Anah Shriners convene in Bangor

Posted June 20, 2009, at 4:19 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — There were clowns, bands and the Keystone Kops, but what really got Lexi Leeman of Bucksport excited was the cars.

“I liked them because they drove around the orange [cones],” the 6-year-old said as the Anah Temple Shrine parade wound down Saturday morning on Main Street near Bass Park.

Leeman and her parents, David and Christy Leeman, her sister Jade, 4, and 15-month-old brother, Mason, were invited to attend the parade by family friend Sara Robshaw.

The parade was part of the 2009 Anah June Ceremonial, a four-day summer convention being held in Bangor this year.

While the clowns, lobster boats, go-carts and flag-bearers provided a diversion for onlookers, more pressing issues were weighing on the mind of Illustrious Potentate Norris Nickerson of Holden, who was elected to the leadership position in January.

The Shriners organization is gearing up for the July 5-9 Imperial Council Session in San Antonio. At that time, attending members will vote to decide whether the Shriners will have to close six of their 22 hospitals in North America known for treating children with ailments such as burns, spinal cord injuries, cleft lip and palate, and orthopedic conditions.

More than 865,000 children have been treated in the 86 years that the Shriners have had hospitals, according to the organization’s Web site.

One of the orthopedic-specializing hospitals being considered for closure is in Springfield, Mass., and is the closest such facility to most of Maine. There is a burn-care Shriners facility in Boston.

Nickerson said financial conditions may force the closures. In the last year the Shriners’ endowment has dropped from $8.5 billion to $5.5 billion.

“We’re looking for any methods to not have to close any hospitals,” he said after the parade. “We’re looking at different means, such as third-party claims, things of that nature, looking at ways to be cost-effective.”

Should Springfield close, Nickerson said, it is likely the Shriners would be forced to regularly send children to facilities in Philadelphia or Montreal. The organization pays travel costs for children to go to its hospitals.

“That’s a much longer route and more expense,” he said.

Shriners will vote on closing hospitals at a meeting.

Nickerson is concerned, he added, that Shriners members without hospital experience will vote with emotion and worry about keeping a facility in their area rather than voting for the good of the larger organization.

“There’s been an awful lot of research done on [the closures], and I hope people will look at what’s being presented to them and understand the whole picture before they vote,” he said. “I’d rather see a vote of true professionals running hospitals who know the most cost-effective means.”

Although a forecast of rain showers Saturday may have kept large crowds away from the Main Street parade route, Nickerson said the Anah Shrine’s Bangor parades typically don’t bring out a lot of people.

“I think there are so many parades that happen in Bangor in comparison to the smaller towns,” he said. “When the Shrine comes [to small towns] they just open the doors wholeheartedly. It’s a big thing for them, whereas here there is a lot more going on. [But] there was a pretty good crowd [on Saturday]. I was happy with it.”

Of course, those concerns weren’t on the minds of the Leeman children. Jade Leeman said her favorite part of the parade was the clowns, especially Bo-Bo, who is portrayed by Donald Young of Hudson.

“I like his hat,” she said. “It’s silly.”

Young, who has been involved with the Anah clowns for around 24 years, said that kind of reaction keeps him motivated.

“I enjoy working with kids, and I enjoying working with people in general, socializing with people,” said Young, who wears a blue hat with a yellow flower. “It’s a rewarding experience.”

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