Whether they're working to provide care for children in hospitals or training members to be clowns, the Shriners seem to inspire smiles.

Working with the Shriners is a "labor of love," said Joseph P. Padgett, imperial potentate of the Shrine of North America.Padgett, of Sedona, Ariz., and David "Shorty" Barnett, Lake Jackson, Texas, president of the International Shrine Clown Association, are among approximately 200 Shriners and their wives visiting Salt Lake City.

Some 60 Utah Shriners are members of the association, which is holding its midwinter convention in the Salt Lake Hilton Hotel. Sessions began Wednesday and continue through Saturday, Feb. 23.

Shriners, or Shrine Masons, belong to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America, an international fraternity of approximately 775,000 members (about 2,500 in Utah).

Founded in New York City in 1872, the organization is composed solely of 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Masons or Knights Templar York Rite Masons.

The Shrine is best known for its colorful parades, its distinctive red fez, and its official philanthropy, Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children. Such facilities, including one at Fairfax Road at Virginia Street in Salt Lake City, are often referred to as the "heart and soul of the Shrine."

At the Salt Lake convention the Shriners are instructed in their duties. They organize educational programs, elect officers and promote philanthropy.

Padgett, who now works full time with the Shriners, said the organization receives excellent support in Utah. Shriners support 22 hospitals, 19 of which are orthopedic centers. Three of the 19 facilities specialize in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Three other Shriners hospitals treat burn victims.

"I love my work with the Shriners. We have helped about 400,000 children since the first hospital was established in 1922 in Shreveport, La.," Padgett said.

He said the Salt Lake hospital, which began operations in 1925 as a mobile unit at the old St. Mark's Hospital on north 300 West, is scheduled for a renovation project totaling approximately $15 million.

Hospital administrator Marie Holm told the Deseret News Friday the hospital is working with an out-of-state architect. The ground may be broken this year, she said.

Padget said about 35 to 40 children are patients at any one time at the Salt Lake hospital, which was located at its present site in 1951. The care of patients is completely paid for with funds contributed by or raised by Shriners at such events as football games, circuses and fish frys.

Any individual younger than 18 is eligible for care at a Shriner hospital, provided he or she is recommended by a Shriner. Other than their own internal controls, Shriners hospitals have no accounting systems. The hospitals do not accept money from insurance companies or governmental agencies.

Barnett said the International Shrine Clown Association has 5,500 members, all of whom are Shriners and serve as clowns for their temples. They work as clowns in Shrine circuses and in shopping malls and participate in parades or other events where clowns are needed.

"We do not charge for our services. We get to see the good side of people. When we go out we can generally put a smile on anybody, even hardened criminals in prisons. We have a number of prisons in the area where I live. I have gone into the prisons and taught clowning techniques to prisoners for the Texas Prison Rodeo. It seems to have a good effect on prisoners," Barnett said.