Greeting just about every person that walked through the double doors of the historic building in Longbranch, Wash., Carolyn Wiley was visibly excited.
This was a big deal. Sure, most of the roughly 100 people here yesterday were simply there for the opportunity to say hello to neighbors while enjoying a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage. But this year was different. The Longbranch Improvement Club had invited local non-profits to come and mingle with its members. The club was stepping out.
Like the baby blue t-shirt emblazoned with “IMPROVER” in block letters that Wiley wore over a knitted sweater, this was a declaration that the club is determined to help better its community.
“This club is truly for the betterment of the community,” Wiley said and welcomes any attention the cub gets. She feels the club has been operating in the shadows for years.
The club was formed in 1921 to “purchase real estate for recreation and for a consolidated school” long before the first paved road reached Longbranch, according to its website. Its mission was to help build the community.
“We were doing things for the community,” she said, “ but they were all unseen.”
This year the club invited partners in the community like the Key Peninsula Firefighters Association to come and set up tables so guests can come talk and have their questions answered. The firefighters were also here to promote a croquet tournament co-sponsored by the club to raise money to help pay for volunteer firefighters’ training.
“Each year they partner with a local group and we threw our name in the hat,” said Anne Nesbit, a representative from the firefighters association. “The demand for training is huge. It makes (volunteer firefighters) better serve the community… become a more complete resource for the fire department.”
So getting the club’s assistance in raising money is a big help.
“This building alone, the outreach they do,” Nesbit said, “they do a lot.”
And club members go about it enthusiastically. The mood in the building felt like thanksgiving dinner. This was family helping family.
The ladies in the kitchen were chattering away like hens in a coop. Dollop after creamy dollop of pancake batter are dropped on the griddle. Eggs are getting scrambled in a skillet by Barb Van Bogart, 64, in front of a large window in this building that was built in 1939 as a gymnasium by the Works Progress Administration, one of the New Deal’s more ambitious agency.
Shirley Brewer, 67, whose husband Gayle is the club’s president, lines up paper cups and starts filling them with juice. Around her everyone is buzzing. This was a big deal. Brewer, like every volunteer in the room, knew it. This was home. And like many others in the room, Brewer moved to Longbranch with her husband after retirement. They both had long productive careers in Yakima, Wash. — she in the funeral service and he from private medical practice.
“We knew we wanted to leave Yakima,” she said. “All our kids were on the west side.”
So for years she and her husband kept a garage in the peninsula and visited on weekends and in the summer. Three years ago they built their house.
“We found the property and fell in love with it,” she adds.
This love story with Longbranch as the fair-haired dame is repeated around the room. Denny Prichard, 72, who owned a photo lab in Oregon, sold the business and moved here with his wife Jan. Today, they brought to the morning feed two of their grandchildren— Nolan, 10, and Declan, 7.
“I came here for the breakfast. I also came here because of them,” Declan says pointing to his grandparents. “A little bit of both I guess.”
Young and old, it did not seem to matter. The fellowship in the 60- by 63-foot oak-floored ballroom was warm and welcoming.
Even Del Leaf, 91, the oldest living member of the club, ambled over to the bar and asked for a bloody Mary to help wash down the pancakes, eggs and sausage he had just eaten.
When asked how his breakfast went: “I don’t know which is better,” he responds lifting his cup with a sly grin, “this or the pancakes.”
For more information about the Longbranch Improvement Club go here: http://www.longbranchimprovementclub.org/index.php