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From Morocco to Marzuq The history of Shriners in Madison County

John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.

For 72 years, Shriners in Madison County have been committed to helping crippled children walk by promoting the Shriners Hospitals for Children network. With over 90 local shriners, their mission remains the same.

The fraternity, promoting fun and fellowship for Master Masons, was formed in 1870 by Walter Fleming and William J. Florence. Mecca Temple Shriners, members of the world's first Shrine temple, met in 1872, in New York City. The first Imperial Session of the Shriners was held in Portland, Ore., in 1920. During that session, the membership unanimously passed a resolution to establish what, at that time, was called the Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children system. Soon after, the first hospital opened in Shreveport, La., in 1922, providing orthopedic care for children, ages 18 and younger, for free.

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 medical facilities, with hospitals in Hawaii, Canada, Louisiana, Oregon, Kentucky and Mexico. Most notable, a Shriners Hospital for Children is operated in Tampa, where Shriners International is headquartered. Shriners International is a freemasonry-related fraternal organization, whose members are known as Shriners. Shriners are more commonly recognized as men who wear red, rhinestone-encrested fezzes with a long black tassel hanging from the top.

Supporting the hospitals, Marzuq Shrine Temple, in Tallahassee, Fla., has been home to over 300 Shriners in the North Florida area, including Taylor, Lafayette, Leon, Wakulla and Madison County residents. However, before Marzuq Temple was chartered, Morocco Temple, in Jacksonville, Fla., was the only temple for Madison County residents to join. “Morocco was the mother temple of the southeastern United States,” said Jim Stanley, who has been a local Shriner since 1969. He recalls being initiated into the Shrine along with approximately 200 other candidates. “There was no Marzuq temple then; it was Morocco.”

According to a pamphlet describing the history of the storied temple, Henry S. Ely, of Jacksonville, received a letter from James H. Thompson, a member of the imperial divan, stating that the name “Morocco” had been approved by the Imperial Council, allowing for Georgia, Alabama and Florida to be under Morocco's jurisdiction. The date of the letter is said to be March 25, 1888 and the charter to make Morocco Temple the 42nd Temple of North America was granted by the Imperial Council on June 25, 1888.

The release of jurisdiction began in 1890 when Morocco realized the enormity of their temple's jurisdiction. Yaarab Temple, of Atlanta, Ga. was chartered as the 52nd Temple in North America in June of 1890, with all of Georgia in their jurisdiction. Arnold Haire, Madison resident, is a Shriner in the Yaarab Temple. Additionally, Zamora Temple in Birmingham, Ala., was chartered as the 54th Temple in North America in June of 1891; likewise, with all of Alabama in their jurisdiction. Since then, many temples have formed from the jurisdiction of each state's mother temples.

Morocco remained as the only temple in Florida until their club in Tampa formed their own jurisdiction, Egypt Temple. Since then, many temples in Florida like Shaddai Temple in Panama City, Bahia Temple in Orlando and Azan Temple in Titusville have formed. Likewise, Marzuq Temple, in Tallahassee, was chartered on July 6, 1989, later taking jurisdiction in Madison County.

The journey to begin a new temple in Tallahassee began in April of 1985 when Lewis B. Brantley joined Joseph L. Gillespie, President of the Tallahassee Morocco Shrine Club, at a Legislative Masonic Breakfast. “There ought to be a Temple here in Tallahassee, Joe, and I'm going to discuss it with you right after this meeting,” Brantley stated. Work shortly began to collect signatures to begin the organization process. Marzuq, Arabic for a place in the hills, fell short of 1,000 signatures needed for charter on their first deadline of April 1, 1986. Later in July, during the 113th Imperial Council Session, the requirement for charter was lowered to 500 signatures. Morocco approved of the charter and released six counties to Marzuq, including Madison County. Dispensation was granted on June 30, 1988, following letters of support from other Temples in the state of Florida. The first parade units formed were the Clowns and the Director's Staff. The Motorcycle Escort and Bandits, which were chartered with the other units, are still in operation today.

During the 115th Imperial Session in Toronto, Canada on July 6, 1989, Marzuq received its charter, allowing for Gillispie to serve as Marzuq's first Potentate. Other parade units such as the Provost Guard, the Legion of Honor, Train Crew, Cooking Crew and the Perry Krazy Wheels unit were formed. The Krazy Wheels, operating out of the Perry Shrine Club, still go to parades to this day.

Locally, the Madison County Shrine Club was formed on June 20, 1947 under Morocco's jurisdiction and for two years, members met at homes, businesses and other places due to a lack of a formal place to meet. However, in 1968, the club obtained an old United States Army barracks building from Thomasville, Ga. and placed on property donated by the Pinson Family, who placed a 99-year lease on the property the building currently sits on. The building was remodeled and updated to accommodate regular meetings beginning in November of 1969 when members of the Morocco Divan visited Madison County.

In 1992, the Madison County Shrine Club voted to join the Marzuq Temple. With potentate's elected annually, the late Illustrious Sir Tommy Greene was elected Potentate of the Marzuq Temple in 2004, becoming the only Potentate out of Madison County. Today, the Madison Shrine Club still holds monthly meetings with approximately 90 members: 65 shriners belonging to the Marzuq Temple, 25 others remaining under the Morocco jurisdiction.

Providing the type of family-centered and kid-friendly care that they do, with no consideration to the family's ability to pay, wouldn't be possible without the brotherly love and support from good men around the world. The vitality of Shriners International is specifically important because

of their philanthropic roots and mission. Those men with red hats and driving funny looking cars are committed to family, engaged in ongoing personal growth, and dedicated to providing care for children and families in need.

Stanley, who was recently elected to serve as the local Shrine club's secretary for the 39th consecutive year, stated that he's seen plenty of children – especially burn victims – helped time after time by the Shrine. “We've had a lot of outstanding people,” said Stanley, referring to Shriners.

Today, there are nearly 200 Shrine Temples across North America, South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. Members of the Madison County Shrine Club participate in parades often with their local Hillbilly unit. Additionally, the local shriners organize a golf tournament annually which has proven to be very successful for the local club. The Marzuq Temple as a whole participates in fundraisers throughout the year, such as: gun raffles, auctions, steak dinners, 50/50 drawings, 5k races and much more. The current Potentate and Temple Divan include: Bennarr Revell, Potentate; Joe Rodgers, Chief Rabban; John Gatlin, Assistant Rabban; Jeff Hoffmeister, High Priest and Prophet; and Corey Matthews, Oriental Guide.

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