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Photo by Fred Pollard
VFW Post 1308 members Floyd Baker (left) and Jim Berger stand in front of the building that has been the organization’s home since the early 1970s.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
One of the post’s largest hurdles in staying open is a list of renovations required to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
The post’s rental hall offers space for events including wedding receptions and birthday celebrations.
ALTON – Without a drastic influx of funds, the days of Alton VFW Post 1308 look to be numbered.
“We are basically living hand to mouth,” Junior Vice Commander Jim Berger said. “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we can’t keep this up much longer.”
The organization’s building at 4445 Alby is in desperate need of repairs. One of the two air-conditioning units in the rental hall is completely out of order, and it will cost $8,000 to have both units running again, according to board chairman Floyd Baker.
“We are surviving day to day,” Berger said. “We just don’t have it.”
Events have the hall booked nearly every day in June, money that is desperately needed, Berger says.
“We have events booked (later this summer) that we may have to cancel, which means we would need to return the money we have collected for those events,” Berger said. “This is a serious situation.”
In addition to the air conditioning, carpet needs replaced, and the entrances and restrooms need to be renovated in order to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The estimate for the handicap-accessible renovations alone, which must be done within the next three years, runs close to $250,000.
“The place used to be packed,” Berger said. “The bar and the kitchen are our main sources of income, our only income, really, and we just don’t have the traffic.”
In a rare moment of levity, Berger laughs as he tells of the post contacting Jon Taffer from the reality television series “Bar Rescue” in hopes of an intervention.
VFW Post 1308, still the largest VFW in the state of Illinois, was chartered on Nov. 1, 1936. Its current location was constructed around 1974.
In 1984, the post hit its peak with 2,576 members. Today, membership hovers around the 1,200 mark.
“Many of those were veterans from World War II,” Berger said. “Over the years, they have passed on, with no new members to take their places.”
Among those former members is World War II veteran Russell Dunham, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945. He was a strong supporter of the organization until his passing in 2009.
Current members say the younger generation of veterans does not seem to share the same passion for the post as those vets from World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam conflict.
“Also, vets from Iraq and Afghanistan have their own association, so that hurts our numbers, as well,” Berger said.
The honor guard ritual team provides the military presence and 21-gun salute at veterans’ funerals. It provides service for about 100 funerals every year.
“That team will continue to serve at military funerals, no matter where we end up,” Baker said emphatically.
Post 1308 also has a service officer’s fund through the men’s auxiliary to help veterans who may not be able to cover that month’s rent or run into other serious situations that require help. The women’s auxiliary provides a fund for families of veterans in need of assistance.
That money is raised specifically for veterans in need and cannot be used for building repairs or other bills.
Through the men’s auxiliary, the post also has sent hundreds of care packages to soldiers overseas.
In an attempt to increase business, changes have been implemented, including the creation of a “college night” on Thursdays, with $2 margaritas, Mexican food, pizza and wings, and free pool. On Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., the post also offers lunches courtesy of Steve Cline, formerly of Stevebob’s Grillhouse and BBQ.
“We have rib-eye steak sandwiches, pulled pork, ribs, brisket, hamburgers, deep fried corn on the cob and more,” office manager Becky Willmore said. “This is a place where the community can come, relax, have a cocktail, and interact with others, including some of our area’s vets.”
The bar and kitchen are open to the public any time. Mondays also offer $1.50 bottles and pizza and wings from 4 until 8 p.m., Tuesdays offer $2 rail drinks, and there is live music every Friday.
“We have some of the best drink prices in town,” Berger said.
Upcoming fund-raisers include a golf tournament at Rolling Hills Golf Course on Sept. 6, a Pink Floyd tribute concert on Sept. 20, and a Johnny Cash tribute concert on Oct. 25.
“If we are still here,” Baker said with a heavy sigh.
“We are grateful for any help we can get,” Berger adds as he scans the building, shoulders slightly hunched. “We have been in this community for a very long time and we want to continue to help veterans in need, as well as our military still overseas.”
For more information or to donate, call Floyd or Becky at (618) 466-6883. Because Post 1308 is a nonprofit organization, all donations are tax-deductible.