“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.