Steel’s arrival heralds start of VFW’s recovery

VFW 1860 members Jeff Cook, left, Cary Troxell, center, and J.D. Donahue, right, offload steel that was received Friday as members start on the path to a new building after fire destroyed their former post in July 2015. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Jeff Cook, the commander of the Front Royal Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1860, was standing out in the cold at the site of the former post building Friday morning.

There were other people watching with him — Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, Warren County Board of Supervisors member Dan Murray, volunteers and other members of the post — as a construction vehicle unloaded steel from a truck in the parking lot.

Two years ago, the post’s building, an old wooden structure, burned down. A former employee of the post, Leslie Rose Deavers, has been charged with arson and embezzlement; her trial is set for March.

For Cook, seeing the steel come in was a sign of recovery from a devastating event. He hopes that, in just a few months, it will form the backbone of a replacement building.

“These guys did time in ‘Nam, in the thick of stuff, and I’m not saying that they’ve got a foot in the grave, but they’re older; we’re an aging post,” Cook said, pointing at some of the other members. “For those guys to live for all these years, to see their building burnt down that they put time and effort into, that was huge. And if we could get this building done, it gives them something to keep going on.”

Although the organization has already purchased the steel for the new building from Olympia Steel, there is still a long process ahead before the post recovers from the fire.

The location of the post is below Front Royal’s floodline, meaning that the group will need to fork over more than $100,000 for a platform that the new building can stand on. They need to receive permits from the Town of Front Royal and from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

Cook is confident that they will receive those permits.

“We’ve had a lot of support locally,” Cook said. “It’s taken two years to get here, so we’ve already talked to the town and the county. So we know what the limitations and guidelines are.”

Hollis Tharpe, the mayor of Front Royal, and Dan Murray, a member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, both arrived at the event at 7 a.m.

Murray, whose father was a commander of a VFW post, voiced his support for the post, for veterans and for their new plans.

“This was a catastrophic loss, and this impacted a lot of lives,” Murray said. “For your older gentlemen, a lot of them, stopping in at lunchtime, it’s a part of their life, it’s a routine that was lost. And we need to bring a life back to them.”

Tharpe, meanwhile, said that the VFW gives older veterans “meaning.”

“We’re working with the VFW to get them back in business, to get them back and running,” Tharpe said.

The post has had meetings at the American Legion location in Front Royal. But without a building, Murray said, the post is going to have difficulty recruiting new members who could benefit from the services and the camaraderie the post has to offer, and who could benefit the community through the work the group does.

“Membership is hard to get today,” Murray said. “And if you don’t have brick and mortar, it’s even harder to get membership.”

That’s why Murray thinks it’s crucial for the post to get a new building and to get as much help from the town and the county as the two governments can provide.

“For this kind of project, the work involved, they need total cooperation from the county and the town through planning and zoning to work with the post to get this up,” Murray said.

But even with permits, the group still has a lot of work ahead of them.

The post has to restore its finances to what they were before the fire. The group received around $170,000 in 2016, according to returns it filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

That’s $100,000 more than it received in any year between 2013 and 2015, but it still isn’t enough to build and furnish a new building. And Cook said the group did not have enough insurance on their old building to rebuild it.

For now, Cook said, the group will have to rebuild one piece at a time.

“We’ll have to do some significant fundraising–sell blood, rob banks, whatever we’ve got to do,” Cook joked.

He later added, “You’ve got to have a sense of humor. It’s been two years of pain and frustration.”