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VFW Post 1860 hangs on, but future uncertain

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Almost 11⁄2 years since its commander warned that Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1860 needed a "miracle" to survive another month, the organization is still hanging on, but its future remains in doubt.

"We're basically running day to day. I don't know what the future holds," said Chuck Midkiff, post commander.

Meanwhile, American Legion Post 53 celebrated Veterans Day with much more optimism, despite a few hits inflicted by the economic downturn, one of its leaders said.

"All in all, we're doing pretty well, said Clarence "Buddy" Hartsell, first vice commander and membership chairman for the post. "We're just not able to do as much in the way of donations as we used to, but we're staying above water."

The gloom that has settled over the 312-member VFW Post 1860 in recent years shows no signs of lifting, Midkiff and quartermaster Scott Simmons said. They blame apathy among the members as the main source of their problems.

"You have 300 some members, and we can't get them to come in and participate at all," said Midkiff. "You might have eight or 10 participate on a regular basis, and that's not going to keep the club alive."

Some of the VFW post members joined American Legion Post 53 for Friday's Veterans Day memorial at the Warren County Courthouse, an event hosted by the Legion. The VFW post's ladies auxiliary was planning a dinner for the veterans Friday night.

"They seem to have a lot more money than we do," Midkiff quipped.

Hartsell estimated that 50 to 75 Legion members and guests stopped over for a meal at the post at 22 W. Eighth St. after the courthouse memorial.

The Legion continues to sponsor many activities for youths such as baseball and midget football teams as well as school competitions in oratory and essay writing, Hartsell said.

VFW Post 1860's participation in the Shenandoah Riverfest in August, a free public event held with the town of Front Royal and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, was the organization's last major event, Simmons said. The post hosted the event at its 10-acre site at 1847 N. Royal Ave., a stone's throw from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

"We thought that would draw a good crowd, but it didn't do much for us," Simmons said.
The post nearly sold its building and property two or three years ago, Simmons said. But word of the sale got around and led to a rare heavy turnout for a meeting where the proposal was voted down, he said.

Something similar happened about 11⁄2 years ago when the organization's leadership spoke with a businessman about opening a for-profit campground on the post's land, Simmons said.

Simmons, 67, and Midkiff, 64, said much of the post's membership is in their age group, something they would like to see change. Bingo games are the main source of money that keeps the post running, but bingo, pull tabs and other games of chance don't appeal to younger people, Simmons said.

"If a lot of these young people would come in and take hold, they could set up activities to suit their age group," he said.

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