The first Shrine Chapter was created in 1872 in New York City. In the State of Wisconsin, Tripoli Chapter was the first Chapter in the State. It was the 21 st Chapter to receive a charter on June 14, 1886. It was not until July 12, 1933 that Zor Shriners received its charter, the 158 th charter issued by the Imperial Shrine. Wisconsin now has a third Shrine Chapter, Beja in Green Bay, who received the 188 th Charter on July 3 rd, 1986. Today there are 194 Shrine Chapters.
It all started in 1930 when Noble John L Meyer, a Tripoli member, who had recently moved to Madison suggested that a Shrine Club, in the Capital City, be formed. As results of his efforts and strong support of other Nobles, in the City of Madison, the Madison Shrine Club was formed, receiving authorization from Tripoli Shriners.
Almost immediately a group of nine members of The Madison Shrine Club formed a committee to secure the signatures of 1000 Nobles in good standing, which was necessary to qualify for petitioning The Imperial Counsel to start a second Chapter in the State. Wisconsin was one of a few States that had only one Chapter in the State. Although they obtained the needed 1000 signatures there was considerable opposition in the State to the forming a new Chapter and as a result a number of Nobles withdrew their names from the petition causing it to fall below the 1000 signatures required. The Committee decided not to submit the petition to the 1931 Imperial Counsel session in Cleveland.
At the 1932 Imperial Counsel session, held in San Francisco, the Session delegates passed a resolution reducing the number of signatures required for petitioning from 1000 to 800. Committee Chairman, Noble A.C. Larson, had with him the petition with signature in excess of 800 and so the petition to form a new Chapter was submitted to the Imperial Counsel session and the delegates approved dispensation to form a new Chapter with the name of Zor. The significance of the word Zor, is an eastern province of Syria. The actual charter was approved and issued at the Imperial Session, held in Atlantic City, N.J. on July 12, 1933.
Zor Shriners held its first election for provisional officers on September 18, 1932 at which Noble A. C. Larson was elected Illustrious Potentate, in recognition of his efforts of obtaining the authorization to form a new Chapter. Other members of the elective Divan were James G. Peterson, La Crosse; George P. Hambrecht, Madison; Dr. Egbert A. Worden, Janesville; Bert A. Honeycombe, Madison; Leon G. Fitzgerald, Madison; together with Carl N. Hill, T. G. Monague and William H. Hommel, Madison, as trustees. Nobles on the original appointive Divan were Benjamin Chilson, Beloit; Fred T. Finn, Madison; S. A. Douglas, Eau Claire; Willard R. Denu, Madison; W. H Scott, Superior; Fred C. Kradwell, Racine.
The first ceremonial was held on October 19, 1932 with a total of 98 candidates in this historic class. Aad Shriners, from Duluth, one of Zor’s close friends while the dispensation was in progress honored Zor by coming in full force to Madison to confer the degrees on the charter class. Imperial Sir Earl C. Mills, Imperial Potentate, from Newton, Iowa, along with a number of other Imperial Officers were also in attendance.
In 1933, as a neighborly gesture, Milwaukee’s Tripoli Shriners conferred the ritualistic work for the Spring Ceremonial held in May. By November Zor’s own Directors Staff and Ritualistic Degree Team had been formed and took over the initiation and ceremonial duties for the first Ceremonial following the actual granting of Zor’s charter.
Zor started with three uniformed units, The Arab Patrol, a Concert band, and the Booster Band, (which formed as Cousin Louie’s Little German Band to help entertain at meetings when the Chapter was working for its Charter), all from Madison; and a drum corp from La Crosse. In 1934 Zor’s Camel Patrol Unit was formed and today it is still one of a few, and if not the only Unit with live camels giving rides to hundreds of kids each year. Also Zor had the first Clown unit in Shrinedom. Today Zor has 28 Units, some more active than others.
Zor’s first Shrine Club was formed in Madison in 1932, and its second was organized in Janesville in 1941. Then in rapid order in 1945 and 1946 came Green County, Lakeland, Mehara, Badger, Indianhead, Vacationland and Vernon County came on board. Up through the mid 1950’s new clubs continued to be formed. These clubs cover every area under Zor’s jurisdiction all holding special events each year that raise funds for Zor Shriners and Shriners Hospitals for Children®. Today Zor has 23 Clubs. It is somewhat uncommon in Shrinedom for a Chapter of our size to have as many active Units and Clubs .
A major milestone in Zor’s almost 75 years of existence was the building of our own Shrine Center in Madison. For the first 40 years, Zor’s headquarters were located in the Madison Masonic Center in downtown Madison in rented space. In 1972 Zor moved its business administrative activities into an old house Zor owned adjacent to the Masonic Center. During the next few years attempts were made to develop a plan to build a Shrine-Masonic complex in the block surrounding the Masonic Center. Because of a number of roadblocks this effort failed. Zor officials then began to look for other properties that could be purchased where a Zor headquarters could be located. A planning study conducted in 1982 revealed that a majority of Zor Nobles agreed a headquarters was desired and a fundraising campaign should be undertaken. After surveying many properties a property totaling 22.8 acres was located on Madison west side near the recently built West Towne Shopping Center. Preliminary architectural plans were developed which included office space, meeting rooms, unit storage space, a banquet hall for 250 and an auditorium with seating for 500, totaling approximately 40,000 square feet of space at a cost of about two million dollars, excluding land cost. The plans were developed so that only portions of the project could be built depending on the success of the fundraising. The fund-raising campaign raised $1.3 million, pledged over a 3 year period, from Nobles and friends of Zor Shriners. It was decided to defer the building of the auditorium as the funds raised were not sufficient to cover the costs of the auditorium. In the early planning it was agreed that Zor would not need all of the 22.8 acres for its use and so sold off smaller parcels of land with the proceeds going to help pay for the original land acquisition cost. The final mortgage was burned in 1992. Zor currently has about 9+ acres and a Shrine Center that its 1700+ members can be proud of.