Lebanon Square Circlers celebrate 75 years

The Lebanon Square Circlers celebrated their 75th anniversary doing what they do best: square dancing.

Held on Feb. 4 at the Lebanon Senior Center, the event drew approximately 100 people from Albany, Corvallis, Independence, Lebanon and Sweet Home clubs. They cast off, promenaded, circled left, circled right and engaged in friendly chit-chat.

Many members of the Lebanon club wore their red and white attire, complete with the strawberry insignia. Petticoat-poofed skirts twirled in feminine fashion while callers took turns leading the charge.

Sarah and Grace Foultner talk with Richard Pluff while taking a break.

If one asks why these dancers enjoy this particular activity so much, they will likely hear the same reasons: the friendships they build, the physical exercise they benefit from and the mental stimulation they acquire.

The Lebanon Square Circlers formed in 1949 after the American Legion Auxiliary started offering classes. They performed their first public street dance at the 1949 Strawberry Festival, and to this day they continue the tradition by square dancing on a trailer pulled during the Grand parade.

After 75 years, the club can boast they remain the second-oldest square dance club in Oregon. Square Circler Kaynor Heineck said she heard that, back in the earlier days, dance meetings were so packed that couples spilled onto the streets and music had to be piped outside to accommodate them.

While the Square Circlers may not be seeing such crowds anymore, members express pride for its continued robust membership, though they would like to see younger generations add to the numbers.

“We’re all aging,” member Ben Wadlow said, “but in just this last year we had probably half a dozen young people, so that’s really encouraging to see that happen.”

Ben and Terry Wadlow have been square dancing for a decade now. Terry said the mental and physical benefits of the activity are nice, but she emphasized the camaraderie is the best part.

“We all love each other in these clubs,” she said. “We’re good friends.”

Risking a creative sidestep here, to say they all love each other could also allude to the many courtships that resulted in marriage through square dancing. Among the many are the Allens, the Christensens, the Heinecks, the McKameys and an unidentified man who said he met his three wives through square dancing.

Shaun McKamey, right, announces dance moves to be performed by the dancers on the floor.

A majority of the Lebanon club members are female. When asked if there were any particular male members the girls fought over to dance with, Wanda Frenzel and Jackie Gale laughed and then decided, if anyone, it would probably be Bill Gale, though he mostly round dances.

In some cities across the states, square dancing was introduced to children at elementary and junior high schools, but that wasn’t the case for Debbie Denaro, who grew up in a big city. She said her very first (and recent) introduction to the activity was a little intimidating, but she got over it pretty quickly.

“The very first time that I tried it was a little stressful because there’s moves that I never even heard of before, but it was fun,” said Denaro, who is a member of the Albany Timber Twirlers. “They don’t do super complex things in the very beginning. Each week you progressively learn something new.”

The area clubs liven up their sets with themed nights such as silo, root beer float, circus, wild west, Disney night, under the sea and hippie dances. Aside from square dancing, Lebanon also offers waltz lessons and they like to take their dancing on campouts. In April, the Lebanon and Sweet Home clubs will gather together for a “Down by the River Dance Camp Out” at Camp Koinonia. There is also a campout planned for the Strawberry Festival, and another one on Labor Day weekend.

People both young and old, novice and experienced, dance together while celebrating the Lebanon Square Circlers’ 75th anniversary on Feb. 4.

As colorful costumes and outfits flitted in circles across the Senior Center auditorium floor, it was observed that some dancers were quite young while others were on the other side of the age spectrum. It was learned that of the club’s 82 members, 8-year-old Hannah Wiebe was the youngest (and one of the newest), while Marilyn York was among the longest-running members (35 years) and oldest (though she said she never reveals her age). Frank Cawrse is found to be the truest longest-running member of the club.

“It’s just been lots of fun,” York said. “Wonderful, wonderful people.”

For more information about the Lebanon Square Circlers, visit LebanonSquareCirclers.com or call 541.401.9780.