Penticton's Dave Smith has been elected grand worthy president of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Smith, who soon begins his 40th year as an Eagle, will oversee the organization which has 70,000 members from 1,470 aeries, including 22 in B.C. The Eagles are in 49 of the 50 U.S. states and six Canadian provinces.
"I'm excited and I will admit, nervous," Smith said. "Everyone seems to like my approach because I'm one of these people who doesn't change with position. When I became president in Rossland, someone said, 'You can't work here you're the boss.' But I'm still Dave Smith and that's the way I will be when I become grand worthy president."
Smith will be officially sworn in for a one-year term on July 23 in Spokane, Wash. At the end of his term, he becomes junior past-president and chairman of the board of trustees.
Since establishing in 1898, Smith is the fourth Canadian to hold the position of grand worth president and the first since John Porter of Calgary in 2007. The retired millwright has an incredible ability to rhyme off names, years and statistics about the Fraternal Order of Eagles, including the names of seven U.S. presidents who were Eagles.
Much of his term will be spent visiting aeries across North America to foster goodwill. Penticton will benefit as the grand worthy president is allowed to share his passion for select charities. Smith has chosen the Penticton Regional Hospital plus a diabetes research centre, called "A bridge to the cure." Clubs and individual members often donate to the causes after a grand worthy president visits.
Born in Arbroath, Scotland, a small fishing village, he immigrated to Canada, first moving to Stratford and Sarnia, Ont. and then Rossland, where he first became an Eagles member.
"I was a millwright and one of my brothers asked, 'Would you like to go to the Eagles with me?' I asked, 'What's the Eagles?' So we went and I liked what I saw. When I had my interview to join, I was asked by the president what I'd like to get involved with. I told him, 'I wouldn't mind being president' — the silliest thing I ever said because two years later, I became their president. But, I've enjoyed this life ever since."
Appreciating the Okanagan, he and his wife soon relocated to Penticton, owning and operating the Western Motel for seven years. In the early 1990s, he and Helen Little were able to secure a charter for Penticton.
"Whenever you organize something, the longer it takes, the harder it gets," he said of having to register 75 members, plus an additional 75 for the ladies' auxiliary. "It was a lot of knocking on doors. I was an active curler, back then. As well, I went to a lot of people in the Scots' community. Then there were a lot of people in the apartments across the street. We literally got in at the 11th hour. Our fraternal year begins June 11 and we formed on May 24 or 25."
At some point, Smith has held every position on Penticton's aerie executive, except president, only because someone else wanted that position. He became active at the international level in 2001 as a committee member.
Penticton has a strong membership with 435 members, plus an additional 260 with its auxiliary. Much of the membership is active in various activities.
Service clubs struggle with members quitting once they have their first disagreement, but Smith invites compromise, never putting himself ahead of the organization.
"It's called water off a duck's back," he laughs. "You really have to learn to take the knocks and keep going. That's the only way any organization will survive. If you're a quitter, then the people around you become quitters."
His secret to securing younger members is allowing them to participate and supporting their ideas. A suggestion for a lip-sync contest came before the board in 2019 and slowly, over a five-week period, it picked up momentum to the point where they're going to offer it again this month.
The biggest appeal of being an Eagle is the sense of being part of a fraternity.
Smith's wife Frances was active with the local club, up until her death last March. His sister, Freda Thornton, as well as several of his nieces and nephews, are also members.
"To be honest, we have nothing more to offer (than other clubs)," he said. "We are formed on the basis of providing social participation between people and for raising funds for charity. Our preamble is liberty, truth, justice and equality for the betterment of our own kind and to create a social atmosphere. When you travel and walk into the Eagles, you're always made to feel welcome. Sometimes you have a hard time spending your own money because everyone is so welcoming and generous."