SRPING HILL — These are hard times for the Veterans Of Foreign Wars Post 10209.
Membership is on the decline and revenue from weekly fish fries, dances and other fundraisers isn't what it used to be. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining the post's 12,600-square-foot building on Ed Noll Drive has risen to the point where the post could be forced to sell the 6-year-old facility.
"It's about as bad as I've ever known it to be," said longtime member and former post adjutant Jim O'Brien, who heads a committee that has been exploring ways to pull the organization out of its financial plight. Two weeks ago, he delivered the grim news of the post's finances to the general membership.
O'Brien said the mounting expenses of keeping the facility open are the greatest concern. The post received the land and building from Holland Springs Industrial Properties Inc. in exchage for the original VFW site — the current location of the Target store on Spring Hill Drive.
But according to O'Brien, former post leaders voted a couple of years ago to take out a $127,000 mortgage to pay for improvements. The cost of paying back the loan, coupled with approximately $2,800 in regular monthly expenditures for upkeep, has caused the organization to fall behind financially. On several recent occasions contributions from generous members helped to make up the monthly deficit.
"We've gotten to the point where we realized that operating a place this size may not be feasible anymore," O'Brien said. "So, we're putting out a call to arms for the veterans of Hernando County to help in keeping it open for them."
For most of its nearly 50-year existence, the post has served as meeting site for several veterans groups, and has on occasion acted as a gathering place for county governmental community meetings. The post is also the site for the county's only 9/11 memorial, which was erected by the Retired New York Firefighters.
While the post has 1,000 active members, O'Brien said, it's been tough gaining their support for the events the facility regularly sponsors.
"The bottom line is that we need them in here to participate in our activities, to come out for dinner and some entertainment," he said. "If we had enough support I think we could make it work."
The 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran concedes that veterans organizations such as the VFW are no longer as popular as they were when their memberships were bolstered by WWII and Korean War veterans.
Although he has seen more Vietnam veterans seek membership in recent years, O'Brien said they aren't as active as veterans of the previous wars. And while the organization has managed to attract some returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, O'Brien said that they rarely show up to functions at the post.
"We're in a tough time right now," he said. "And we need to figure out how to attract and keep people who can help this organization and make it grow. It's a sad thing when all of the decisions are left up to less than a half-percent of the entire membership."
O'Brien said that members are expected to vote at a meeting on Wednesday whether to sell the building. If they approve the idea, the measure will then be brought before the VFW state and district boards, which must approve the sale of any building.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.