A Car Club Like No Other: Tangier Shrine PatrolAug 27, 2021 04:13PM ● By Leo Adam Biga
Illustration by Derek Joy
Once upon a time, a well-heeled group in Omaha with a need for speed took such a fancy to an American sports car that they created some of the most sought-after editions of this vehicle by annually purchasing a new fleet in order to perform driving stunts. The Omaha Tangier Shrine Corvette Patrol, active from 1957 to 1981, zipped around in the newest Corvettes for show-driving in parades and circuses to promote Shrine’s charitable causes.
Union Pacific attorney Jerome Given, according to his family, embodied this thrill-seeking and community-oriented fraternity of World War II veterans. Given is said to have paid his own way through Creighton Law School with earnings from motorcycle races in Sturgis, South Dakota, and semi-pro hockey games in Wichita, Kansas.
“He was a car freak. He liked engines. He liked fast things. He liked unusual things. It had to be different. It had to be unique,” daughter Sherry Moran said.
Given and his car-mates have passed away, but their devoted Shrine service and Corvette affinity are immortalized in articles and photos. Hank Schwarz, an officer with Tangier’s current club of Corvette enthusiasts, said, “It was a very elite group of people. They were very well thought of throughout the Shrine community.”
When the idea of the original car patrol surfaced, Wahoo, Nebraska, Chevrolet dealer G.W. Anderson offered his auto industry connections. G.W.’s son, Gar Anderson, recalled, “The Thunderbird was the group’s original choice. But my dad said, ‘I’m a Chevy dealer, I can’t have a Thunderbird.’ That’s how they changed to the Corvette.”
That was fine by Given, who had been hooked since the first time he spotted a Corvette. Though no gearhead, G.W. was glad to get all these new Corvette sales.
With the help of Anderson Chevrolet, patrol members bought new Corvettes yearly through Chevrolet’s Central Office Production Order (COPO) program. It was not a cheap venture. In 1957, a base model Corvette was $3,176 (retail), at a time when the median family income was $5,000. For several years, taking possession of the club members’ ’Vettes meant catching an all-night passenger train from Omaha’s Union Station to St. Louis, where Corvettes were assembled.
Gar and twin brother Gaylord sometimes tagged along. “The guys would spend many hours playing dice, and cards, and just having a great time,” Gar said. “The next morning they picked up their Corvettes. We’d drive from St. Louis to Kansas City, spend the night for another evening of frolic and fun, then go our separate ways. It was a great time.”
Patrol members were supposed to have identical vehicles, right down to the color. The bulk factory order by this club meant the collective was able to customize their Corvettes, often creating club exclusives. Some years this meant going without a radio, other times the customization was more visible to parade watchers and others. In 1962, Corvette Patrol director Quay Fitch special-ordered the Corvettes with the Cadillac color of Royal Heather Amethyst. Unfortunately, the interior colors that year did not include Fitch’s preference of white. Thus, he chose a red interior that, combined with the purple exterior, many considered garish. Following that year, the ’Vette color was always determined by a club vote.
Although not the favorite car of the club members, this particular vehicle is a favorite of Corvette collectors. With few of these 1962 vehicles with this color combination in existence, the purchase price of a restored one is expensive. In early August, MotorSport Auction Group had one for sale with a reserve of more than $150,000. The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, displayed a restored Royal Heather Amethyst Corvette from the Omaha Patrol from 2006-2008.
Patrol performances “were precision driving at its best,” Moran said. “They were really good. They were so close, so perfect. Very impressive. They had one maneuver where each driver would hold the handle of the car next to him—that’s how close they were driving.”
Her sister Jeannè Willerth stated, “It was really cool.”
The group traveled as a convoy to events, reportedly becoming the first to drive on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. They performed their synchronized routine at Rosenblatt Stadium, the Civic Auditorium, and other area venues.
“They went a lot of places, they did a lot of things,” Moran said.
“They had lots of fun,” Gar added.
Moran said her father owned 30 Corvettes “before my mother made him stop buying them.” Gar’s father carried a large number of Corvettes in his store in a town of 4,000 people. “That brought a lot of attention,” he said. “We had people from other states buying them from us.”
Like all fairy tales, however, this story belongs to a time long ago. Sometime in the 1970s, the train trips turned into the Corvettes being delivered directly to the dealership. G.W. passed away in 1980, and the Corvette Patrol disbanded the following year. But remembering the patrol four decades since it disbanded, Moran said, would please her dad and his cronies, who lived for community and camaraderie.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.