A History of Promoting Peace, Prosperity, Gladness and Hope
Gig Harbor Eagles Club continues to inspire and serve
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo Courtesy of Gig Harbor Eagles Club
Before his passing a little over a year ago, Eric Asplund was the last surviving Charter member of the Gig Harbor Eagles Club Aerie, and had just received his 75 Charter Member pin: 75 years of working with the Eagles to bring joy, fun and service to the Gig Harbor community, from the time the Aerie members first met in a basement to its current location on Burnham Drive.
In a history of the club, Asplund writes of how two carpenters and members of the Port Orchard Aerie—Joe Veitenhaus and Frank Thompson—were the inspiration behind the Gig Harbor Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie No. 2809. Efforts began to start the first Gig Harbor Aerie, which was established in 1948, and of which Veitenhaus would later serve as president from 1974 to 1975.
Signups were held in the basement of the old Shoreline Café, initiation of members took place at the old VFW Hall, and the very first meetings were held in the basement of the Pastime Building, now Windermere Realty.
Asplund was there through the various phases of the club’s life, and even served as president for a time. The club went through several different locations, until the lot it currently sits on was purchased in 1956, and three used prefab houses were erected with help from Aerie and Auxiliary volunteers. A three-day celebration followed this first building, when it was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the Gig Harbor Aerie.
Almost 15 years later, an all-volunteer group added to the building, creating the old lounge, old entry and meeting/bingo room. During an additional construction phase in 1983, the Eagles Club gained a lounge, dance and dining room, kitchen and restrooms that made it the lively gathering place it is today.
The club is home to regular weekly dinners, dances, bingo nights, Sunday morning breakfasts and game watches, and karaoke nights. It’s “the greatest place in Gig Harbor to socialize,” says Bette Asplund, Eric’s widow and the last surviving Charter member of the Auxiliary, which is the women’s only component of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles.
“94 years young,” is how Kathy Black, Aerie Chaplain and former Conductor with the Gig Harbor Eagles Club, describes Bette. Bette has always been a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Gig Harbor History and the Eagles Club, explains Black.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles is an international nonprofit organization that “unites fraternally in the spirit of liberty, truth, justice and equality, to make human life more desirable by lessening its ills, and by promoting peace, prosperity, gladness and hope.”
They regularly support the Children’s Hospital, NW Kidney Foundation, American Diabetes Foundation and the American Cancer Society, in addition to many other local charities and community causes.
The Gig Harbor Eagles’ first fundraiser was a dance at the former Horseshoe Lake Pavilion to raise funds for the stage curtain at Peninsula High School. They raised $500 through the event—a large amount for the time.
Throughout the year the Eagles have several annual benefits, and in addition to supporting national charities, they donate to local community fundraisers and nonprofits, provide scholarships, and contribute to civic projects that help make Gig Harbor a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
Their first civic project was Gig Harbor City Park, where they proved instrumental in having the deed reverted from the school district to the City of Gig Harbor. Every year, the Eagles host a much anticipated Christmas Party, Halloween Party and Easter Egg Hunt, and throughout the year there are dances, bingo nights, karaoke nights and other special events at the Eagles Club for the community to enjoy. Proceeds always go to a certain charity or cause.
The pandemic has made this year slightly different, but the Eagles are still dedicated to providing a space Gig Harbor can come together, have fun and support the community. “We always have a calendar full of events and social fun, [although] we have to wait for the pandemic to get under control now,” says Bette.
Bette, who has been a Charter member for 75 years now, welcomes people to come in and visit the Eagles Club. Once a month, the club initiates new members into the Aerie or the Auxiliary, and there are now more than 1,200 members who have joined.
Although Bette is now in a care facility, the same welcoming attitude and passion for touching the community can be felt through many others who have continued on the legacy of the Gig Harbor Eagles Club. It is a community of like-minded people, eager to provide a place of celebration and fun, and committed to making Gig Harbor an even better place to call home.