ground breaking ceremonies of a new building took place on November 2, 1975 with the Imperial Potentate present. The Grand Master of Masons in Virginia laid the cornerstone on July 17, 1976. The building was completed in 1977, and again the Temple was in debt. We hasten to add that this debt was paid off early in the year 1986 and the Potentate had a mortgage burning and building dedication ceremony on October 5, 1986.
In the spring of 1980, the house and lot at the corner of Arlington Boulevard and Barkley Drive became available. This location is referred to as the Dellinger Property. Wanting to protect the best interest of the Temple, it was decided to attempt to buy the property. While working out the arrangements with the Imperial Council, it was secured by 35 members of the Temple. After on-site inspection and considering reasons for the purchase, the Imperial council authorized the Temple and Holding Corporation to issue 10 year promissory notes to a sufficient number of its members to make the purchase. The Dellinger Property became the Kena Property on February 24, 1981.
Many honors and much recognition have come to Kena Temple over the years. Immediately after receiving our charter we were accepted in the Mid-Atlantic Shrine Association. A number of our members have served as Head of Unit Associations therein, as well as Committee appointments including Chairmanships. One of our Past Potentates served as President of Mid-Atlantic in 1965-66.
Kena Temple was instrumental in the formation of the South Atlantic Shrine Association and we have had ample representation and recognition in this area. One of our Past Potentates served as President of South Atlantic in 1985-86.
On the National level we have received many appointments in many areas. We have had constant representation on the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Unit, Shriners Hospital for the past 29 years.
The biggest honor came at the Imperial Session in 1966 when Senior Past Potentate Orville F. Rush was elected Imperial Potentate of the Shrine of North America. A tremendous delegation of Kena Nobles and their Ladies journeyed to San Francisco to participate in the festivities of the occasion.
In its 34 years of existence, Kena Temple has had 35 Potentates including our present Potentate, Illustrious Jack Callahan. All have contributed substantially to the advancement, accomplishment and success of the Temple. Those who have served in that office look with pride and satisfaction at the height to which the Temple has risen, and it is their fervent prayer that the Temple will continue to prosper and flourish in the years ahead.
In every Temple the Units are the backbone. Surely this is true in Kena. In countless places, both near and afar, they have marched, played, sang, rode, and romped bringing joy and pleasure to the young and to the old. They have served in every job imaginable at hundreds of Temple activities and events. We salute the men in the red, green and gold, and all other colors including the black tuxedo. You have brought honor to your Temple and credit to yourselves.
We conclude this commentary with a tribute to the Nobility. If it were not for the rank and file, the Nobility, all would have been in vain. There would have been no beginning, no 34 years. Potentates and Officers come and go. Unit members grow tired and retire to the side lines, but the Nobility is always there. It is from the Nobility that we gain our strength, our balance, our encouragement and our financial security. So we say to the Nobility of Kena Temple, where ever disbursed, our eternal gratitude is your reward and your membership card is our safe future.
The above history was originally published in 1986.
In 2010 the name changed to Shriners International from Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S) of North America. It is probably more than coincidence that its initials, rearranged, spell out the word "A MASON." There was also a name change from Shriners of North America to Shriners International.