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‘Shriners try to make the world better, and we do it one child at a time.’
Trouten is state Zor Shrine potentate this year
Gayle-Wally Trouten
Gayle and Wally Trouten

Finding Wally Trouten around Platteville will be difficult all year.

Trouten has been traveling inside and outside Wisconsin since his installation as the Potentate of the Zor Shriners, the Shriners’ highest state position, at the start of this year.

“To my knowledge, I’m the first person who has been a potentate of the Zor Shriners from Grant County,” said Trouten, 73, a Shriner for 15 years and a Mason for 46 years. The retired Platteville High School business education teacher is a trustee and former senior warden of the Masons’ Melody Lodge No. 2 in Platteville.

Since he became potentate in January, Trouten has made numerous trips, including to the Shriners International convention in Nashville, “being seen, being at places where fundraising is taking place. It’s fun; I meet so many cool people.”

Trouten — called on one Shriners website “Illustrious Sir Wally” along with his wife, “Lady Gayle” — describes the Shriners as an offshoot of the Masons, which “believe in trying to make a man better — not better than somebody else, but in making a man better than he was. Shriners try to make the world better, and we do it one child at a time.”

The Masons’ precepts are friendship, morality and brotherly love, Trouten said. Masons “promise you will aid and assist all that are worthy,” and will not “cheat, wrong or defraud.”

Trouten is not the only senior Shriner or Mason official in Southwest Wisconsin. Former Lafayette County Sheriff Scott Pedley is Past Grand Master of the Masons in Wisconsin.

Melody Lodge No. 2 is 176 years old, organized Jan. 20, 1843, 16 years after Platteville was founded in 1827, eight years after Platteville’s downtown was laid out in 1835, and almost a year before the Masons’ Grand Lodge of Wisconsin was formed.

Many of Platteville’s first citizens were Masons, including Maj. John Rountree, Rev. Benjamin Kavanaugh and John Bevan, who petitioned the Masons’ Grand Lodge of Missouri to charter what originally was Melody Lodge No. 65. 

“You’re inspired by a number of things,” said Trouten. “The camaraderie of the organization — a lot of clubs and units, and a higher purpose. Like a university fraternity, there’s the camaderie that you gain that is maintained — you meet a lot of people, and it’s easy to become friends. The opportunities I have to meet people are in so many different places. And we have what we consider to be the greatest philanthropy.”

That would be the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which have treated, according to their website, 1.4 million children in 22 locations over 97 years, without concern for ability to pay, up to when a child turns 18.

The closest Shriners Hospitals are in Woodbury, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, specializing in orthopedics, and Chicago, specializing in cleft lip and palate repair, orthopedics and spinal cord injuries. Local Shriners transport local children to appointments at the Minneapolis and Chicago Shriners’ hospitals.

“A for-profit hospital is there to make money, while we don’t get concerned about whether a patient can pay,” said Trouten. “If a patient needs help, we’re going to take them.”

The Shriners hospitals will take insurance if a family is insured.

One southern Wisconsin child treated for a cleft palate was Amish. Once she turned 18, her community wanted to pay something back to the Shriners, so the Amish held an auction, with the child as the announcer. Another patient, treated for burns at the Cincinnati Shriners hospital, was a contestant on NBC-TV’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Trouten recalls transporting another child to a hospital wearing braces and crutches, “but he had a smile on his face.” The child walked out of the doctor’s office that day.

Trouten can tell other stories about patients — one who was wheeled into a Shriners event in a wheelchair only to jump out in time for his speech, a girl treated for cleft palate who went on to be her high school’s and college’s Homecoming queen, and a boy with deformed legs who went on to become an all-conference football nose guard.

“They basically taught him how to cope with what he had,” said Trouten. “When you see miracles like that happen in front of you, it does something.”

The Shriners sponsor the annual Southwest Wisconsin Shrine Club/QueenB Radio All-Area Football Team.

Masons were originally believed to have formed during the time of King Solomon, ruler of Israel from 970 to 931 B.C., who were according to the June 3 program, “a body of reflective thinkers, and through Solomon’s proverbs of wisdom, a greater system of morality came into practice.”

The current most widely accepted story is that craftsmen’s and tradesmen’s guilds during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance extended the terminology of their work to “a deeper application of human conduct.” An alternative theory that ties those two stories together claims that the Masons were born from the excommunication of the Knights Templar from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 14th century, using tools and symbols from King Solomon’s Temple that Masons use today.

Founding Fathers who were Masons include George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock and the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall.

Melody Lodge first met in a room in the Academy building (now Rountree Hall), then moved to a log cabin on the east side of City Park. Melody Lodge No. 1 in Mineral Point, Melody Lodge No. 2 in Platteville and Kilbourn Lodge No. 3 in Milwaukee met in December 1843 to form the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.

Melody Lodge No. 2 (named for George Henry Curzon Melody, the Grand Lecturer of Missouri masons) built three buildings in downtown Platteville — one at Pine Street and Court Street built in 1845, followed by a building at Main Street and Third Street where Karrmann Law Office is now situated, and at Pine Street and Bonson Street in 1925 — before moving to Enterprise Drive in the 1980s, the site of the Masons’ twice-yearly catfish fries, the group’s largest fundraiser.

The lodge’s membership over the years has included some of Platteville’s most prominent names beyond Rountree, Kavanaugh and Bevan, including Hugh Coulter, Rufus Spaulding, John Riley, L.W. Link, John Vineyard, David Rich, William Fillebrown, Charles Gear, Duncan McGregor, Asa Royce, Chester Newlun, Joel Squires, Henry Utt, former state Rep. Robert Travis and other state officials, city alderman, and Grant County district attorneys, judges and other county elected officials.

Becoming a Mason requires, as Trouten put it, a belief in “a higher deity. … How can you obligate somebody to something if you can’t obligate anybody to anything?”