By David Chircop / Herald Writer
EVERETT – It was not the news Don Robbers wanted to deliver to a few dozen aging war veterans earlier this week.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2100 has fallen on hard times and sorely needs an infusion of money.
Troops returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not replacing the post’s WWII and Korean-era veterans at the same rate that the older members are dying off.
Even its own chaplain, who helped memorialize the dead, passed away a few years ago and was never replaced.
Bills are piling up, and the 59-year-old downtown Everett VFW hall on Oakes Avenue needs expensive repairs.
Bringing back the private club’s 45 slot machines, which helped pay down the original mortgage, is not an option.
One solution to the post’s cash flow problem: sell the building.
“It’s really heart-wrenching for a lot of the members to dispose of it, but it’s getting to the point where it’s actually necessary,” said Robbers, the post’s quartermaster. “I scrape every month to make sure we have enough to pay for everything.”
The tall, 78-year-old Korean War Navy veteran said all but two members voted Monday to sell the building and a 55-space parking lot facing Lombard Avenue.
The post’s rolls have dropped from a peak of about 2,000 several years ago to a little more than 1,000 today.
The once-packed dance floor under a big neon Maltese Cross sits empty most nights. Many members are unable to make it to post events.
Any buyer would probably demolish the existing two-story brick-and-concrete building that was dedicated in early 1947, Robbers said.
Steve Kerber, 87, was initiated at the post after returning from combat with the Army Air Corps in North Africa and Sicily during WWII.
The first meeting he attended in November 1945 was held at the National Guard Armory. The post’s WWI veterans voted to have Everett’s Newland Construction build a 15,000-square-foot hall on Oakes Avenue.
“We were very, very active in the community, now we can’t be, because we don’t have any money,” Kerber said. “They’re all old farts like me. They don’t drink and they don’t dance anymore.
“This is very sad for it to come up this way. It’s a shame, all that blood and sweat and tears that went into that building.”
While its properties are on the market, the post, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in April, plans to keep its charter.
Kerber is hopeful the estimated $2 million the building could fetch might breathe new life into the club.
The properties near the Everett Events Center are prime downtown real estate. Eight-story buildings are permitted there, and the area is being targeted for redevelopment.
The properties brush up against a corridor that city planners have designated for an entertainment and retail district.
Future public improvements, including a possible light rail connection, are a stone’s throw away.
Veterans of Foreign Wars is a nonprofit service organization that also lobbies Congress to assist veteran causes.
It keeps an office on Capitol Hill, helps draft legislation and alerts its members to pending veterans bills.
The organization’s mission is to “honor the dead by helping the living.”
Like other service clubs across the country, the VFW is having trouble recruiting new members.
Because it is only open to veterans who have served in foreign conflict zones, it faces an even greater challenge than its larger cousin, the American Legion.
If the sale is successful, Everett’s VFW will join American Legion Post 6 Everett, and Elks Lodge 479, which have sold downtown headquarters in the past five years.
The Elks club is planning to move from its home on the corner of Rucker Avenue and California Street to a new facility on Hoyt Avenue.
Everett’s American Legion post, which sold its Wetmore Avenue building in 2001, is returning to solvency after a former officer stole nearly $400,000.
Kal Leichtman, the American Legion’s new adjutant in Everett, said veterans organizations are more than old men sitting around drinking beer and sharing war stories.
“Most young people don’t understand the importance of supporting service and veterans organizations,” he said. “They fight to keep medical facilities and care for veterans at a decent level.”
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@ heraldnet.com.