Area Shriners seek answers from chief
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some Charleston Shriners said their newly elected leader is barring them from using the Beni Kedem Temple and they might seek the suspension of Illustrious Potentate Larry Bolling.
The first level of the temple has been closed to members since April 8, two days after a supposed bomb threat was called in to the facility during the Potentate's Ball.
Carl Welch, 85, has been a member of the organization for more than 45 years. He's asked several times for more information on the scare - Who took the call? What happened? - but said he has been rebuffed each time.
He said he and others aren't getting straight answers. Some have said the building was evacuated for the threat. Others refute that claim.
"The leadership keeps us in the dark," he said.
Welch said he plans to seek Bolling's suspension.
Bolling has served in the leadership position since January. He had little to say about the matter to a reporter.
"We're a private fraternal organization that gives $2.2 million a day to 22 Shriners hospitals across the country," Bolling said when reached by phone. "That's all I have to say."
Welch said Bolling told him the matter was being investigated by Homeland Security and refused to answer any of his questions.
Capt. Sean Crosier, spokesman for the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, said there was no record of the department's bomb squad responding to the temple.
Dale Petry, director of Kanawha County Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said he hadn't heard of any incidents concerning the temple.
The Monday after the supposed bomb scare, a sign was posted on the front doors of the building stating that the office was open but that the downstairs area, which is where the Shriners congregate and socialize, would be closed until further notice.
Welch, a retired real estate appraiser, said Bolling told him the first floor was closed off because of security reasons.
"The gossip went that (Bolling) was going to keep the downstairs closed for 30 days," Welch said. "I asked him about it, and he said it was going to be a lot longer than that. I asked him why, and he said, 'That's just the way it is.' "
The private fraternal organization supports the children's hospitals and Scottish Rite Language Centers across the country.
Welch said the organization also serves as a social purpose. The members have a room on the first floor where they socialize, play card games and drink coffee.
The members have electronic key cards to the back door, which also is the handicap entrance, but the power to the building has been shut off, rendering those keys useless.
Welch said the building has been closed several times since Bolling took office.
"It's not open to us at all, and it's supposed to be," Welch said. "We've done a lot of good work. We don't deserve the treatment we're receiving here.
"I've been here 45 years. This is the first time we've had any problems like this."
Charlie Burford, 60, of Mink Shoals, has been a member for 24 years. He said he's paid his dues for the year and was entitled to access the building.
"We're tired of the games of not being able to use our building," Burford said. "That's our building. That's not his building."
Welch said they were just a bunch of "old men" looking for a place to socialize.
He contacted Sam Kapourales, a Williamson businessman who purchased the Save Supply location on Charleston's West Side last year, to inquire about space for the group to meet if the need arose.
He was told space was available, but he said members don't want to move if they don't have to.
"We want the downstairs area to be opened back up to meet the membership's needs," Welch said. "We don't understand this at all."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.