Some local veterans organizations are struggling to get more active members, and the Superior VFW post may be forced to close if more people don't start participating in activities, leaders said.
“At our next meeting we’re going to be discussing what to do, but there’s a good possibility we’ll close. We just don’t have the people anymore,” said Gayle Carlson, quartermaster of the Thomas F. Stein VFW Post 1091. Carlson is a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy.
The post has been around “forever,” he said. At one point after World War II, it had 2,000 members. Even after it was re-branded with a new post number in 2001 due to financial issues members of the post continued to visit schools to teach flag etiquette, participate in flag retirement ceremonies and serve in the Honor Guard at veteran funerals, Carlson said.
The post has about 200 members on the books, but only eight people attend meetings and they're all in their 70s, he said.
The Edward B. Froelich DAV Chapter 4 has similar attendance issues for monthly meetings at the Lew Martin Senior Center.
“We usually just have enough for a meeting, five or six guys,” said Dick Nolan, adjutant of the DAV chapter, although they have a couple hundred members on paper.
Both organizations lost their auxiliary units in the last three years due to lack of participation.
Nolan, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, said they plan to keep the DAV chapter open as long as they have enough active members to fill officer positions, but he encouraged members to get involved.
“We just need someone to come and help us,” he said.
These organizations offer camaraderie and an opportunity to help other veterans in need, Carlson said. Members raise funds, educate the public and honor the fallen. They also serve a key role advocating for veterans' benefits.
“The benefits that I am receiving, the generation before me fought for those benefits and right now we’re fighting for the benefits for the next generation — the people who haven’t even gone into service yet. We’re trying to keep their benefits, because if we’re not there fighting, these politicians are going to take them away from us,” Carlson said.
Legion membership 'on the rise'
One veterans organization that’s holding its own is the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435.
“Our membership has been on the rise,” said Ryan Jost, adjutant and treasurer.
The John L. and David L. Banks Post in South Range merged with Richard I. Bong Post in late 2019, he said, bringing with it 19 members. And others have been joining.
About 25 members attend meetings, Jost said, and between 15 and 20 Honor Guard members travel to cemeteries throughout the area to honor fallen veterans. The group provides honors at about 65 funerals a year.
The American Legion Post 435 has an active auxiliary, too, which raises funds for the community, gives scholarships, hosts events and supports the post.
“Wherever there’s a need we seem to find it, learn about it and help in any way we can,” said Jost, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army.
He said good leadership, a fantastic facility and offering an array of activities has helped the post grow.
Young veterans not joining
As with other veterans organizations, however, age is a factor. The World War II veterans have passed, and Korean and Vietnam veterans are aging.
To make matters worse, younger veterans don't seem to be interested in joining the local groups.
"It’s not that we don’t have people that are eligible, it’s just that the younger generation doesn’t want to join," Carlson said. "And it’s not just our organization. All the organizations are facing more or less the same thing."
Jost encouraged members to reconnect to learn about the organization’s activities, and for prospective members to reach out.
At their heart, he said, veterans organizations are about camaraderie.
“The biggest thing is that you’re with a group of people who have seen and done the same things you have,” Jost said.
As the local organizations prepare for their March meetings, they’re asking members to get involved.
“We need new members and we need people who are members to step up and start doing things, otherwise posts are closing,” Carlson said. “VFWs are closing posts nationwide because of lack of membership. We’re looking at that possibility.”
The Thomas F. Stein VFW Post 1091 meets at 5:30 p.m. March 10 at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. Contact Carlson, 715-399-2549, for more information.
The Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435 and its auxiliary meet at 7 p.m. March 10 at the Bong Center. The American Legion also holds a Flag of Honor ceremony beginning at 8:30 a.m. every Friday outside the center and meets every Tuesday for coffee and rolls. Call 715-392-7151 or visit the post and auxiliary Facebook pages for more information.
The Edward B. Froelich DAV Chapter 4 meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of the month at the Lew Martin Senior Center. For more information, contact Commander Jim Lee, 715-919-6601 or Adjutant Richard Nolan, 715-394-9537.