Prominent members of Portland’s German Community met on February 3, 1871 to discuss organizing a benevolent organization for the purpose of assisting fellow Germans. Four days later, C.H. Meussdorfer presided as provisional President and Charles Schumacher, as Secretary, of the new Aligemeine Deutsche Unterstützungsgesellschaft,(General German Aid Society). Nineteen Germans residing in Portland, Oregon signed the original Constitution and By-Laws. An entrance fee of $2.50 and first month’s dues of $.50 were established. They met again seven days later to elect Officers for the newly established General German Aid Society. The meetings were held at a Turnhalle (gymnasium/hall), located on First Street between Oak and Pine. The third meeting the Officers were elected: Henry Saxer, a German-Swiss also known as Portland’s first Brewer, was elected President; Frank Dekum, Vice President; Charles Schumacher, Secretary; and Charles Burkhardt, Treasurer. While women were not yet allowed to become members, the Society began its benevolent work.
The original mission, stated in 1871 and restated in the March 8, 1878 Articles of Incorporation, was to erect and operate a German hospital, provide for the nursing of sick members, to relieve needy and distressed Germans, to help obtain employment for those Germans seeking work, as well as providing advice and information to German immigrants. The General German Aid Society’s first opportunity to provide assistance took place the first night they met. The members present had heard of a German immigrant in Kalama who had just been seriously injured at work. They generously collected money to help support the injured worker.
The dream of building a hospital was never realized. The Independent German School, a separate organization founded in 1870, had been successful for its first 25 years but dissolved in 1905. The Independent German School donated its assets which included a Turnhalle , which was used as a schoolhouse, to the General German Aid Society. With the land, building and other cash donations, the General German Aid Society built the Arminius Hotel which now stands today as a historical landmark at the S.E. corner of S.W. 11th and Morrison. The Turnhalle was moved behind the hotel and served as a meeting hall for the General German Aid Society Society.
In the related Articles of Incorporation, dated February 23, 1911, the General German Aid Society declared the objective of building and operating an Altenheim, a retirement home for Germans. Louise Weinhard, widow of Henry Weinhard, who founded a local Brewery, had purchased a 20 acre tract of land near Division Street and 82nd Avenue. Four years later, on June 6, 1911, she donated the 20 acres to the General German Aid Society for the purpose of building an Altenheim. Terms of the gift stated that the Altenheim must be built and operational within two years and an orphanage built within 15 years.
With a large crowd present, the cornerstone of the Altenheim was laid on August 6, 1911. Mrs. Weinhard, John Reisacher, the General German Aid Society’s President at the time, and other leaders of the German community were present. Nine months later on May 19, 1912, the Altenheim was dedicated with much fanfare. In 1923, the old Turnhalle was demolished and work on a new building at 714 S. W. 11th Avenue began. The new building was completed in 1926 and housed the General German Aid Society's meetings.
With the arrival of World War II, the General German Aid Society came under the scrutiny of the U. S. Government. Investigations reflected that it operated strictly as a benevolent Society, was non political and its Officers were not involved in anything anti-American.
With the passing of World War II in 1946, another German organization, the Portland Social Turnverein, sold itsTurnhalle.Their activities had became dormant, but 14 years later in 1960, the remaining members or the Portland Social Turnverein merged their assets with the General German Aid Society and became lifetime members. The General German Aid Society used the funds received to add another wing to the Altenheim. Future additions were made to the Altenheim in 1978 and 1983.
In 1964, the General German Aid Society founded its own German language instruction school held on the weekends. In the beginning classes were small and the students were primarily children of members of the General German Aid Society. Many years later, this program continues today as the German Language Courses of Portland (formerly the German Saturday School of Portland).
In 1976, women were finally welcomed to join as members, as the General German Aid Society took on a more active social role in the German community. On March 22, 1995, the Articles of Incorporation were restated and the General German Aid Society changed its name to the German American Society.
After 91 years of serving Portland as a retirement home for Germans, the Altenheim was closed down in 2003 due to outside circumstances. Within two years, the downtown building on S.W. 11th was leased to a private party and the German American Society began to the use the former Altenheim building for its meetings, events and as a home for the German Language Courses of Portland (formerly the German Saturday School of Portland).
In 2006, the German American Society goals were revised to promote German culture and language in the Pacific Northwest through educational, social, and benevolent programs. In 2011, the General American Society moved to a temporary home at the Bethany Lutheran Church on N. E. 37th Avenue.
In November 2011, the General American Society purchased a 17,000 square foot building at 5626 N. E. Alameda (57th & Sandy Blvd.), formally known as the Rose City Masonic Lodge. This historic building has undergone carefully planned and extensive renovations, and opened in 2013 as the proud new home of the German American Society, providing a variety of amenities for its members and sister clubs for many years to come.