Local resident, Shriner’s board member shares history of Freemasonry that puts philanthropy, care for kids first

Secret handshakes, mysterious symbols and initiation rites are all hallmarks of the Freemasons, but ask Joseph La Pilusa, long time Folsom resident and Shriner about the “mysterious world” of freemasonry and he’ll tell you, it’s not so secret. 


“Despite what some may say, Shriners International and Freemasons are not a secret society,” said La Pilusa. 

La Pilusa is a member of Ben Ali Shriners, the Shriners chapter in Sacramento. “We’re a fraternal organization dedicated to philanthropy and community service. Our highest priority is increasing access to specialty healthcare for all kids.”


Supporting Children and Families

“When a family first learns their child will need on-going, specialized pediatric care, the last thing they should have to think about is, ‘How in the world am I going to pay for this,’ said La Pilusa.


In addition to being a Shriner, La Pilusa serves on the Board of Governors at Shriners Children’s Northern California located on Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento. The hospital was built in 1997 and has served more than 85,000 children since opening its doors. It’s the largest hospital in the Shriner’s Children’s healthcare system and has served countless children and their families from Folsom. 


Raising Funds and Having Fun

While the Shriners mission is a serious one, they have a lot of fun meeting their goals. From car shows to parades, Shriners look for ways to engage the community, both to increase awareness of the specialty health care that Shriners Children’s provides, and to raise money to support that care.


Shriners often participate in local parades, like the Historic Folsom Downtown Parade. They’ll tell you they love watching families smile as they drive their go karts, ride in historical fire trucks, or dress up as keystone cops or clowns.  

Much More than Hats

“When we tell people we’re Shriners, they’ll often say, ‘Oh, you mean those guys with the red hats?’” said Don Kilmer, Potentate, similar to position of President, of Ben Ali Shriners. “And we say, ‘yes, that’s us!’” 
The red hat with the black tassel is one of the fraternity’s most distinctive symbols. Derived from the city of Fez, Morocco, the hat was chosen as the official headgear of the fraternity to complement the organization’s pomp and pageantry, theme, ceremonies and events.
Each fez is personalized for the wearer. Information on the fez includes the chapter he belongs to and any positions he holds, and memberships of clubs or units. It is worn at all official Shriners events.

“When you wear a fez, it’s a reminder of the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. We wear these with pride,” said Kilmer.

Acting on Their Principles

Shriners was a new fraternal order when, in the late 1910s, a polio epidemic swept across the United States and it was apparent that many children were going without appropriate care. The Shriners committed themselves to making care more accessible to all kids. On May 12, 1922, thousands gathered to witness the placing of the cornerstone of the first Shriners Children’s hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. 
Over the past century, Shriners Hospitals for Children, commonly referred to as Shriners Children’s, has become one of the largest pediatric sub-specialty healthcare systems in the world, with locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The health system includes hospitals, outpatient clinics, ambulatory care centers and outreach locations. 

Shriners Children’s Northern California 

The Ben Ali Shriners dedicate their time and financial support to the Shriners Children’s Northern California hospital.

“We are very proud of the medical team at Shriners Children’s Northern California,” said La Pilusa. “The team of physicians and surgeons are recognized worldwide as leaders in their field, and the medical teams are renowned for providing patient-centered care.”

One of the World’s Most Advanced Pediatric Burn Care Centers is in Our Neighborhood
Shriners Children’s Northern California’s Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute is one of the world’s most advanced burn research and treatment centers. 
In addition to the advanced burn care provided to patients, the Institute participates in groundbreaking research ranging from molecular and cell biology, to clinical research and prevention identification. It also offers expansive educational opportunities for medical students, residents and fellows. Medical professionals at the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute advocate for continued advancements in burn care, ongoing support for burn survivors and improved burn prevention legislation. 
Helping Kids
In addition to burn care, Shriners Children’s Northern California is recognized for making industry advances in orthopedics, rehabilitation, and plastic surgery. They’re well known for their care for kids with hand and limb differences, colorectal and gastrointestinal conditions, spina bifida and cerebral palsy. 

Making a Difference 

While Shriners are committed to one another as fraternal brothers, they also are committed to the mission of improving health for all kids.

“It’s important to be part of something larger than yourself,” said La Pilusa. “We’re here to make a difference in this world and there are thousands of families in this region that count on us.”

If you would like to learn more about how to join Shriners, visit https://www.shrinersinternational.org/en

For more information about Shriners Children’s Northern California, visit https://www.shrinerschildrens.org/sacramento

Kelsey Morgado
Author: Kelsey Morgado