Sam Khoury of Bridge City has been a Shriner for a good part of his life. 

He used to ride the mini-cars (called “karts”) in parades until he outgrew them.

“They’re so small I got to where it was hard to get my legs in there,” he says. 

Khoury recently completed a journey that began seven years ago when he was named potentate of the El Mina Shrine.

There have only been three El Mina potentates from Orange County (the other two are David Dunn and Marco Kordie). Khoury is also president of the Texas Shrine Association, the first one from Orange County. In that capacity, he oversees 13 Shrine Centers in Texas.

As potentate, Khoury will serve a one-year term, helping to coordinate Shine circuses and other fundraisers. Shrine interests in south Texas include a burn center in Galveston and an orthopedic hospital in Houston.

“It will be a full-time job,” Khoury says. “A lot of traveling.” Shrine hospitals are free to the public.

“They don’t even have a billing department,” he says.

Khoury was installed Tuesday in Galveston. A local ceremony will take place Friday at the Sunset Grove Country Club. Khoury has seen the Galveston area since Hurricane Ike, and reports the streets are relatively clean and water drainage is back.

“But there’s still a lot of ‘bad’ down there,” he says. “All of our [burn center] patients are still in San Antonio.”

Headquartered in Galveston, El Mina’s regions spans the south Texas area, north to Jasper and west to Brazoria County.

“There is a line we go through to reach potentate,” Khoury says. The process goes through seven steps, and each year a panel votes whether or not to continue someone on the line. And just as Khoury was nominated, he will have a chance to nominate a Shriner from this area for potentate.

Although he considers his title and responsibilities an honor, he says this will be his final Shrine office.

“From there I could go onto the national level, but at age 70 I don’t have any desire to do that,” he says.

Born in Amarillo, Khoury is a Marine Corps veteran and retired from U.S. Steel after 30 years. He is a past master of Orange’s Madison Lodge 126, and past president of the Orange Shrine Club, the Kart Patrol and the Oriental Band; and is a member of Galveston Scottish Rite and an associate member of Lake Charles’ Habibi Shriners. He has four children and seven grandchildren.

El Mina has more than 1,000 members. There are about 37,000 Shriners in Texas and some 137,000 Shriners in the nation.