Tomorrow’s Blowing Rock: Avoiding Controversy, Shriners Choose Another Venue

Tomorrow’s Blowing Rock: Avoiding Controversy, Shriners Choose Another Venue
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By David Rogers. March 2, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC – People who belong to clubs, organizations and even athletic teams often forget that their individual behavior often reflects on the group with which they are affiliated – favorably or, in some instances, badly.

All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

Blowing Rock News learned from a reliable source this week that although the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners approved the Oasis Shriners’ parade request at the regular February meeting of Town Council, the organization that gives millions of dollars each year to the Shriners’ Childrens Hospitals will be going somewhere else other than Blowing Rock for their spring ceremonial in 2017. They are staying in North Carolina, though. They are going to Hickory.

The Shriners’ mission does not excuse bad behavior by individuals, but should not be forgotten in the larger context.

Two factors more than likely come into play when it comes to the Oasis Shriners’ decision. First was a social media, if not vocal campaign to deny the Shriners a parade permit after a couple of their members allegedly made unflattering comments about a Blowing Rock store’s gay-oriented merchandise last year.  Those men were allegedly within earshot of others while standing in front of the store on Main Street. If true, the cultural bigotry in evidence by those two men is reprehensible in this day and age, to be sure, and we understand the outcry.

In spite of that protest campaign, at their February meeting the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners voted to approve the Shriners parade on the requested date during the group’s planned spring ceremonial in June. With this week’s decision by the Shriners, of course, that vote is less consequential than the public backlash, even if only from a few.

In this day and age, especially, cultural and racial bigotry is, at the very least, reprehensible.

As an organization, the Shriners strike me as a gracious group, not wanting to intentionally stir controversy or do anything that might harm their mission of raising money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children in North America: 20 in the United States, one in Mexico and one in Canada.

The Shriners are not just about midget cars nor clowns…

I can tell you from firsthand experience that the Shriners Hospitals’ service to young people with unusual medical needs, from burns, to orthopedic and spinal problems, and a variety of other maladies – well, that service is not only generous, but graciously delivered. We have a grandson with spine-related issues and his family’s experience at the Shriners Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina was nothing short of “5 star,” his mother beamed a few months ago. And year after year we see, hear or read about similar stories. The Shriners are making a difference, whether or not their critics enjoy the parade antics aimed at nudging the imaginations of children watching.

An often quoted saying suggests that there tends to be “a bad apple or two in every basket of beauties.”  In this case, it is another way of saying that the entire Shriners organization should not be judged on the behavior of what a couple of individual members allegedly did or said.  And if those individuals really thought about it, instead of blurting out those words in an ill-considered moment, they probably wouldn’t say it that way again, either.

But there are at least second hand reports that those words were allegedly uttered by a couple of “bad apples,” and so the entire Shriners organization is being painted with a very broad brush.  On social media, particularly Facebook, there is a litany of unfavorable, Shriners-bashing comments.  Sadly, those comments are ill-considered, too, and might reflect just as poorly on the attitudes of the critics of the Shriners as those two alleged bad apples from last year might reflect on the entire Shriners organization. Ironically, perhaps, both represent emotional verbal attacks.

The Shriners are making a difference, whether or not their critics enjoy the parade antics aimed at nudging the imaginations of children watching.

If anything, though, the Shriners decry negative publicity to their mission. As a consequence, they have graciously chosen to take their business elsewhere, to Hickory.

More To The Story?

Ironically, though, the Shriners’ decision to choose another venue comes on the heels of another recent Blowing Rock revelation: Chetola Mountain Resort having their real estate licenses suspended by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.  Since the Shriners have centered their ceremonials on the Chetola property each year and rented just about every available condominum and hotel room, as well as had their lodging needs spilling out into other nearby lodging establishments, any question about whether or not they can even rent the Chetola condominiums during their event becomes problematic. It raises logistical questions for the event as a whole, and when you factor in a sentiment from at least a small segment of the Town that would rather not see the Shriners at all, viewing them as more disruptive to normal business, then it is convenient to just say, “Let’s do something different.”

Yes there are clowns…

Although some of the Shriners’ members are successful business owners, there is a common misconception among the public at large that they are a bunch of rich older men, mostly Caucasian, experiencing a mid-life identity crisis.  Rather, the rank and file Shriners are hard-working men who are at their very core generous human beings wanting to give back and make a difference, to make the world a better place. Many of them are successful small business owners, so really are kindred spirits of any Main Street business owner.  Many more are just regular fellows holding down a job, working for someone else, but finding satisfaction working in their spare time for a cause bigger than themselves and having some fun while doing it.

The suspension of Chetola’s real estate licenses and questions of the resort’s ability to rent condominiums raises logistical problems for the Shriners, too.

Personally, I will miss the Shriners. They bring smiles to the legions of children along their parade routes each year. They generally have a positive economic impact on the town, even if their short stay is disruptive to some. They bring noteworthy guests to the area, such as Major General Chuck Swannack last year, who served as the Shriners’ parade grand marshall.

...and yes there are midget cars…

And we can never forget the fact that the Shriners, collectively, are such a blessing to thousands of kids each year with the misfortune of severe burns, cleft palates, spinal, or so many other health-related problems.

But any controversy over the Shriners’ visit also serves to bring focus on a few key issues.

For instance, should “outside” organizations be permitted to effectively close down Main Street to stage a parade?  If the Shriners are granted that “license”, what criteria are you using for other organizations and are there prejudicial, if not double standards in place for considering those others?

But it is really about the kids, their wonder and their smiles…and their health.

A few years ago, local organizers arranged for a “Poker Run” in benefit of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and it would have included a parade down Main Street. Fears that Blowing Rock would become a mecca for motorcycles escalated into predictions that hundreds, if not thousands would soon be roaring past Town Hall and bringing drunk and disorderly types to town if this became a reality. Given the backlash, the organizers abandoned their plans before a decision had to be made by Town Council.

Are so many running and bicycling events commoditizing the Blowing Rock experience, or even disruptive?

One Blowing Rock business and civic leader pointed out to Blowing Rock News recently that our town’s calendar is getting filled up with running events and bicycle races. “Those are almost as disruptive,” he offered, “if not in some cases even more disruptive than the Shriners because they require shutting down various parts of town streets, too.  They are great events and benefitting wonderful causes, but how special is it to run in Blowing Rock if you are getting to run or bike every weekend?  The Blowing Rock experience is being somewhat commoditized, even if not intentionally.”

An obvious question: are these special events really bringing more business to town? Are they being additive to the region’s economy and to the town budget through the collection of occupancy taxes? Or do they represent a replacement impact for the would-be visitors who might have come until they looked at the town calendar and saw what was going on during the time of their potential stay?

These are open questions, probably difficult to guage and with no easy answers — but they merit consideration by our town’s civic and business leadership.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Rita

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments. I am also sorry that the Shriners have chosen not to come and hope they will return in the years to come.

    Reply

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