Seeing the Brighter Side: Jessie Yeager’s I Like It Here Club and a Penchant for Positivity
written by: Luke W. Woodcock
As local artisan Jessie Yeager was deciding what direction to take her life, she received some sage counsel from her grandfather, whom her family affectionately called SuperFred. He told her, “do what you love, because you’re going to be doing it every day.” And she took that advice to heart.
A Wilmington native, Yeager had always found the most joy in her art classes growing, and when she completed her senior high school project at Hoggard in jewelry design, she fell absolutely in love with the practice. After two years at UNCW, she transferred to the Savannah College of Arts and Design, where she entered the metals and jewelry program.
This pursuit of Yeager’s, doing that which brings her joy, embodies the essence of her jewelry company, the I Like It Here Club. The I Like It Here Club, by its very name, insists on positivity and appreciating the here and now. Which may be why one of Yeager’s most popular pieces remains a signet ring with the mantra “everything will be O.K.” inscribed across its face.
The underlying philosophy of the I Like It Here Club and its name come from Yeager’s grandfather, SuperFred.
Fredrick Yeager, a child of the Great Depression and a son of New York City, found himself stationed in the Philippines in the Second World War in 1942. Captured by Japanese forces and taken prisoner, SuperFred survived the harrowing Bataan Death March (a Japanese war crime that cost an estimated 10,000-15,000 Filipino and American POWs their lives), only to find himself in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for the next three and a half years.
“While he was there he tried to boast morale with fellow soldiers,” Yeager explains, “realizing that if someone lost their positivity they could just go downhill quick.”
So SuperFred did anything he could to keep spirits high in the camp, and everyone in good humor, eventually starting the I Like It Here Club in the camp.
“The club was just finding silly reasons why they liked it there,” she says. “Like: ‘here we can read all day’, or ‘shoot the shit with our friends’. I mean, obviously it was awful and terrible, but it was just a way to see the brighter side of things.”
SuperFred knew the importance of the group’s morale, and he knew the value of finding joy, however you can, in whatever place you’re in. To even entertain positive notions in such a cruel and unforgiving environment is a testimony to the triumphant human spirit, and the stories of her grandfather’s strength in this time have left an indelible mark on Yeager and her family.
SuperFred learned Russian from one of his fellow POW’s and went on to become a military Attaché in Russia and eventually became a Russian professor teaching at Rider University. It was here that he started a cross-cultural drinking-song competition called the “Song Bird Hall of Fame”, in which students from different foreign language classes would sing some of the pub favorites of the cultures they were studying in glorious pageantry.
Yeager cites looking back at the images of these kids in her grandfather’s class in the ‘70’s with wacky “Song Bird Hall of Fame” competition attire, along with some of her grandmother’s old art and design books from the same era, to be among her biggest aesthetic influences.
Growing up in Wilmington, Yeager’s work is also largely inspired by the ocean, by surfing and all things coastal. She was also greatly inspired by the art, style, and iconography of New Mexico and Arizona, where SuperFred lived during much of her childhood. Her first piece of jewelry was a little turquoise ring!
Before starting the I Like It Here Club in Wilmington, Yeager moved out to Big Sur, California with her now-husband, where she worked for a jewelry maker out of Carmel Valley. Here she honed the craft, refining her skills as a metalsmith and designer.
After a year in Big Sur, Yeager and her husband were on the verge of moving from California to Hawaii, but the day before their flight, she called the airline and canceled their tickets, and promptly moved back to North Carolina, having recently learned from their Christmas visit home that SuperFred had become very ill.
“He passed away a month and four days after we would have left,” she says, smiling, “but it was good. It was good. I got to spend every day with him in that time, so it was amazing: a special time, for sure.”
Since moving back to Wilmington and starting on a small-scale, crafting every piece of jewelry by hand, Yeager’s business has grown and evolved, finding its niche in the burgeoning artisan scene, here in Wilmington.
“There’s a really great community of artists here. I just feel lucky to be a part of it,” she says.
The I Like It Here Club brings not only exquisite, hand-crafted jewelry to Wilmington, but a mantra of positivity and an imperative to find the joy in where you are and in what you’re doing. Jessie Yeager brings her grandfather’s philosophy into her business, her art, and the way she approaches life; her pieces are not just artifacts of craftsmanship, taste, and talent, but of joy and appreciation and a better way.
You can follow I Like It Here Club on Instagram @ilikeithereclub or you can check out her inventory at her website www.likeithereclub.com