“The VFW was the center of my parents’ social world for many years,” she said.
King, herself a longtime member of the post’s Ladies Auxiliary, set out to write an essay to mark the milestone. She wound up with so much material that she penned a book of more than 100 pages titled, “A Legacy of Service — History of the Coon Rapids Post 9625.”
King, who used to work for the Anoka County Historical Society, is self-publishing the volume that weaves together facts and figures and colorful oral histories. Proceeds from the book, which will be available for sale later this month, will go to the group, she said.
After digging into the post’s early days, King was struck by how its development mirrored that of the suburb’s.
Coon Rapids was barely a year old when a group of World War II veterans signed the post’s charter on July 23, 1953, she said. The post had a modest start with 25 members in the bygone LaBounty bar.
The city was an attractive place for many soldiers returning from the war, with affordable homes that had big yards and easy access to jobs, King said. Before the VFW, many soldiers gathered informally to swap war stories over a beer, she added.
Since then, “There’s been a steady influence of the VFW on the community.”
The post has come a long way since those first meetings at the LaBounty bar, which later became known as the Bonanza Club.
A couple of years in, the steadily growing group got to talking about building a post home. That materialized in 1957, but when the group ran into some financial problems, it returned to local bars and occasionally some people’s homes.
At one point, the post decided to get a liquor license, a move that caused a stir at the time, King said.
In 1974, it settled into a single-story building on Coon Rapids Boulevard, which is still its home base today. Its prime location on the city’s main drag contributed to the post’s vibrant social scene in the 1970s and ’80s.
“Just about anyone drove down that street and could see it. They would often stop for a beer after work,” King said.
Through the years, the post has supported all kinds of community causes. “It ebbs and flows depending on who’s in charge and where their passions lie,” she said.
In the beginning, the post was made up mostly of fathers of young children, so it sponsored activities for that age group, like Cub Scouts and Little League. Later, the post raised money for various high school programs, from sports to the arts. In 1986, the post was setting aside $15,000 each month for scholarships for graduating seniors, King said, adding, “That was during its heyday.”
It also gave money to the city’s Snowflake Days, Mercy Hospital, the Coon Rapids Police Department and a cancer research facility at the University of Minnesota.
By 2005, however, revenues at the post had dwindled, partly as a result of the statewide smoking ban that went into effect that year.
“Immediately there was a drastic drop in patronage at the bar,” and bingo was discontinued, King said.
The economic downturn didn’t help, and other cultural changes were factors, too. For one thing, “People don’t go to dances anymore,” King said.
The post, once 1,000 members strong, has dipped down to 824 members, she said.
Although the post still does whatever it can for area soldiers, in recent years it has changed its focus. Members are working more to help the families of deployed soldiers, King said.
Because it doesn’t have as much money as it once did, this entails “ordinary stuff,” like fixing a broken kitchen pipe or driving a child to a soccer game.
“If a family calls and says they have a need, we’ll refer them to someone to get help,” King said. “We wish they would call more often. Too many times they suffer in silence.”
John Staum, a Blaine resident who joined the post in 1957, started out as a bugler for a Memorial Day celebration. His wife, Bernadette, also signed up for the Ladies Auxiliary.
Staum, 82, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, was once the VFW’s youngest state commander in the country. Later, as a national commander of the VFW in 1985, he traveled all over the place, delivering speeches, meeting world leaders and visiting army hospitals.
“I’ve seen vets that have been in the hospital since World War II. They have to be taken care of,” Staum said.
He recounted a memory that still affects him today: As he was leaving the 1968 VFW national convention in Detroit, he observed the homecoming of a Vietnam soldier who had lost his left arm. “I saw him get off the plane and I saw the faces of his parents as they saw his arm was missing.”
Although the young man was a stranger to him, “I have often remembered him. It was one thing that made me realize why I belong,” Staum said. “Anything I could’ve done to make his life better, I would’ve done it.”
Making a difference
Coon Rapids resident Mary Kaye Kath joined in 1987, along with a bunch of other young couples she knew.
Kath, who enjoys just about any VFW event that involves selling things, said she gets a thrill from “just being able to know you’re making a difference in the community.”
Her four children are also members of the VFW. When her daughter Heather had premature triplets four years ago, the auxiliary came to the rescue, providing car seats and hosting a baby shower for her.
“The auxiliary members do act like sisters for those in need,” Kath said.
Another longtime member, Bob Faucett, who lives in Oak Grove, works as the post’s gambling manager. For Faucett, a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, the honor guard is the most rewarding part of the VFW.
He likes getting back into uniform, though he’s “getting old for marching in parades,” he said. “It feels like we’re honoring other people who have served.”
Anna Pratt is a freelance writer.