Salute Our Heroes: Topeka Shriners transport local youngsters to St. Louis children’s hospital

13 NEWS at 10 p.m.
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 11:01 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - You might be most familiar with members of the Arab Shrine Temple in Topeka because of the circus they put on every February at the Stormont Vail Events Center.

But those members do a whole lot more, including transporting youngsters from the Topeka area to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in St. Louis.

The first Shriners Hospital for Children opened 100 years ago in 1922 in Shreveport, La.

The Shrine organization, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, was started in 1872.

Today, there are more than 25 Shriners hospitals across the United States, as well as in Mexico and Canada.

“Since the hospitals opened up,” said John Sidwell, a member of the Arab Shrine in Topeka, “the individual temples have taken on the responsibility of transporting children to the hospitals.”

Local Shriners transport a child and an adult family member to St. Louis in a 2017 Honda Odyssey minivan. About 36 trips per year are take to St. Louis from Topeka.

Additionally, some children from the Topeka area needing specialized care are flown to Shriners hospitals in locations such as Chicago and Galveston, Texas.

As you might imagine, the costs add up.

“The Temples,” Sidwell said, “rely on money that is donated to be able to afford to transport the kids to the hospital.”

There’s never a charge to the children or their families for the care -- or transportation -- they receive from the Shriners.

“It’s pretty simple,” said Shriner Bob Weibel. “The Shrine pays for everything. If they have insurance, we’ll take that, but it’s no money out of their pocket.”

First and foremost, it’s all about the kids.

“The reason we do this is for the kids,” Weibel said, “and that gives us a good feeling that we make their lives better.”

Knowing they are assisting children and their families helps keep about 70 members of the Arab Shrine Temple in Topeka motivated to keep driving the van.

“All you have to do is walk into the front door of the hospital, and you’ll understand,” Weibel said. “The kids ... need help.”

Children and their families often thank the Shriners for all they do for them.

“We have kids come up to you and thank you for what you’ve done for them,” said Bob Whitehead, a member of the Arab Shrine Temple of Topeka. “You may not even know them -- not know their situation. But being in the Shrine, we’re part of it, so we’ve helped them -- at least our organization has. Really brings tears to your eyes.”

Ed White, a member of the Arab Shrine Temple in Topeka and a former Topeka police major, said proceeds from this year’s Spirit of Kansas Fourth of July Car Show next Monday at Lake Shawnee will benefit the Shriners’ transportation fund.

“They do such a great job,” White said. “They really facilitate the Shrine and the hospital. They take families from Topeka to St. Louis,”

White added that “we jsut felt it was time to donate proceeds to them and help ‘em out.”

Registration for the Spirit of Kansas Car Show show is $20 per vehicle and will begin at 8 a.m. Monday, July 4, near Reynolds Lodge, 3315 S.E. Tinman Circle on the east side of Lake Shawnee.

White said all makes and models of vehicles are welcome.

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