High-flying Eagle

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gwen Stallkamp wasn’t home for most of June. July was pretty busy, too. Her calendar is filling up for the fall.

But that’s the way life is since she was elected vice president of the Eagles Grand Auxiliary in Reno, Nev., this summer. She visits a number of auxiliaries around the state and country in her position.

It’s all kind of a warm-up for two years from now, when the Albert Lea woman will assume the office of president of the Grand Auxiliary.

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“I’ve been told the year that you’re president, you’re pretty much gone the whole year,” Stallkamp said.

She will be only the second Grand Auxiliary president from Minnesota and from the region, which includes Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

Stallkamp originally became a member of the Albert Lea Eagles Auxiliary in 1978. Her husband, Woody, had been a member for about a year at that time, she said.

The night she was installed as new member, she was nominated for an office, which was a guard position, she recalled.

By 1982-83, she was serving as the president of the auxiliary and Woody was serving as president of the local aerie.

“We were the first husband-and-wife presidents in Albert Lea,” Stallkamp said.

She and Woody both served as trustees for their respective Eagles organizations for 16 years.

Age: “I’d rather have you guess.”

Address: Albert Lea

Livelihood: contract worker for Freeborn County Department of Human Services; vice president of Eagles Grand Auxiliary

Family: grown sons Rick of St. Paul and Rian of Sacramento; grandson R.J.

Interesting fact: Stallkamp has lived in Albert Lea since 1972. She worked here for five years before that, commuting from Frost.

“It was really a family affair,” Stallkamp said. “My father-in-law took care of our boys when we needed to be at meetings.”

In addition to serving as local president, she has held most chairs in the local auxiliary, was state president, North Central regional president, and has been a Grand Auxiliary officer for six years.

“Once I started (on her journey to the Grand Auxiliary), I got a lot of encouragement and support,” she said of her fellow auxiliary members.

She continues to be a member of the local auxiliary’s ritual team. That involves memorizing a part that is recited when new members are initiated. The ritual team has competed on the district, state and national level. It placed first in district and state this year.

“We didn’t win at nationals this year, but we have won it in the past,” she said.

The organization was and continues to be an appealing one for Stallkamp because of the charitable work it does. “Our motto is ‘People Helping People,’” she said.

The organization raises money for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease research; for the Jimmy Durante Children’s Fund; for research into spinal chord injuries as well as for improving the lives of those with spinal chord injuries; and for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease research.

“The Eagles are building a new diabetes research center at the University of Iowa,” Stallkamp said. “Nationally, the auxiliary is raising $5 million over the next five years for this.”

Stallkamp said she is proud of the way the local aerie and auxiliary work together to raise money for charitable giving.

She said when Woody died three years ago she was proud that the Eagles gave her $1,025 in memorials. She donated it to the Max Baer Heart Fund (an Eagles charity), then worked with Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig to write an $11,000 grant to purchase defibrillators for the courtrooms in the Freeborn County Government Center and for CPR classes for prisoners.

“I was elated that we could donate the money back to the community,” Stallkamp said. “That’s what we’re all about. I was able to award that money at the state convention.”

After Woody’s death, she said she did a little soul-searching but decided moving up within the Grand Auxiliary was what he would have wanted her to do, she said.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “It’s really become a part of my life.”

Stallkamp retired from the Freeborn County Department of Human Services five years ago. She used to write the contracts for Human Services, she said.

Retirement for her lasted two months. She is now a contracted worker for the county, transporting children in residential care for Human Services, as well as providing supervised visitations for children and screenings for the elderly.

It gives her enough flexibility to be able to travel for the auxiliary, yet be home for ritual team events as well as past presidents’ events, she said.