The Stories Behind 4 More Civic Organizations

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On Wednesday, we told you about the history of four civic organizations. But as we all know, there are plenty more groups doing great work. Here are the stories of four more civic organizations you've surely heard of, but probably don't know much about.

1. Rotary International

Founded: Rotary International was established in 1905 by four Chicago businessmen looking to recapture the small town spirit of community they remembered from their youth. They called themselves the Rotary Club because their meeting places rotated from one man's office to the next.

Mission: Local Rotary Clubs offer many kinds of services for their communities, like food drives, vocational skills seminars, grants and scholarships, and much more. One of the primary focuses of Rotary as an organization, though, is the elimination of Polio through their PolioPlus program. Since starting the program in 1985, Rotarians have donated over $600 million and countless volunteer hours to vaccinate over 2 billion kids. Their efforts helped drop the number of cases of polio by 99% between 1988 and 2007.

Members: More than 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries.

Fun Fact: The cog that makes up the Rotary logo is adapted from the original symbol, a simple wagon wheel. The wheel was meant to symbolize "Civilization and Movement." As time went on, the more modern symbol of those concepts, a mechanical gear, was adopted.

2. Moose International

mooseFounded: Moose International was originally founded in 1888 as a simple social organization for men. However, in 1906, a member by the name of James Davis suggested that Moose should try to offer some kind of financial safety net for their members' families in case the primary breadwinner died or became ill. To support this program, annual dues were assessed, a practice which continues today.

Mission: The primary focus of Moose today is helping children. Part of this commitment is the Mooseheart Child City and School, a 1,000-acre campus near Chicago where kids in need can live and get an education. Meanwhile, local chapters are especially well known for sponsoring youth programs like summer sports leagues and after-school activities.

Members: Currently there are over 1 million male members of Moose International in about 2,000 lodges throughout the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, and Great Britain. There are around 500,000 Women of the Moose members in 1,600 lodges.

Notable Members: Both Abbott and Costello, Larry Bird, Ernest Borgnine, Charlie Chaplin, Henry Ford, Jean Davidson (granddaughter of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle co-founder), and Erik "Ponch" Estrada. Just the fact that Ernest Borgnine and Ponch are members makes me want to go sign up right now.

Fun Fact: If you are a member of Moose, you have the option of someday living at Moosehaven, a retirement village built and operated by the organization. Currently, about 300 members live at the 70-acre complex near Jacksonville, Florida. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, bowling lanes, game rooms, a church, and a medical facility.

3. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

elksFounded: The Elks were founded as a social club in 1868 by a group of theatrical performers calling themselves The Jolly Corks. Their membership dues were used to buy kegs of beer for parties. They were content being a drinker's club until one of their members died, leaving his wife and children penniless. The Jolly Corks decided they could do more with their beer money (blasphemy, I know) and became a form of insurance for their members. They soon changed their name to pay homage to the Order of the Buffaloes, an English social group of the time.

Mission: Today, the Elks support projects that assist retired and current military veterans, as well as numerous programs and competitions aimed at school children. One of their biggest competitions is the Hoop Shoot, a free throw contest for over 3 million kids between the ages of 8-13. But the Elks are best known for their scholarship programs, handing out $3.64 million every year to graduating high school seniors.

Members: More than 1.3 million men and women in 2,300 local lodges throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Notable Members: The Elks membership boasts five U.S. Presidents (Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Ford), entertainers like Lawrence Welk, Will Rogers, Jack Benny, and Clint Eastwood, as well as sports personalities like Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel, and Whitey Ford.

Fun Fact: There is a tradition that a toast to deceased members be given at 11:00PM during Elk lodge meetings. Because the organization started out as a bunch of actors and performers, these toasts are often lengthy monologues or poems and have become legendary for their eloquence. As a way of preserving their history, the Elks have many of these speeches recorded and archived for future members to admire and gain inspiration from for their own 11 O'Clock Toasts.

4. Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (AKA Shriners)

shrinersFounded: The Shriners were established in 1870 as a separate, fun-filled branch of the Freemasonry organization. Their Arabian theme, including their signature red fez hats, was suggested by Billy Florence, a world-renowned actor, who recalled a party he attended thrown by an Arabian diplomat. The group's ridiculously long acronym—A.A.O.N.M.S.—can be rearranged to spell "A MASON."

Mission: The Shriners run 22 children's hospitals throughout America, providing care for burn victims, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic conditions, and speech conditions like cleft lip and palate. Since the first hospital opened in 1922, the Shriners have helped more than 800,000 kids and their families at no charge.

Members: Currently there are around 350,000 men in 191 chapters (known as Temples) throughout North America. To become a member, you must first reach the level of Master Mason in Freemasonry.

Notable Members: Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, golfer Arnold Palmer, Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc, President Ford, "The Duke" John Wayne, and, proving his commitment to community service once again, actor Ernest Borgnine.

Fun Fact: If you've ever been to a Memorial Day parade, you've probably asked, "What's with the little cars the Shriners drive around?" Apparently it's a pretty well-kept secret, because there seems to be no official word on how this Shriner tradition began. However, one group, the Kena 500, out of the Kena Temple in Fairfax, Virginia, admits to driving mini Corvettes since 1972. The little cars were built as promotional items for the release of the Corvette Stingray and purchased by the members as a fun way to participate in local parades.

Today there are companies that specialize in making cars for Shriners, giving them the option of tooling around in cars, trucks, vans, fire engines, and even replica NASCAR racers. While they might be mini Corvettes, most of these little cars only have a 5HP engine and a top speed of 35MPH.

See Also: What Does 'Kiwanis' Mean? The Stories Behind 4 Civic Groups

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March 12, 2010 - 6:16am
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