Fun, Fellowship and Philanthropy

By Matt Crosby

Since the El Riad Shrine was established before South Dakota was admitted as the 40th U.S. state in 1889, perhaps it is fitting that the organization’s flagship facility has been a Sioux Falls landmark for the majority of those years. 

The Shriners organization based in Sioux Falls and established in 1888, owns and operates the El Riad Shrine building in downtown Sioux Falls. 

Shriners International is a fraternity defined by fun, fellowship and philanthropy. Its organizational mission includes the availability of programming and services for its members, their families and their friends in a spirit of fellowship. 

In 1922, Shriners established their own philanthropic effort, Shriners Hospitals for Children, more commonly known as Shriners Children’s. It is one of the largest pediatric sub-specialty health care systems in the world and has locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

The El Riad Shrine facility, originally known as the Arkota Ballroom, opened in November of 1925, at the corner of 13th Street and Phillips Avenue. 

Performances by some of the most popular big band, swing era and rock ’n’ roll acts took place at the Arkota Ballroom over the years. A short list of those top-name performers includes Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Dion and the Belmonts, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Gene Krupa, Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey in addition to local musicians Myron Lee and the Caddies. 

The El Riad Shrine purchased the building in 1980. With a 6,600 square foot dance floor, the facility remains popular for a variety of events. 

El Riad’s units and clubs host many events that are open to the public, while also organizing fundraisers to earn money for the shrine and its philanthropic efforts. 

Some of the most-attended annual public events at the Shrine include the El Riad Sportsman Classic, Halloween, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day parties and ROCK the Shrine. 

Every Wednesday evening, units and clubs of El Riad Shrine host members, their families and the public, for dinner, drinks and entertainment. 

Rocky Hayes, Public Relations Director for the El Riad Shrine, attributes much of the building’s lasting appeal to its location, heritage and history. 

He says the uniqueness of the facility, with the largest dance floor in the area, makes it a popular rental option for a wide variety of meetings and events. 

“You have plenty of tiers, you have bars, you have the huge dance floor, you have the stage and then you have side rooms for business meetings,” Rocky said. 

A walk through the nearly 100-year-old building also helps to explain the symbolism of the El Riad Shrine and its emphasis on family and philanthropy. 

“A lot of these other fraternities have died, sadly, over the years,” Rocky said. “Shriners International is still very relevant because of the camaraderie that comes with being a part of the fraternity, but also the philanthropy side of Shriners Children’s.” 

“There are a plethora of reasons El Riad Shriners are proud to represent our fraternity, philanthropy and include our diverse shrine families in protecting the legacy of our venue and its long history,” Rocky continues. “Our Shrine building is one of the myriad symbols that has represented our endeavors for decades, and being a part of downtown Sioux Falls is an important part of our legacy. We’re proud to continue the long-standing tradition of dances, parties, weddings and personal/professional events of all types, with all generations represented.” 

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