Johnson: Shriners aching for a parade to drive in

Robert Smith

What does avoiding COVID-19 cost you? Dinner with friends? Casual shopping trips and outings? For John Johnson of Pawhuska, the answer is a little different. He’s aching for a chance to drive his Shriner mini car in a parade.

“We can average several parades a month. This year we haven’t done anything,” Johnson said, commenting that parades just aren’t being held because of concerns about COVID-19. “It’s very nerve-racking. We all really want to go and parade. We want so bad to go and parade.”

That’s why it was disappointing for Johnson and other Shriners when the annual Cavalcade Rodeo parade was moved July 18 from downtown Pawhuska to the Osage County Fairgrounds. Though the primary reason articulated for the change in plans for the Cavalcade parade was a horse illness rather than COVID-19, it was just one more lost opportunity to connect with the public through the mini cars in what is shaping up as an era of lost opportunities for social connection.

“It’s very warm and it’s hard on your joints,” Johnson, 46, said of the actual heat and discomfort that one experiences driving around in circles in what is essentially a fancy go-kart. But he thoroughly enjoys doing it, and enjoys the excited responses of children and their parents.

“The kids just love it. Parents want pictures. The parents want their pictures taken with you,” Johnson said. He points out, however, that the cars, the parade participation, the uniforms, all of it is advertisement of a sort that draws attention to what Shriners actually treasure most — helping children and their families.

Shriners of North America is a fraternal organization that dates back to 1870 and specializes in providing medical care for children, free of charge to recipient families. There are more than 20 Shriners Hospitals in the North American region and they provide care for pediatric orthopaedic injuries and problems, burn injuries and more. The first Shriners hospital was established in 1922. Members of the Shriners organzation are all Master Masons. Johnson is affiliated with Akdar Shrine of Tulsa.

One of the attractions to Shriners is the fun — the mini cars, the parades, the participation in public celebrations.

“We always say we have fun to help kids,” Johnson said, recalling that he had been attracted to the Shriners when he was a kid because of the mini cars.

But the deeper sense of satisfaction he draws from membership is derived from two things — helping kids and their families, and belonging to a caring fraternity that also looks after its members.

“It is very satisfying,” Johnson said. “I’ve had people ask before, ‘Why do you spend all this money doing this? What do you get out of it?’”

His response — something as simple as a genuine, heartfelt thank-you hug from someone helped by Shriners. “That’s worth more than what you’ll ever spend.”