Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
What keeps you in Sioux Falls? My career with the J.F. Nordlie Company, family of course, friends and the city itself. Sioux Falls has a very urban offering of culture, arts, sports and cuisine, while retaining a feeling that it is still a part of its rural surroundings, with rural values. I love Sioux Falls!
Who was your Masonic sponsor, when did you join, and why did you become a Master Mason? My sponsor for both Masonry and the Shrine is my father, Kelly Brown. I became a Mason and Shriner in 2004, mainly in order to join the Shrine men’s chorus, the Chanters. It wasn’t until Dad approached me about becoming a Shriner that I learned about the storied history of Freemasonry, and the philanthropic mission of the Shrine.
What is your favorite part of being a Masonic Shriner? That’s a tough one. I’m involved in two units-the Chanters and the Ritualistic Unit. The Chanters meet up on a weekly basis, while the Ritualistic unit performs at the Ceremonial twice a year. For someone like me, who enjoys rehearsal and performance, it is the best of both worlds, really. With the Chanters I get the weekly fun of hanging out and working with a group of guys I’ve known almost my entire life to create and perform inspiring and motivational music. The Ritualistic Unit on the other hand, is a group of guys from all sorts of different units within the Shrine who re-group twice a year to put on a pageant that is both entertaining and meaningful. In both units we have close relationships and our own kind of support groups that we build on regularly. There is something inherently positive about diligently rehearsing and then giving a quality performance in front of an audience. It builds confidence, and gives purpose to the many hours of practice, and frankly, all the good, fun hanging out that we do.
What units and clubs have you been and/or currently are a member? Chanters, Ritualistic Unit, Ski Club.
As part of the Ritualistic Unit, you’ve done a remarkable performance during ceremonials as The Inspired Charge. Tell us how and when you began playing that part and what it means to you: I was captivated by the Inspired Charge the first time I saw it. At that time, Jason Nichols was doing the Charge, and those who knew him will quickly remember his booming laugh, and friendly inclusive personality. I met with him after getting fezzed, and he invited me to be his understudy. A few ceremonials later he expressed a desire to move into a different part, and had been coaching me on the Charge, when just a few weeks before my first performance he passed away unexpectedly. That whole experience made it incredibly important for me to do the role to the best of my ability. Being a Chanter helped me with that performance as well. At that time, the Chanters were working on singing in a way that told a story, rather than just shouting words at the right time on the right pitch. Slowing down the text, finding a cadence that allowed it to be spoken like poem, and enunciating every word allows the message to sink in. That message is also incredibly important to remember in Freemasonry and Shrinedom. I am humbled to be able, twice a year, to deliver it and remind myself of its importance, especially now, when our world appears so divided. “With us, thou mayest no sacrilege suspect, but all man’s religions shouldst respect, as good, and worthy….”
What committees and roles have you been a part of over the years? And what was your favorite memory? I have been President of the Chanters and the Ski Club, and a Marshall for the Chanters (otherwise known as the Herder of Cats) since joining. I have a lot of great memories in the Shrine. I’ll give you three and you can decide which one you use.
One of my favorite memories was when we went to Denver Imperial in, I think 2004. We won the Imperial Chanter competition for the third year in a row, retiring the traveling trophy. Winning was great, but even better was after celebrating and having a meal together, upon returning to our hotel we spontaneously gathered around the piano in the foyer, and sang our competition songs for anyone who would listen. When we finished those up, we wanted to sing some more, and our director and accompanist had their music folders along, so we sang almost every song from our music folders without ANY sheet music. To tremendous applause of hotel guests and employees and others passing through. The hard work had paid off, the stress of competition was gone, we knew those songs better than we thought we did, and we got to do our favorite thing with our favorite people, all while riding the high of ultimate victory! Just talking about it takes me back there. Everyone should get to have that feeling once in a while.
What has been your involvement with the shrine and its units/committees meant to you? Units and committees have been a sort of training ground for me. It has shown how to lead without letting myself get in the way. One of the first things you learn as an officer is how (or how not) to run a meeting. I will never forget John Bose showing everyone at the annual officers meeting how to make a good drink and make money at Shrine bar functions. His presentation was short, sweet, and to the point.
Can you tell us about all of your relatives who are and have been El Riad Shriners? I have a lot of family members in the Shrine. My Grandfather, Gerhard Brown was the first Mason and Shriner we know of in our family. I wore his Fez when I became a Shriner. When I joined the Chanters, my father Kelly Brown, and uncles Charles Brown, Dick Brown, Mike Lacey, and Don Christensen were all members, and uncle Allen Brown joined some-time after me, so every week was like a family reunion with some of your favorite family members. There is another dynamic in the Chanters, where many members came from the Dell Rapids area, so there you’ve got all the Browns, Gary Smith, Mark Dunn, Jeff Smith, Doug Schneider, and Bill and Kirk Anderson to name a few. Also in the group were a slough of past and future potentates—Del Kroon, Dave Neiman, Roxy Laur, Keith Rose, Ken Steele, and Jack Weibel. Honestly all of these guys are family to me, and I feel privileged that I got to spend so much time with my father and this group of friends and family at that point in my life. I was 24, and my best friends were twice my age, showing and enabling me to become a leader, plus we could all really sing. I’m blessed to have this Shrine family.
How does your Lady feel about your Shrine involvement? Lan is supportive of what I do in the Shrine. I was a Shriner before I was married, so that has always kind of been part of the package. Since the Shrine has so many opportunities for involvement, and since I am a natural born helper and doer, it is very important for us that I give her plenty of notice as to what my Shrine plans are.
Describe El Riad Shrine in five words: Best Clubhouse For Adults, Ever
What would you tell Shriners and their families about joining our family, fraternity and philanthropy? The first thing I would tell new Shriners would be to find a unit that interests them, and start going to their meetings. Get involved. Come to the ceremonials and celebrate the support we give to our community and hospitals. Help as much as you can at the Circus. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, you get out of this organization what you put in.
The second thing I would want all new Shriners to do is to be realistic and balanced about how much time you dedicate to the organization. As a man who started a family after becoming a Shriner, this has changed for me over the years, and I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have also gotten nothing but support from Shrine friends when I have told them that I need to rearrange my time spent at Shrine functions to focus on my family, and I want new members to have the same kind of support.
What else would you like to share with our Cactus readers? I feel immensely fortunate and lucky to be an El Riad Shriner. Of all the things happening in our world that tear people of differing origins and opinions apart, I feel and know that my Masonic and Shrine brethren care more about each other’s well-being and happiness than any political, social or religious beliefs, and I am comforted in the knowledge that I can always find some truth, relief and brotherly love at one of my favorite places in the world, the El Riad Shrine. Thank you. JB