Shriners holding major gathering here
To include downtown parade
People possibly spotted around Mount Airy wearing distinctive headgear — specifically a red fez with a black tassel — are simply Shriners who are making their presence known locally as part of a major annual event for that organization.
The Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial is underway here, having begun Thursday and to continue through Sunday, with activities including a downtown parade this afternoon.
"This is the first time it's ever been held in Mount Airy," said Keith Osborne, the president of the Surry Shrine Club based on Westlake Drive.
He described the Spring Ceremonial as a kind of a regional annual convention with many organizational matters at hand. One order of business is the installation of new members to the Shriners fold.
Around 500 Shriners are in town for the gathering, which Osborne said includes members from individual clubs from the Greensboro area to the western part of North Carolina. From 40 to 50 clubs potentially are being represented at the Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial here, he said of the scope involved.
The Shriners organization is about 150 years old, according to Osborne. It is characterized as "a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love and relief to others in need." The red fez with the black tassel worn by members is one of the group's most distinctive symbols, which has been handed down through the ages.
Derived from the city of Fez, Morocco, it was chosen as the official headgear of the fraternity to complement the organization's pomp and pageantry, theme, ceremonies and events, according to historical information on the Shriners.
A highlight of the Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial is the parade scheduled for today at 2 p.m., according to a lengthy listing of activities for the conference
Plans call for the procession to include features normally associated with parades involving Shriners, such as clowns, antique vehicles, mini-trucks and similar units.
Osborne had hoped local high school marching bands could be involved, but most have ended classes for the summer and thus were unavailable.
"Everybody is welcome to the parade," Osborne said.
It will originate today from the area of North Main Street and Rawley Avenue.
The Shriners have been popular parts of events such as Christmas parades in Mount Airy, which Osborne says provides a way for the organization to maintain a high degree of visibility among the public.
Such participation also includes a fundraising component to support the Shriners Children's hospital operation that offers medical services regardless of a family's ability to pay or insurance status.
Mayberry a draw
Osborne said a major factor in the decision to hold the Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial event in Mount Airy was the same with other groups planning such gatherings here: "The Mayberry thing."
In addition, the local Shriners president said the community reception for previous annual conferences of the group held elsewhere played a role.
"They don't feel they were treated well at Blowing Rock and other places," Osborne said of that tourist spot in western North Carolina which hosted the Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial in 2022.
Jessica Icenhour Roberts, executive director of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority, indicated this week that this city is more than happy to host the Oasis Shriners Spring Ceremonial.
As of Wednesday morning, members of the group already had booked more than 60 hotel rooms in the area, she reported.
Along with formal meetings, the Shriners’ itinerary was to include visits to Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, the Andy Griffith Museum, squad car and trolley tours, live music at Blackmon Amphitheatre, fishing at a local spot and hiking at Pilot Mountain, among others.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.Saturday parade Mayberry a draw