Family Ties Strengthen Bond With Fraternity, Hospital
For John Bull Jr., the word “Shriner” is synonymous with family because of the wrap-around care that Shriners Children's provides. Family because the culture of the fraternal organization that makes it possible.
And family, quite literally, in the connection of three members of the Antioch Shrine Center in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. “I have three generations of legacy. My father was a Shriner and potentate. I'm a second-generation Shriner and potentate. My son is also a Shriner,” the 63-year-old said. “My father and I served as potentates exactly 40 years apart.”
John Bull Sr. started as a Shriners Hospitals for Children patient, receiving treatment for polio in the St. Louis hospital in the early 1930s. That led John senior to join the fraternity. John junior followed in his footsteps, first as a member, then as a leader.
“I said for the better part of 30 years that they didn't need a second Bull picture in the past potentate’s room, but it was a time when changes needed to be made, life needed to be pumped back into the center, and I was convinced otherwise,” John said. “A turnaround was on the horizon. We were able to bring back a lot of the old things the Shriners were all about – honoring the past and racing towards the future!”
Pam, John’s wife, has been right by his side. His son Eric became a Shriner as soon as he was eligible at 21. Twelve years later, Eric directs the same small IndyCar parade unit that John helped begin.
“Eric just loves being out there and parading and then doing those things for the Shriners and for the hospitals,” John said. “My dad was there the day I became a Shriner. Unfortunately, he wasn't around to see Eric become a Shriner, but he was there in spirit.”
Even for someone like John, who was basically born into the fraternity that marks its 150th anniversary this year, what it means to be a Shriner looks different than it once did.
“My goals as a Shriner have changed over the years. Originally, it was to be one of the guys who paraded in the little cars and enjoyed the fun part of the fraternity,” John said. “Then it changed as I was elected into a leadership role to help bring our center back, restore the fun and return to those things that we did in the earlier days. Now it's to help lead our system into this new era.”
John joined the board of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati in 2014. Difficult decisions loomed in 2020. Health care had changed drastically over the past 10 to 15 years and burn prevention has, thankfully, reduced the number of patients needing help.
The need for pediatric specialty care was still there; it just required a new home and, ultimately, a new name. Shriners Children’s Ohio was born in spring of 2021. John was part of the team that was instrumental in the move to Dayton – developing the “hospital within a hospital” partnership with Dayton Children’s.
“The model had to change. Hospitals are not brick and mortar. The hospital is our staff; our doctors and our nurses. It's what we do,” John said. “The care is the same. It's a different building. The heart and soul and the care are the same.”
The move has created important partnerships, refined the operation’s financial structure and improved the quality of care, John said, adding that the future is bright as the system celebrates its 1000th anniversary.
The optimism comes back to the family focus of the Shriners Children’s mission. “We take care of kids. And we want to make sure everybody knows that Shriners Children's is open for any family, regardless of their ability to pay,” John said. “We want to take care of them. We are specialists in burn care and in the plastic surgeries that we do; in cleft lip and palate and craniofacial. And we want to make sure they come see us first.”
Every Shriner takes an oath that we take care of our kids. And there isn't a Shriner out there who won't back that 100%.
“Everything goes back to our mission and our wraparound care. We determine what the child needs. It's our doctors who do the treatments and our doctors are the ones who say when it's time to go home, or this is what they need going forward. That's the basis of what Shriners Children's is all about.”
Over the past five decades, the Ohio hospital has helped children from 28 states and 35 countries. That requires lots of travel and logistical hurdles. Getting patients to and from the hospital is another element that sets Shriners apart. John has been instrumental in rebuilding the transportation system centered on the fraternity’s Road Runner volunteers.
Even personal needs like going to the store or taking a moment for dinner or entertainment with family is something the Shriners provide. They often help families visit local attractions like the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, to give families those precious moments of normalcy in what is often the most difficult time of their lives.
At the end of the day, John said that being a Shriner is simply about helping families in every way possible. He recalls a recent situation where a patient was ready to go home to North Carolina. The family left the hospital at 3 p.m. for the airport. Six hours later, they were still there after their flights were delayed and then canceled. They were overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. So they called John.
“Being able to have that personal contact makes all the difference,” he said. “We picked them up. We took care of them at the hotel. We rebooked flights and picked them up the next morning. They did not know what to say. The two most wonderful words you hear are ‘thank you.’ We don’t need to hear anything else. Thank you is plenty.”
Even after 42 years of membership, John remains impressed with the dedication, sacrifice and commitment from his brothers in the fraternity. “It is unlike anything I've seen. Every Shriner takes an oath that we take care of our kids,” John said. “And there isn't a Shriner out there who won't back that 100%.”
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