World War II veteran Earle Maynard is a regular at the Fort Snelling Officers' Club. Whether stopping in for a quick bite or socializing with military buddies, the facility has been his getaway spot since he became a club member in 1950. He even married his wife in the chapel next door.
Maynard now is part of a drive to preserve the club that is being considered at the State Capitol.
"Preserving the club is an important way to honor our military and our unique Minnesota military history and culture," Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen, argued during a recent hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Division.
Pugh is sponsoring a resolution that calls on Congress and President Obama to provide funding to restore the Officers' Club and give additional support to the military services provided by the 934th Airlift Wing — the club's curator.
She said she decided to take action after she overheard a conversation that the building might be shutting down. "I couldn't imagine the possibility of it closing," she said.
Ron Sorensen, who serves on the board of advisers, said the club has risked closure for some time. With the federal government's sequestration of military funds and the added costs that often come with maintaining an older building, Sorensen said there's hardly enough support to keep the building running. "Right now, it just covers its costs," the retired Army veteran said.
Losing the club would mean "there would be no place for officers to call their own in the Twin Cities," Maynard said.
The existing building opened in 1934. The club serves lunch and dinner, and often hosts larger social events after a wedding or funeral at the chapel next door.
Maynard was married at the Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel in 1980. For the past few years he and his wife, Sharon, have been taking about 25 of their family members to the club for dinner during the holidays.
Too much history to close
During the hearing, Army veteran Jim Johns said the building had too much history to be shut down. According to Johns, three U.S. presidents and many World War II heroes like Gen. John Vessey, who served under President Ronald Reagan as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have dined at the club.
"This historic building has got to be preserved," Johns said.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, questioned if there was another way to salvage the club without having to request federal funds.
Don Kerr, executive director of the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs, said Pugh's legislation is the "appropriate first attempt to keep the club operating." He explained there was another option in which the land — which is federally owned — could be transferred to the state, but it would have to be declared "excess" by the Air Force. This second process, Kerr said, would be rather lengthy and much more complicated.
Along with funding problems, Sorensen said there has been great concern about the building's security. The Fort Snelling Officers' Club is just one of two such Air Force facilities in the country that is not located in a fenced or guarded perimeter. The other is located on Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
Also at risk is the Officers' Spouses' Club, an affiliate organization that raises money for soldiers. Sharon Maynard, who is a current member, said the spouses have held meetings and sent out e-mails to help raise awareness of the problem.
She said the spouses are willing to do "whatever we can do to save the building."
Pugh's bill will be reviewed by the State Government Finance Committee. She hopes restoring the building will allow it stay open for many years to come.
Sorensen said a meeting will take place at the end of April to discuss the fate of the club and get input from members.
"I can't imagine life without the club. We still go every single week," Maynard said.
Tina Munnell is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.