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Kansas ‘small town guy’ selected as head of Shriners International

Kansas City chosen for Shriners International National Convention 2020

Visit KC, Shriners International and mayor Sly James announced Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, that Shriners International has selected Kansas City to host its 2020 national convention July 5-9, 2020. An estimated 20,000 visitors are expected to be in t
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Visit KC, Shriners International and mayor Sly James announced Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, that Shriners International has selected Kansas City to host its 2020 national convention July 5-9, 2020. An estimated 20,000 visitors are expected to be in t

Jeff Sowder is a man of two hats: a cowboy hat and a maroon fez with five stars that identifies him as the Imperial Potentate, or highest ranked official, of Shriners International.

“I’m just a small town guy that has been afforded a lot of opportunities in my life to participate in organizations that I really appreciate and believe that can truly make a difference,” he said.

Sowder, from Toronto, Kan., joined Shriners International, a worldwide philanthropic organization, in 1988, finding a home at Wichita’s Shrine temple, the Midian Shrine Center. In 1999 he started to take on a minor leadership role within the local temple; by 2004 he was the potentate, or leader, of Midian.

A few years after serving as potentate, he was elected to the position of Imperial Outer Guard, which essentially put him on the short list to one day become imperial potentate.

About the same time he joined Midian, he also bought his parents out of the business his family has owned since 1947. Today Min Mix Minerals, which started as a certified seed grower, is a group of livestock feed dealerships in Kansas. The Sowder family also owns a herd of cattle that consumes the feed the company doesn’t sell.

“It’s the only job I’ve had since I was 12 years old,” he said.

Sowder might wear a cowboy hat and have livestock, but he’s no cowboy, he said.

“I work and I do shrine stuff and right now, I mostly do shrine stuff,” Sowder said. “It’s a very intense schedule.”

Life on hold

Throughout his year as imperial potentate, Sowder will put parts of his life on hold as he travels to as many of the 198 Shrine temples around the world. It might be a sacrifice, but it isn’t necessarily a burden.

“This is a big deal, getting to be imperial potentate. I don’t view it as something I’ve accomplished,” Sowder said. “I view it as I’ve been temporarily elevated into a position of leadership.”

One year from now, when Sowder steps down, he hopes the organization is better than it was when the year started.

“It kind of goes back to being a part of something bigger than you are. I think that there’s so many things out there that can be accomplished if you just get people to set their mind on one goal and work toward that common goal,” Sowder said.

As far as common goals, Shriners International is at its core a philanthropic organization that feeds into the Shriners’ Hospital for Children.

“We have treated over 1.5 million children in the 98 years that we have had our hospital system, and we do it regardless of their ability to pay,” Sowder said. “Because of what we do together, we are able to raise and spend $2.7 million a day, every day, to keep our hospital system running.”

Shriners’ future

Moving into the future, Sowder said he hopes to see Shriners International expand.

“(I want) every temple to increase their membership and to encourage us to grow internationally in what we do,” Sowder said. “If anyone would like to join the Shrine and help us support the children we are entrusted with get a better life, all they’ve got to do is call their local shrine.”

Shriners International is a men’s only organization, Sowder said, but there are companion organizations for women as well, such as the Daughters of the Nile or the Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America.

For information about joining Midian Shrine Center, call 316-265-9676 or visit www.midianshrine.org.

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