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Author Topic: Groups like VFW, AMVETS, American Legion looking for new ways to survive  (Read 7745 times)

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Offline DoggyDaddy

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Groups like VFW, AMVETS, American Legion looking for new ways to survive
Associated Press - Port Clinton News Herald

FOREST, Ohio — He was the only customer in the club Thursday, this Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War.

It was just after 4 p.m., and Larry Hannum nursed a bottle of Budweiser. A game show played on the big-screen television, but the sound was turned down. Hannum made a little small talk with the bartender, but mostly he just sat in the swiveling bar chair and relaxed.

The McVitty Memorial VFW Post 1182 in this Hardin County village was supposed to have closed two weeks ago. In a move increasingly common for veterans organizations across the state, trustees had voted to shutter the hall.

Long gone were the days of packed Friday night fish fries, pancake breakfasts and dances with live bands. The VFW’s glory days had passed.

Membership was down to 103 (the old veterans are dying, and new ones aren’t joining), meetings often had no quorum, and the bar was hemorrhaging money.

But members of the women’s auxiliary volunteered to work free and keep the canteen open four nights a week. So with $83.07 in the post’s bank account, they took over. They have their eye on recruiting new members. They’ve planned a corn hole tournament, a Valentine’s Day dance and suppers every Friday night. They want to buy a dart board and maybe even take the Red Sovine CD off the jukebox.

The post is worth saving, they say.

“We need to get people out of the mindset that a VFW is a place where old men go to sit and drink,” said Teresa Howard, auxiliary president. “We need to change with the times and start having activities that will bring in younger people and their families.”

Last year in Ohio, five VFW posts closed. Two more have done so this year. Others are on the brink of disaster. VFW Post 870 in Richwood in Union County laid off its paid staff and gave up its gaming license, which allowed it to use instant tear-away tickets and drawings to raise money for charity.

Volunteers man the bar now, and everyone hopes the canteen can stay afloat, said post commander Gail DeGood-Guy, a 24-year Air Force veteran. But even if the hall itself cannot be saved, she said, the mission of the VFW will go on.

Veterans organizations are hurting everywhere, national officials say, but Ohio has been hit particularly hard because of the smoking ban. Veterans clubs sought an exemption but lost the fight.

“It’s been a train wreck for us,” said Robert Funk Jr., adjutant quartermaster for the Ohio VFW. “The old guys are the ones who smoke, and they are the ones who came in and gambled and spent money. Now, not only have we lost so many members just because they’re dying, the ones who are left aren’t coming in anymore.”

AMVETS and American Legion officials echoed his sentiments.

Vets groups are looking for new blood. Across the country, posts are adding day-care centers and Internet cafes and hosting karaoke nights, self-improvement classes and talent contests.

The AMVETS’ focus is on training. About half of the 140 posts in Ohio host career centers where sessions on job resumes and employment searches are offered. That doesn’t really help raise money, but it brings in new faces, said George Ondick, executive director of AMVETS Ohio.

Young membership is important to be able to continue veterans activities such as parade detail and funeral duty. And, officials say, more members equal more money for charities.

Sprinkled among sale fliers on a bulletin board at the McVitty Post in Forest are many thank-yous that remind the members of that charity work. There’s the card from the high-school girl who received a $500 scholarship and the thank-you note from the food pantry director. Others acknowledge contributions to the local volunteer fire department and library.

That charity work is important, but it is only part of what a VFW post is about, Hannum said. He comes in a few times a week, mostly just to socialize. He never stays very long, and he misses the days when the place was packed.

He agrees the clubs must change with the times and said he would even help go out and recruit young veterans if asked. It’s important, he said, because at its core, the VFW is about serving those who have served their country.

For more than 30 years he’s found it comforting to have a place to go where he can look around at familiar faces, faces that look back at him and, without ever mentioning a war, let him know they understand where he’s been.

He’s not worried that these veterans halls will fall by the wayside. In fact, he’s sure they won’t. Might come a day, he says, that today’s generation of war veterans will need such an inviting place, too.

Joe Kleinsmith
All State VFW Post 1716 Cmdr (1998-2000)
Cpt, VFW Post Honor Guard, Retired (1991-2009)
SC-SB County Council Cmdr (1996-1997)
SFC, US Army, Retired (1971-1991)
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Offline Ed Ball

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Re: Groups like VFW, AMVETS, American Legion looking for new ways to survive
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2010, 10:45:17 pm »
I recall in my youth (during the 60s) my aunt and uncle used to take my sister and I to the VFW post in Covington, OH. They'd have a live band, people would get out on the floor and square dance through the night, until I could barely hold my eyes open any longer. My uncle Stan, a WWII veteran, loved showing off his niece and nephew to all that made their rounds to the table.

The highlight of the evening for us was the hotdogs with everything on them,  a bag a chips, and coke in a glass bottle in those days. Of course people would get a kick out of us kids out on the dance floor with the best of them. But in those days, this was the highlight of entertainment for miles around.  ;D

Then somewhere along the way, the dances stopped. Probably gradually, but today it just seems they stopped all together. When Uncle Stan would take me around the posts to sign the books, some veterans would raise the issues about kids shouldn't be in a canteen. I never seen fist fly, but words I wasn't allowed to repeat back then definitely filled the air.  >:(

Then as I grew older, conversation in the post centered around a nation torn as our involvement in Vietnam heightened. Pot smoking, baby killers, references were made following all that Walter Conkrite had to offer on the evening news. From this point on, the atmosphere in our post seemed to disintegrate with the differing of opinions amongst the members. Some just threw up their hands and never returned. Others seemed to thrive on the debate. But the image in a little boys mind watching these grown men and women arguing amongst themselves has never left me.  ::)

A year after Vietnam, I joined the Navy, and turned it into a 20 year career. Uncle Stan and his wife are gone now, and I may be a lifetime member thanks to their influence, but can't help but think, unless the post welcomes these family members, to include the children, back into their post with open arms, a lot more post are destined to fold. The veteran while on active duty was supported by a family. The family unit is the key. In a post, we are family!
How can a man fire 160,000 rounds from a 155mm at 180db with reverberation across Europe in WWII and not have hearing loss? ---Answer: He wasn't there.