By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
This year's Shrine theme Kids Light Up Our Lives just about sums up the feelings of these men in red hats.
They may appear sometimes to be silly and light-hearted, but they are serious about raising money to help treat kids at the 22 Shrine hospitals.
This Saturday, the East-West Shrine game will be the second largest fund-raiser for the Shriners, behind only the Shrine College Bowl in California. But it's not just another football game; it's proceeds reach far beyond the bounds of Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Shriner Bill Doherty of Salem said that it takes $597 million per year to operate the Shrine hospitals, and all that is raised without government help or charging the patients' parents. That amounts to $1.5 million per day.
andquot;We have the most modern facilities in burn treatment, orthopedic surgery and spinal surgery,andquot; Shriner Robert Walliker said. He is a retired Portland police officer and has spent many years visiting the kids in the hospital as a Shrine clown.
Of the Shriners wandering around Baker City this week, some joined because their siblings were recipients of Shriner generosity in hospitals, and others joined after playing in the East-West Shrine game.
Past West Shrine game player Ray Taylor is in town this weekend, on his way back from an 11,000 mile cross-country motorcycle ride. He's a Shriner, and represented Siletz High School in the 1958 game. His interest in the organization began back when he was in high school. After he visited the Shriners Hospital in Portland, part of the player's schedule every year, he just wanted to help the kids.
andquot;Once you've been through the hospital it's really an experience,andquot; Taylor said. He also has a personal tie his brother was treated at a Shriners hospital.
Ralph Jones, a game alumnus from 1957, may not be a Shriner, but he still remembers the first time he walked through the Shriners Hospital in Portland.
andquot;Nothing grabs you like when you're 17- or 18-years-old and you wander through that hospital you never forget it,andquot; Jones said.
Al Hicks of Ontario became a Shriner in 1988 and is on the East-West all-star game state committee. He became interested when the Shriners offered to treat his daughter's congenital hip problem. They didn't end up going to Portland for treatment another specialist was closer but the fact that they cared made him take notice of this philanthropic group.
The Shriners don't just offer treatment free of charge, they also pay for the patients' travel to the hospitals.
andquot;Most of them wouldn't go if not for transportation,andquot; Hicks said.
Many other Shriners don't have such a close patient connection to the hospital, but they grew up admiring the Shriners.
Doherty, whose title in the organization is andquot;high priest and prophet,andquot; first witnessed the good works of the Shriners while employed as a dishwasher at the Shriners Hospital in Spokane.
andquot;I made 80 cents an hour and really admired the Shriners,andquot; he said.
Even though not everyone witnesses the medical aid of the group, they are renowned for their crazy driving in the Shrine parade on Saturday. They're the ones who have perfected the art of driving bathtubs down Main Street.
However, behind all the silliness the Shriners have one common goal: to help the children who need it.
andquot;We're fun-loving and have a wonderful cause,andquot; Doherty said. When it comes to helping kids, he said the Shriners are andquot;deadly serious.andquot;