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Shriners sing at Homecoming parade, promote free hospital

The Zuhrah Shrine chanters said they didn’t mind being near the end of Saturday morning’s Homecoming parade.

“We’re not in the starting line-up (for the football game), so it’s OK,” they said. “Maybe around half-time we’ll get in, on special teams.”

Such was the attitude of the Shriners’ choral group as they sang their way down University Avenue in their seated, canopied float.

They sang “Jingle Bells,” to match the slightly chilly weather, and “Good Old Summertime,” because members said they thought “it’s such fun to sing.” They did all of it, even a half dozen or so Minnesota Rousers, to the four-string banjo accompaniment of Shriner Bruce Smith.

Shriner Phil Bemis, now retired from the U.S. Air Force, said Shriners are “a male fraternity, really,” and participating in the parade means a lot to those with ties to the University. Bemis has been in the parade for each of the past 28 years, and Smith said he remembered when groups had to line up by the old Memorial Stadium before the parade.

Bemis said their participation also has a serious aim: raising awareness for the Twin Cities Shriners’ Hospital, a 40-bed free hospital for children, located on East River Road and not far from the East Bank campus.

Overall, Minneapolis has approximately 7,000 Shriners, Bemis said, and members can join one of a number of performing groups. The Zuhrah patrol, a military parade marching group, and the Zuhrah horsemen also participated in Saturday’s parade.

Chanter artistic director Peter Schlief, a University graduate student in choral conducting, drove the truck that pulled the Shriner wagon. The parade fare was a little lighter than the group’s normal repertoire, he said.

“Usually, we’re more on the serious side,” with traditional songs and religious chorals, he said of the chanters’ approximately 45 members.

Usually approximately 20 participate in the parade, but due to prior commitments at a Shriners’ circus in the Target Center, only 10 chanters made it Saturday. Even they had to hustle downtown for two shows at the circus later in the day.

But being understaffed didn’t seem to bother them. And even when the crowd didn’t know all the verses of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” they barely paused between songs. When the crowd did know the words, it usually joined in.

Waving U.S. flags and handing out free doughnuts helped butter up the bystanders.

But even after they’d left the parade ground, Chuck, Dick, George, Phil, Peter, Bruce, Curt, Michael, Duane, Ole and their tasseled Shriner hats could still draw a holler and a wave from parade stragglers.


Sam Kean welcomes comments at [email protected]

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