Elks’ exalted ruler a bit out of ordinary

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Sweet Home Elks Lodge’s Exalted Ruler Valarie Eastin is not your typical Elks head honcho.

First, she skipped some of the rungs in the ladder that members generally climb to the top, and she is the first female exalted ruler in Sweet Home.

Eastin, 61, joined the Lebanon Elks Lodge in 1998. She transferred to Sweet Home after Past Exalted Ruler Dennis Bechtel needed to fill a position.

While each position is elected by the members, exalted rulers normally are chosen in a line of succession, starting as a lecturing knight, then becoming the loyal knight and then leading knight before being elected to the office of exalted ruler. Terms run from April 1 to March 31.

Eastin joined the Sweet Home Lodge and became lecturing knight last year. Then the heir to exalted ruler, Randy Claasen, resigned and the loyal knight declined to move up, leaving Eastin to advance to leading knight in March and then to exalted ruler in April.

It was a natural fit for her, she said. She has been in and out of the Sweet Home Lodge for 30 years, spending 10 years as a member at Lebanon and four or five years publishing the Lebanon Elks newsletter.

Eastin’s late husband, Lawrence Goureau, was a member of the Sweet Home lodge, so she held a spouse card for the Sweet Home Elks and was involved in local banquets and functions in Sweet Home as well as Lebanon.

Eastin has lived in the Sweet Home and Lebanon areas for decades. She retired from Samaritan Wiley Creek Assisted Living facility in 2007, married current Lecturing Knight Jack Eastin and moved back to Sweet Home from Lebanon.

“I was well-known in Lebanon and here,” she said.

Women have been eligible for membership for about 13 years, Eastin said. “As far as being a woman involved in an office, I thought it has been an honor. We’re still in the minority, but more and more, we’re coming on through.”

Lebanon had a female exalted ruler last year, she said, and she believes there are about five throughout Oregon this year.

Her position keeps her busy making sure reports are kept up to date and dealing with a variety of day-to-day issues, but her board makes it easy.

“It’s very united – It’s very unified,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. You have to be very dedicated because we do so much for the community and charities.” Eastin said her board members give her a lot of support.

She said she does it because she believes in what the Elks do. The lodge is involved in benefits for veterans, the Casey Eye Clinic and Meadow Wood summer camp for disabled children. They also participate in many local events, including barbecuing chicken for a Make A Wish Foundation party for 9-year-old Tristan Varner, the Firemen’s Steak Cookout and the Rodeo and Sportsman’s Holiday court coronations.

The theme Eastin chose for the Elks this year is “A New Beginning,” she said. That’s because the Elks are selling their building and planning to find a new home.

She said the sagging membership may be resurging a little. More members are starting to show up at the regular meetings on Wednesday nights.

“It’s been accepted now that we are moving,” she said. “There’s no more division about that.”

Membership at the Elks is just under 400, many of whom live outside of the area. About 100 members participate in activities with a core of 20 to 25 dedicated volunteers.

“I have fun,” Eastin said. “I get teased a lot of course, but I can give it back too. There’s times I want to pull my hair out. There’s times I just laugh so hard I want to cry.”

Eastin is happy to be back in Sweet Home, she said. “I like living here. I like the idea of being in a small community.”

She enjoys arts and crafts, gardening and spending time with her grandchildren and family. She also enjoys spending time at the Elks Lodge and the VFW Hall, where she is a member of the VFW Auxiliary.

The Elks officers this year include Lecturing Knight Jack Eastin, Loyal Knight Nick Heinick and Leading Knight Ron Sharrer. Appointed officers are Chaplain Gordon Drummond, Lodge Esquire Mel Pike, Inner Guard Jerry Gaspard and Tyler Kevin Howard. A tyler serves at the meeting door, checking cards and making sure doors are closed for the meeting.

The Board of Trustees includes chairman Gene Smothers, Treasurer Al Bashaw and Secretary Charly Bashaw and trustees Bonnie Lemons, Jerry McCollum, Howard Drago and Jack Stackhouse.

Past Exalted Ruler Dennis Bechtel serves as adviser to the board. Jan Martin is the president of the Elkettes, a women’s auxiliary group.

For information about the Elks or membership, call 367-7806.