All Hands on Deck!

Everything in life remains the same

By Julie Cantlon

This is no ordinary house of cards. Rather, the 55-year-old ladies’ Eagle Pinochle Club has become an institution. The club was founded in 1962 when their volunteer fireman husbands were spending more time at the Eagle firehouse. “It was a way for the wives to socialize in rural Idaho,” recalled Karen Wagner, now in her late 70s and one of the eight founding members.
Other founders include Pat Hicks and lifelong friend Betty Ray, who were educated in the Eagle area. Betty moved back to Eagle after 35 years away, only to discover she was still a member of the club and “nothing had changed.”

Today there are substitutes and new members, including wives of firemen, visiting sisters, sisters-in-law, mothers, mothers-in-law, neighbors and friends. Sometimes, husbands substitute for their wives. For many of the families, pinochle became a pastime passed down to multiple generations. Debbie Watkins confided being “extremely proud to join this wizened group of women,” as her mother was a founding member.

Mary June Ball would drive from Los Angeles to visit and sub in. During one precarious road trip, she phoned her pinochle friend, concerned about an unusual noise emanating from her truck. Her friend’s advice? “Turn up the radio and keep driving!” Yet another evening of friendship, cards and great conversation ensued.
The club supports newer players by handling the chips, counts and totals, allowing them to focus solely on card play. For questions about unusual scenarios, newbies are encouraged to consult other tables. The unsuccessful bidding pair across the card table from one another often pass a card to silently “ask” what a bid in that trump would have produced. Otherwise, no “hinting” bids are allowed.

Eagle Pinochle Club daughters naturally became babysitters for their mothers’ pinochle friends. These girls also learned the eventual four-table layout and routines of the 16 players whenever their mothers hosted. Coffee, dessert, nuts and nibbles rounded out a typical evening’s fare. One memorable first-year dessert was the angel food cake, frosted with caramelized condensed sweetened milk made by cooking the can over low heat for three hours.

The high, low, and pinochle prizes were eventually replaced with prize money after members no longer coveted more “stuff.” Poker chips have always been used to keep track of bids, meld and counters. The infamous Mardi Gras plastic double beads are awarded to double pinochle holders throughout the night. The last recipient collects the prize money.

As the group matured, winter months were omitted from the schedule to avoid night driving, and to allow snowbirds to head back south for the winter. Even the ritual of playing in each other’s homes was relaxed, evolving to meeting in restaurants, which sidestepped the need to ready one’s home for the influx of guests.

Nothing in life ever remains the same, so the club changes reflect their acceptance of everyone’s changing circumstances. Through divorces, marriages, deaths, births, significant others, illnesses and surgeries, these remarkable women maintain a special fabric in Eagle.

If you wish information about how to form and nurture your own group, please contact Debbie Watkins via email at








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