The Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association will celebrate its 75th anniversary this month.
The Coupeville gun club has grown significantly since its 1947 inception, but its mission has remained the same — to train and educate the public in safe and responsible firearm use.
The association may have had humble beginnings, but it has always been the product of dedicated labor, according to longtime club member Al Lindell. Four men founded the association on Dec. 11, 1947. The founders purchased the Safari Street property in Coupeville and built the first part of the club house.
In the early days, there wasn’t much, Lindell said. The club had a skeet tower, a trap facility and a dirt berm, and if anyone wanted to shoot at 100 yards, they had to stand in the neighbor’s lawn.
The club hosted a number of groups over the years, including a motorcycle club, but remained small. Growth really took off within the last 30 years.
The club recently wrapped up a $111,000 facility expansion project to build a number of new ranges. Berms line ranges with targets at varying distances for shooters to practice with. Bowling pins, steel plates and even donated campaign signs make up the targets for shooters all over the property, but the facilities aren’t the only part of the club that has grown; membership has also increased exponentially.
Lindell joined the club when he moved to Whidbey Island nearly three decades ago. He said he remembers a time when the sportsmen’s association had 55 members and $500 in the treasury. It was around that time that the members decided to revitalize the club by instituting new programs and expanding the facilities.
Today, the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association has 686 members, plus an additional 98 associate members. Associates are often the spouses of paying members. They can use club facilities for free, a particularly useful benefit in a military community.
Military spouses who are club associates may continue attending for free when their spouse is deployed, even when his or her membership is put on hold during the deployment. Club President Larry Memmer estimated that around 100 to 150 club members are active duty military.
The club is also appealing to Whidbey’s older generations — around 200 of the club’s members are older than 65 — and, more recently, to women. Memmer estimated that between 30 and 40 club members are women.
The association has expanded its programming in recent years to include more classes and trainings geared specifically toward women. The club hosts an AR-15 style firearm class, as well as a general firearms class, for women, taught by a husband and wife in the club.
“More women are getting more interested in firearms than in years past,” Memmer said.
The club also regularly offers training in hunter education, non-lethal self defense, first aid, CPR and all aspects of firearms use. Members are encouraged to bring their children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors along to increase awareness of safe and responsible firearm handling and subsequently dispel fear that may exist around firearms.
If people choose to arm themselves, Lindell said, “We want to make sure that people understand what they bought and what their responsibilities are.”
He added that he is willing to conduct as many trainings as it takes to ensure that everyone who wants to has the opportunity.
“Our main goal is to teach safety, as Al said, to everybody,” Memmer said.
Besides educational events, the club also hosts competitions. Falling plate, hanging plate, speed steel, bowling pin, trap and rifle matches all take place at the club, during which competitors shoot for speed.
Matches are open to the public, but they’re more than just a good time. The association also regularly hosts benefit matches, with proceeds going to local charities such as the Help House, Gifts from the Heart Food Bank, and WAIF.