HERNANDO BEACH — The inside of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9236 gleams with the newness brought by more than $40,000 in recent renovations.
Patrons who belly up to the bar now enjoy comfortable surroundings that proudly proclaim this is one of the nicest establishments on Hernando Beach, says incoming post commander Dennis Gill.
The trouble is, not as many people come to the VFW post these days as when it first opened 30 years ago.
Like many small veterans clubs, Post 9236 is feeling the age of its membership. As time claims more and more World War II veterans, the organization is struggling to attract new members to replace them.
For the 59-year-old Gill, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the post for five years, it's a sad trend. But he's determined to do whatever he can so that the next generation of veterans will be able to enjoy the same benefits he has.
"The older fellows built this place and they passed the torch on to us," Gill said. "We owe it to them to keep it going."
To help bolster the post's volunteer manpower, Gill is establishing a men's auxiliary unit made up of family members of service members who served in combat zones overseas.
Any male age 16 or older who is a son, husband, brother, father, grandfather, half-brother, grandson or widower of an eligible veteran can join the auxiliary. Prospective members must provide proof of eligibility, usually a copy of a DD-214, which identifies a family member as having served in a foreign combat area.
This unit will assist the regular membership in its many activities, including fundraisers, maintenance of the post and other public functions. The new blood could do wonders for the organization, said Rick Walls, a trustee at the post.
"A lot of things we want to do here we can't because we simply don't have the bodies," Walls said. "When we have a cookout or a fish fry, it's usually the same people that are involved. We don't have the reserves we need."
Although the post has long had a women's auxiliary, a men's volunteer unit was unheard of until the VFW's national congress allowed the creation of such units in 2002. Gill said that although his post has wanted to establish a men's auxiliary for four years, it has been difficult finding recruits with proper credentials to join.
"You need to have at least 25 members in order to get a state charter, and 10 of those must hold officer positions,'' Gill said. "Getting all of that together has been tough."
Jesse Sanchez, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 in Spring Hill, said that veterans organizations have been feeling the pinch of declining membership for some time now. His post, with 1,300 active members, is the second-largest VFW unit in Florida. However, finding new members is a challenge.
"We had hoped to be taking in more Vietnam veterans by now," Sanchez said. "It hasn't worked out that way. They don't see the VFW in the way that the World War II vets did. To them, the war has been something they'd rather forget."
Sanchez said that his post's men's auxiliary, which was formed in October and officially installed last week, has attracted 40 members. In addition to boosting the post's membership, it will also help with fundraising activities and maintenance that are needed to keep the 3-acre facility fiscally sound as well.
"Like everyone else right now, we need to stretch our dollars," Sanchez said. "The more volunteers we have to do the work, the less we have to pay out."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.