Ten-year-old Kamden Hatch swishes the paint brush filled with dark blue paint back and forth on the legs of the bench. “I just like doing it, and mom says so,” he laughs mischievously. His mom, Bambi Hatch, gives him “the look” but smiles. His 17-year-old brother, Riley ReGester, is also painting. The family is at the Centralia Rifle Club and Junior Division, volunteering their time to help spruce up the place.
Riley is on the Centralia High School Rifle Team, which practices at the club. Bambi is the Treasurer for the club. “Riley gets his community service credits working here, plus he wants to give back as part of the rifle team. I’m familiar with the club since I’m on the board and it’s also a good opportunity to help at the club,” she explains.
Located in a nondescript building next to Borst Park, the facility has an interesting history. During World War I it was where parts for airplanes were made. After the war, it was turned into a gun club for returning veterans. It officially became an NRA affiliate in March of 1928 and has been going ever since.
Charles Neely has been involved with the club for about four years, since his daughter was also on the rifle team. He started as assistant coach, then became an instructor, served on the board, became Vice President and is now President. He will be heading back east soon to take training on how to teach new instructors. “We always need more instructors and women instructors in particular.”
Charles is excited about the changes for the club over the past year. “We’ve repainted the classroom and put new fixtures in the bathrooms thanks to the City of Centralia. They own the building and this year they provided new toilets, sinks, a hot water heater and other things. We just had to supply the labor to install them.”
Charles is excited about new programming ideas as well. “I’d like to see more programs for youth. I love the impact it has on kids. They come back and tell me how much they appreciated all they learned. I’ve been wanting to get more women into shooting and now we are starting a women’s group, A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League. I feel the more women we get shooting, the less likely we are to lose our gun rights. They are helping to preserve the future.”
Donna Baxter is the facilitator of the new A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League (AG&AG). She coaches the Centralia High School Rifle Team and is currently the only female instructor. She started with the club as a member of the rifle team in 1987. Over the years she has served as assistant coach until she became head coach in 2015. “It’s really great to see all the kids coming through continuing to shoot after they graduate. Two are coming back this year to coach the W.F. West team. Kids who have been graduated since 2008 still call me coach. I love that,” she beams.
“I tend to lean towards women and kids,” she laughs. She is determined to give all kids a chance on the rifle team. “I have had several kids with disabilities like high functioning Autism and ADHD. As long as they can follow directions and be safe, they can be on the team. It really teaches kids safety and discipline and self-control. I’m very proud of my kids. We’ve had kids go to indoor state, outdoor state and nationals. Some have even gone on to the Olympics,” she says with pride.
Donna’s role has expanded tremendously at the club. “Donna and her husband, Keith, have been phenomenal in helping run everything,” says Charles. During the Southwest Washington Fair, they ran the popular pellet gun booth. “We went through 14 cans of pellets,” laughs Donna.
Donna is also Vice President of the club, runs the Bullseye shooting competition and teaches Women-Only Handgun Safety classes. When asked to start a Centralia chapter of AG&AG, she jumped on the idea. “I want to see women come in and get confident with shooting, and learn how not to be a victim. I want to let them know that shooting is fun, not this scary thing society portrays it to be.”
A variety of classes and competitive events are held at the club, which is funded by member fees and grants from the Friends of the NRA.
“Everyone, from the board on down, are all volunteers. No one gets paid,” explains Charles. “You do it for the love of it. We have come a long way in just the last year. I’m fortunate to have a great board right now. Without the help of membership we wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
Centralia Rifle Club and Junior Division
908 Johnson Rd.
Centralia WA 98531