On February 3, 1871, prominent members of Portland’s German Community met to discuss organizing a benevolent Society 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, in English: the General German Aid Society. Nineteen German Portlanders signed the original Constitution and By-Laws. An entrance fee of $2.50 and their first month’s dues of $.50 were established. They met again seven days later to elect Officers for their new Society.
For the third time in the Turnhalle, on First Street between Oak and Pine, Henry Saxer, a German-Swiss and Portland’s first Brewer, was elected President. Following him, were 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.
Their original mission, stated in 1871 and restated in its 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 obtain employment for jobless Germans and furnish advice and information to German immigrants. The Society’s first occasion of providing assistance took place the first night they met. The members present had just heard of a German immigrant in Kalama who had been seriously injured at work. They generously collected money in his support.
The dream of building a hospital was never realized. The Independent German School, a separated organization founded in 1870, was successful for its first 25 years. However, in 1905 it was suffering, was dissolved, and donated its assets to included the old Turnhalle, which was used as a schoolhouse, to the Aligemeine Deutsche Unterstützungs-gesellschaft. With the land, building and other cash donations, the Society built the Arminius Hotel which stands today as a historical landmark at the S.E. corner of S. W. 11th and Morrison. The old Turnhalle was moved behind the hotel and served as a meeting hall for the Society.
In its related Articles of Incorporation, dated February 23, 1911, the 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 on Division Street on 82nd Avenue. Four years later, on June 6, 1911, she donated the 20 acre parcel to the Society for its Altenheim dream. Terms of the gift stated that the Society must build and operate the home within two years and build an orphanage within 15 years. With a large crowd present, the cornerstone of the Altenheim was laid on August 6, 1911. Mrs. Weinhard, John Reisacher, the Society’s President, 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 replaced by the new Deutsches Haus at 714 S. W. 11th Avenue, completed in 1926.
With the arrival of World War II, the 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 its Turnhalle. Its activities became dormant, but 14 years later in 1960, the remaining members merged their assets with the Society and became life members of the General German Aid Society. With these funds another wing was added to Altenheim’s first addition. Future additions were made in 1978 and 1983.
In 1964, the German Aid Society founded its own weekend School of German language instruction. In the beginning classes were small and the students were primarily children of Society members. Many years later, this program continues today as 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, Articles of Incorporation were restated and the Society changed its name to the German American Society.
After 91 years of serving Portland as a German Retirement facility, outside circumstances forced the Society to shut down the Altenheim operation in 2003. Within two years, the downtown Deutsches Haus was leased to a private party and the Society began the use the former Altenheim as its newe Deutsches Haus and home to the German Saturday School of Portland.
In 2006, Society goals were revised to promote German culture and language in the Pacific Northwest through educational, social, and benevolent programs. In 2011, the Society moved its temporary home to Bethany Lutheran Church on N. E. 37th Avenue. This centrally located facility offered ample parking and the Saturday School occupied up to 12 classrooms, helping to retain its full commitment to the success of the GSSOP moving forward.
In November 2011, the Society purchased a 17,000 square foot building at 5626 N. E. Alameda (57th & Sandy Blvd.), formally known as a Masonic Lodge. This historic building has undergone carefully planned and extensive renovations, and will soon open as the proud new home of the German American Society, providing a variety of amenities for its members and affiliated organizations for many years to come.
5626 N. E. Alameda, Portland, OR 97213 | Tel: (503) 775 1585