TARPON SPRINGS — Once, American Legion Post 46 was a big part of the city.
Founded in a small building on Gulf Road in 1919, the post was a hub for entertainment in the 1920s and ’30s. It served as a gathering place for the entire community, not just veterans and servicemen.
In fact, it was such a big draw, the state’s American Legion organization once held its annual conference in town, complete with a function at Sunset Beach.
But the post later fell on hard times and membership dwindled to the point that it was reduced to a nonentity, according to its current commander, Ed Bard.
‘‘Over the years, it faded away," he said.
Bard, who took over the post’s leadership after moving from Massachusetts three years ago, said by the time he arrived, the post had fallen so far from its heyday it had earned a dubious nickname.
"They called us the ‘ghost post,’ because no one was ever here," he said with a note of disgust. "But we’re in the process of bringing it back. There was only a handful (of members) here then, and now we’ve got 40 to 50, and it’s increasing every month."
The process of reviving a once-dormant community institution has been daunting, Bard admitted. But if anyone is up to the task it’s the Vietnam-era Air Force vet, as he turned the revitalization of the once-proud post into his personal crusade.
"About a year after I joined, I was elected commander, and I knew my role was to recruit," Bard said. "I told the guys this is a working post, and that means every active member is going to work. We have no liquor license, so you’re not coming here to drink. I’m looking for worker bees, and every one of you are worker bees."
That work included forming an outreach program that provides goods and services for vets in need; talking and listening to vets in local nursing homes, hospitals and ALFs; setting up recruitment tents at city events such as First Friday; and establishing relationships with local nonprofit organizations, including Veteran to Veteran, Adopt-a-Block and the Boley Center.
"The camaraderie here is not to sit around and drink, but to get together and help people," Mike Jemness, the post’s councilor to veterans, said.
Jemness was quick to credit Bard with instilling the work ethic that has led to an increase in members and awareness.
"It takes a driving force and someone with a commitment to move forward, and that was lacking with this post,’’ Jemness said. "Ed has that passion.’’
Bill Eliadas, one of Post 46’s oldest members, said the difference is noticeable.
"It feels like we’re heading in the right direction," the 89-year-old Eliadas said. "We’ve resurrected it quite a bit—at one time we had over 200 members. I know a lot of people have given their blood, sweat and tears to keep this going."
For his part, Bard was quick to credit longtime members like Eliadas.
"I do not believe I could be where I am today if not for Bill Eliadas," he said. "He is the anchor and the absolute unsung hero of this American Legion post."
While there’s little doubt a lot has been accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, Bard conceded there is still much more work to be done in order for the "ghost post" to experience a complete revival.
First on the list of priorities is finding an actual home base, as the post’s old home on Gulf Road has been leased to a day care center, forcing members to convene in the back of a lawyer’s office on E Tarpon Avenue.
"We’re in the process of getting the building back or looking at a more user-friendly building that would fit all of our needs," Bard said. "And we will continue to have the booth at First Friday. What I want to do is identify everyone in town who is a veteran and help them get the services they need. The booth is strictly there to give information and let people know Post 46 is a functioning, viable operation for the vets. We’ve made great strides in a year. People know who we are. But we’ve got a lot more work to do."