Puyallup Eagles refuses to host free memorial for former club president, who had dementia, over unpaid dues

Donald E. Peters was a former president of the Puyallup Eagles who went to the club almost every day until he no longer could.

Peters, who died June 17 at age 85, visited the Fraternal Order of Eagles at Fifth Street Northwest for special occasions – and often for a drink – for the better part of five decades.

But his daughter, Robin Mathies, told The News Tribune that his lifelong commitment to the Eagles was ignored when family tried to schedule his memorial reception there.

Mathies said the club wouldn’t allow it because Peters had stopped paying membership dues several years ago.

She said that would have been reasonable, if her father hadn’t been diagnosed with dementia. During the time he fell behind on fees, he was being cared for round-the-clock by family and, eventually, at a nursing home.

“How do you expect people with dementia to remember to pay dues if they can’t remember who they are?” Mathies asked.

Puyallup Eagles manager Loni Andrews, who knew Peters, told the newspaper Monday that she and other members didn’t know where he was or why he stopped paying dues. The club had to drop his membership in 2007, and with that his family lost funeral services, including free refreshments and use of the facility. Those services are reserved for paying members.

“We did everything in our power to find out where this man was to stop from dropping him,” Andrews said.

She noted that some of Peters’ family members were rude when they called about the reception, despite the club’s efforts to work something out. She said the Eagles would’ve hosted the event if the family paid for it.

“The Eagles did try to work with them and the family just did not want to work with us,” Andrews said.

Mathies disputed that assertion, adding that she would have paid to use the facility had she known it was an option. Instead, the family held the reception at All Saints Catholic Church in Puyallup.

Peters and his wife were past presidents of the Eagles. Mathies said her father left his mark all over the building, reupholstering bar stools, stocking inventory, working behind the bar and in the kitchen. He organized the bowling league and helped coordinate the annual picnic.

“He was involved in pretty much everything at one time or another over the years,” said Mathies, who now lives in the Sacramento, California area.

Peters was heavily involved at the club until his wife died in 2003. He was diagnosed with dementia several years later, and eventually moved in with a relative who paid his bills. Finances were tight, and his dues fell by the wayside.

Family members say the club should have taken into consideration the decades Peters contributed to the Eagles.

“That place was his life,” grandson Rex Mathies said. “He was there every day.”

Andrews said Peters’ membership likely would have continued had someone from the family explained the situation to her and others at the Eagles sooner.

“Some of his friends probably would have paid his dues,” she said.

Leonard Blakely, a 40-year member of the Puyallup Eagles and another past president, was one of those friends. The 71-year-old Parkland resident said Peters was “a very good member and a good man,” and that many members of the Eagles felt that the circumstances surrounding the reception were unfortunate.

Blakely said a group of past presidents planned to pay Peters’ dues before his membership was dropped, but nobody could track down him or his family.

“There was just no response to any of his notices,” he said. “It concerned me, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Mathies said her husband, Doug, a Puyallup Eagles member for 40 years, receives monthly newsletters and easily could have been reached. She said her husband plans to withdraw his membership as a result of the controversy.

“We’re done,” she said. “We haven’t even lived by an Eagles for a long time, but continued to pay dues because it was a family affair.”