Springfield Shriners trying to preserve traditions

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Members of the Springfield Shriners are trying to recruit new members to help keep a longtime band and other traditions alive.

Declining membership numbers are especially affecting the Abou Ben Adhem Shriners Band, which has only about half of its 50 members show up for rehearsal, The Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/1hK6oqW ).

Conductor Dan Stark said he’s doing everything he can to preserve the band, which goes back at least to 1917 and once was a 100-piece band that performed all over the nation. From 1971 to 1973 it was ranked the best Shriners band in the country.

“We want to catch young people coming out of college who played in the Hoover band and have nowhere to play now,” Stark said. “Don’t forget about it, bring your instrument down and keep the music flowing. I believe if we share our history, we will save our future.”

The band is among the few remaining Shriners bands in the country, said Ernie Goswick.

“It used to be every big temple had a band, but they’re dying off,” he said.

Shriner numbers in general are declining. While the Springfield mosque has close to 4,000 members, it used to have 6,500, said potentate Greg Nelson.

Many band members played in Army or Navy bands when they were younger. They now perform on Memorial Day at the National Cemetery, for Honors Flights, outside the Shrine Circus, in concerts, parades and at most Shrine functions.

“I started playing clarinet when I was 8. After school, there was nowhere to play. This is a good place to play and have a good time,” said Eddie Rogers.

The Abou Ben Adhem Shriners were founded in 1903 and eventually moved to the Shrine Mosque in 1923. It includes 52 units and clubs that focus on different interests. That’s why Shriners have so much to offer, said Rogers.

“You can find people who share your interest from cars to music,” Rogers said. “There are so many groups here.”

The cornerstone of Shriners International is its hospitals, which provide free care for children. There are 22 hospitals including three Shriners Burn Institutes. The closest hospital to Springfield is in St. Louis.

Band members meet the first and third Wednesday of the month. Band membership is a good outlet for people who love music and children, said band president Dave Smith.

“This is all for the kids,” said Smith. “We’re in this for our own pleasure and to help these kids. That is what’s at the heart of all this.”

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