The Wayne Eagles Club has been a downtown fixture in Wayne for four decades, its longevity due in no small part to a number of the original 104 charter members who have been part of the club since its inception in early 1977.
Jan Gamble and Cheryl Henschke were two of the original members who joined the club, which was started after Ruth and Wendell Korth had enjoyed themselves one evening at an Eagles Club in Blair.
“They thought it was so much fun that they should start one here and they asked people to join,” Gamble said.
A home show at the Wayne City Auditorium was an opportunity for the fledgling group to set up a booth and talk with local residents to encourage them to join. With the help of Elizabeth and Richard Calson, the club set up shop in its current location at 119 Main Street and have been there ever since, celebrating their 40th anniversary with a party at the club on May 20.
“The Carlsons had just come to Wayne and had bought this building, and they put an ad in The Wayne Herald and we had our first meeting here,” Gamble said.
While most Eagles Club outposts required a female member to be affiliated with a male member – such as a husband or family member – Wayne kept its membership open to all local residents and started with a charter group of 62 men and 42 women.
“Normally, a woman had to have a male affiliation to belong, but we had an open charter so that anybody could join, and we’ve always kept an open charter,” Henschke said.
“People Helping People” has been the club’s slogan, and they’ve done a lot to help out local non-profit charities and other community efforts with fundraising events like a steak fry, harvest breakfast, a chili cook-off, soup suppers and a Witches’ Night Out.
“That event has always been fun,” Gamble said. “It’s usually done close to Halloween and women dress up like witches and we stop by the coffee shop and the local bars, then come back here and judge the best outfits and give out prizes.”
The Eagles Club has long had a team in the local pool league, and has also been Wayne’s home for the weekly Free Poker Network league of Texas Hold ‘Em poker players from the area who compete every week during the fall, winter and spring.
The money raised through these events go to support charities connected with the national Eagles Club, as well as many local efforts.
“Being a non-profit, we want to make sure to give to these charities and give out the money we raise,” Henschke said. “We like to try to keep most of the money we raise here to help the community, and we give to some of the charities the Eagles give to.”
The Eagles Club’s Aerie and Auxiliary groups have annually given out scholarships to Wayne High School graduates, and also donates money to libraries in Wayne, Wakefield, Winside and Carroll. They’ve also supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Relay For Life, the school’s Backpack Program and a variety of other local efforts.
Because a number of current members have been longtime members of the local Eagles Club membership, the club has developed something of a warm family type of atmosphere.
“For a lot of years it was always husbands and wives who came together, so if one came, the other was here as well,” Henschke said. “We always have stressed family, and we’ve all watched each other’s kids grow up and were there for each other when family members passed away.”
“There were a lot more people here at the club in the early years,” Gamble added. “We’d always have the kids around, especially at Christmas, and a lot of times they’d either run around here or run up and down Main Street and just have fun. It was a place you could come and bring the family in.”
Over the years, the Wayne club has had members ascend to state offices in the Nebraska section of the Eagles Club. Fern Test and Jessica Olson were previous state officers, and Larry Test is in the Eagles Club Hall of Fame.
The club continues to be a contributing member of the community and is involved with a number of projects, including the Omelette Feed that is held during each summer’s Wayne Chicken Show.
“When we first got involved with the Chicken Show we held the Omelette Feed at the old 1912 building, then did the parade for a number of years and now we’re back to providing for the Omelette Feed at our place,” Gamble said.
The longtime membership is looking for younger members to help carry on the tradition. Recently, the 200-member club elected a third-generation Eagles Club member. Amber Shlines is the new Wayne Eagles president, granddaughter of Mary Wert, one of the original members of the club, and daughter of current member Chris Costa.
“We’re looking for younger members to join,” Henschke said. “We still have some older members around, but we need to have the younger ones come in and be a part of the club.”