Eagles of Centralia will soon have to find a new place to land, as the Centralia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles will be closing Aug. 31.
“After the mine shut down and the casinos opened, interest in membership started dwindling,” said Brian Stark, secretary for the Centralia Eagles. “…It seems like there’s too much outside entertainment, and young people just aren’t joining.”
At the club’s height, Stark said, there were over 1,500 members, but its ranks have steadily declined by about 50 to 60 per year. Membership is down to about 240. He blames the drop on a combination of older members dying off and an apparent lack of interest from upcoming generations in joining fraternal groups.
Stark said they’ve tried to bring in new members, but nothing has worked.
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The Centralia Eagles’ clubhouse, which is referred to as an aerie, is one of the oldest in the nation. Of more than 4,500 that have been founded, Centralia was No. 512 when it opened in 1903. The club’s original building was downtown, but swelling membership caused the group to outgrow its old space, and it moved to the current location on North Pearl – which, from a physical standpoint, is the largest of its kind in the state. The aerie was supported by membership dues and revenue from the bar and events held there, but at about $800 per week the building’s expenses outstripped its revenue.
The club plans to have a final celebration for members Friday and Saturday.
Club members were alerted to the club’s closure by letters and were given the option to transfer their memberships to other clubs in the area.
Damon Sin, an Eagle since 2005, said it was nice being a member and having a bar in the north end of town, but he likely won’t maintain his membership after the Centralia aerie closes down.
“I’m not going to drive all the way to Olympia or Chehalis to be with the Eagles,” he said.
Administrators with the Centralia club tried to have theirs merged with neighboring clubs, but none agreed. Stark said if another organization were to take over the Centralia aerie, they would receive the financial benefits of the building’s sale, but they’d have to absorb its costs in the meantime.
The building and everything inside will be sold. Any proceeds will go to the Eagles national headquarters.
The Eagles are a national fraternal organization that started in Seattle in 1898. The club has played a significant role in American life, pushing for the establishment of Mother’s Day in the early 1900s and donating to numerous philanthropic causes around the nation. Prominent American figures have been among the club’s ranks, including former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, as well as comedian Bob Hope and country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus.