No one remembers exactly when the neon "Eagle" stopped lighting Main Street at night, but it’s been more than five years. Now the Fraternal Order of Eagles has contracted for the repairs, with hopes it will be relit when Great Bend hosts the state convention on June 1.
Eagles President Jim Herrman said from what he’s been able to learn, there is only one other sign like the one in Great Bend (he doesn’t remember where the other one is). Animation makes the neon eagles — there are actually one on each side of the sign — appear to be flapping their wings. "The wings will fly again," he said.
History buffs and scenic byway promoters who stopped at the FOE Wednesday for a quick tour were impressed.
"I can’t wait to see the eagle fly," said Judy Waldon, a consultant for the area scenic byway committee. "This is a contribution to the whole community, really. These things make small towns interesting."
Amy Cole with the National Trust for Historical Preservation, Patrick Zollner with the Kansas Historical Society and Karen Neuforth with the Barton County Historical Society also joined the tour. They had all just completed a "whistle-stop tour" of area communities. While they were not involved in the Eagles’ project, all expressed enthusiasm for the sign restoration. Zollner said the lodge, built circa 1949, is the type of place that could go on the National Register.
"I have extremely fond memories," Neuforth said of Great Bend’s Eagle’s Lodge. "My parents came to the dances on Saturday nights."
Herrman said 19 pieces of neon need to be replaced on just one side of the sign, and cost of the job has been estimated at $4,500. One company wanted to remove the sign and work on it in Hutchinson, but Mark’s Custom Signs in Great Bend agreed to do the work on-site, he said.
Joni Carr with the Eagles said the nonprofit organization has had several fundraisers to relight the neon sign. "(It) will look really good again in Great Bend," she said. The next fundraiser is a dance this Saturday from 7-11 p.m., with The Country Plus Band playing. The suggested donation is $3 per person of $5 a couple.
Carr notes the Fraternal Order of Eagles nationwide contributes millions of dollars to charity each year. It is currently working on a five-year campaign to raise $5 million a year for diabetes research, and that Great Bend raises money for that project through benefit dinners.
The Eagles usually has dinners every Friday from 6-9 p.m., Herrman said, but not all dinners are fundraisers.