Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 20, 2004

Montrose VFW sells its post building

By Jane Otto
Staff Writer

Struggling financially, the Montrose VFW Post 1901 voted the past spring to sell its post building.

It wasn’t an easily made decision and one Post Commander John Quirk didn’t care to carry out. “I kept procrastinating, hoping things would get better,” he said.

However, needing almost $10,000 a month to pay the bills, taking in less than $4,000 a month, and the officers dipping into their own pockets, he knew it was time to shut the door.

“A guy’s got to call it quits sometime,” he said. “Everything we were doing was to sustain the building and it wasn’t getting any better.”

Two weeks ago Thursday, the building was listed for sale. The following day, Bob Petersen of Cokato signed a purchase agreement.

The sale won’t close until Feb. 1. “I don’t think anything will get in the way, but it’s final until it’s closed,” Petersen said.

For Quirk, it was a sigh of relief wrapped in mixed emotions. Come Feb. 1, the VFW will leave after 38 years in the building.

At one time, the club packed them in for its monthly fish fries, pancake breakfasts, pork chop feeds, or wrestling matches.

Membership keeps declining. In the past five years, the club has seen at least 30 members die, Quirk said, all of them World War II veterans.

“The mainstay of the VFW was that generation,” he said. They would come. Their children would come with them. But members died and their children moved on, he added.

It became more difficult to have fund-raisers when the active membership was down to a few people, or Sunday’s pancake breakfasts were drawing roughly 20 people.

“We always had our ups and downs, but last year’s road construction was really our demise,” Quirk said.

The past summer, the city replaced sewer lines along County Road 12. The north-south road fronts the VFW property. Quirk said he was told the “hard core” construction would last two to three days, but it dragged out for five months. The post couldn’t book wedding receptions, another moneymaker.

The VFW National doesn’t allow any VFW post to advertise, Quirk said. No advertising, however, really hurt the club the past summer.

Despite the road construction, the club remained open for business. Customers were welcomed, but unfortunately, ticketed for driving on roads open only to those who lived on them.

That situation was quickly remedied, but the damage was done, Quirk said. “Those customers didn’t come back.”

The air conditioner kept running, employees kept working, and bills had to be paid. Club officers took out a loan to pay their employees.

A few weeks ago, the city assessed the cost of the sewer and street repairs to property owners along the improved roads.

“The breaking point was that $10,000 assessment,” Quirk said. “I wouldn’t argue that the project needed to be done. The sewer line was bad.”

The VFW worked hard to sustain, Quirk said. “We held our own . . . We’d all pitch in to fix things.”

Ironically, the day the building was put on the market, the man who signed the original purchase order in 1966, another World War II veteran, died.

It will be 66 years come Jan. 6 that the Montrose VFW signed its charter, something it plans to maintain.

The VFW will still do the Memorial Day service and run bingo at the Wright County Fairgrounds during county fair. The club also carries the charter for the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The club’s $10,000 assessment will come off the sale price, but selling the building will put some money in the bank. “It frees us up to donate to other worthy causes,” Quirk said.

That’s something the club hasn’t been able to do for some time.

Not the only ones

The Montrose VFW is not alone as far as veterans organizations with financial battles and waning memberships.

In the past four years, the Buffalo and Delano VFW clubs joined the Montrose club due to declining membership.

A lot of small town posts are dying out, said Jeff Sterner, Winsted Legion Post 409 commander.

Like the Montrose VFW, the Winsted Legion has its own post building.

“Years ago, there were a lot more members and more active members,” he said. The Winsted post hosted the town’s summer festival for more than 20 years, but handed the reins to the chamber of commerce two years ago, because the Legion’s active members were too old or too few to handle it.

“It was a good moneymaker for us,” Sterner said. “Our costs aren’t going down. We’re having a tough time.”

In Howard Lake, the American Legion Post 145 is thriving.

“We’re doing just fine,” Finance Officer Ron Miller said.

Miller couldn’t give a reason as to why Howard Lake’s Legion is successful and its neighbors are not. “I don’t know what they do different from us,” he said.

Sterner attributes some of the Howard Lake Legion’s financial stability to being one of only two bars in town.

When the Winsted Legion got a liquor license to sell on Sundays, it was the only bar open that day of the week. “Sundays were very good to us,” Sterner said. “Today in Winsted, there are five bars open.”

Commiserating with the Montrose VFW, Sterner said, “It’s a problem that we’ll have to sit down and face in a few years ourselves.”

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