PR Eagles Club back up and running

When the Eagles Club shuttered its doors and sold its Park Rapids building off to settle tax arrearages, lots of folks wrote them off as dead. Now ensconced in a new social club, the Park Rapids Eagles are soaring once again with a mission of "Pe...

Jamie Maurer and Janet Burgau are heading up the Eagles’ revival. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

When the Eagles Club shuttered its doors and sold its Park Rapids building off to settle tax arrearages, lots of folks wrote them off as dead.  Now ensconced in a new social club, the Park Rapids Eagles are soaring once again with a mission of “People Helping People.”  Aerie 870 is now operating out of leased space in Lori Lea Lanes on Highway 34 East. The club will have a grand opening Dec. 12 to celebrate its rebirth, or rejuvenation. It is also open to new memberships.  “It was one of the easiest leases we’ve ever negotiated,” said Gaylen Dvorshak, an Alexandria man who received the task of revamping the club.  The new space is “a place where the Aerie and Auxiliary can get together and enjoy each other’s company,” Dvorshak said.

The public is also invited as the Eagles throws its doors open to all comers.  Once a club of 900 members, the Eagles has suffered the fate of most social non-profit clubs – dwindling  membership and competing interests.  Dvorshak estimated it now has 100+ active members locally. Nationally the Eagles have about 1.5 million members in all 50 states and Canada, down from an estimated 3 million.  “We are a Christian organization,” Dvorshak emphasized. “We believe in a Supreme Being.”  Fraternal organizations may be a sign of the times, but their good works perpetuate.  The Eagles is soliciting the name of children ages newborn to 18 years old for its annual Christmas party. The final plans will be formulated Dec. 12, but there will be a party.  Parents are asked to submit the name, age, size and gender of a child before Dec. 12 so that members can purchase Christmas gifts. Those can be submitted to club members or leave a message at 732-3511.  Last year’s Christmas party, in which kids received a free meal, a visit with Santa and a free gift, was mobbed with youngsters and their parents. Eagles members doubt they will get such a crowd this year, but are nevertheless hoping for a good turnout.  A date for the party will be finalized and announced later.  

The Fraternal Order of Eagles is a club into its second century. Founded nationally in 1896, the local chapter began in 1904, Dvorshak said.  He was brought in to reorganize the club and get it back on its feet.  “I couldn’t wait to join the Eagles after seeing what they did for the community,” said Jamie Maurer, who is the current president. His dad served as an Eagles officer in 1992-93.  “Boomers built us,” Dvorshak said. But children of Baby Boomers have not followed the trend of membership, he added.  Eagles members pride themselves on giving back 100 percent of the Charity Foundation contributions received in the firm of grants, the foundation indicated.  “The Eagles took their giving to new heights in 2008, pledging to donate $25 million over five years to fund diabetes research,” the foundation acknowledged.  The Eagles agreed to partner with the University of Iowa in a five-year fundraising project leading to the development of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the university.  But diabetes isn’t the only cause the Eagles support. Members have given millions of dollars for cancer research, for child abuse prevention, for spinal cord injuries, heart ailments, a kidney fund, Alzheimer’s, disaster relief  and for scoliosis.  In 1971 a Golden Eagle Fund was set up to give grants to organizations that helped senior citizens.  Members are most proud of their memorial foundation, which helps support families of deceased members and provides scholarships to those offspring.  Dvorshak said Eagles give to many charities, but scrutinize their administrative costs first, to ensure the funds go to charities that use their donations wisely.  Janet Burgau heads up the trustees group that oversees operations locally.  

The club primarily relies on volunteer help and Burgau bartends four days a week.  Dvorshak said it hurt the community not to have a club for the few months it took to arrange the lease at the bowling alley after the club closed its doors.  “We’re debt free,” Maurer said proudly.  Dvorshak, who audited 12 years’ worth of the books, said rumors that the club had been the victim of interior theft were simply not true. He wanted that known to prospective members.  The Eagles and American Legion Club were the main spots for outside groups to host banquets and receptions. Not having that second club put tremendous strain on the Legion, Dvorshak said. The grand opening will begin at 11 a.m. There will be live entertainment that night, Dec. 12. Meetings are the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Dues are roughly $2.50 per month. Many first year memberships are free.  “Duty brings about duty,” said Dvorshak. “You have to volunteer to know what it’s like.”  And, in a bit of trivia, Dvorshak said the Eagles were the “pushing force” behind Mother’s Day.                      

Related Topics: PARK RAPIDS
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