Ohio VFWs facing declining membership challenges
By JENNIFER PERYAM | The Lima (Ohio) News | Published: March 10, 2019
OTTAWA, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — A continued decline in active membership could force Ottawa Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9142 to close its doors.
Other VFWs in the area also are feeling the effects of a reduction in membership as veterans die and younger veterans do not join the organization, according to VFW officials.
Ottawa’s post currently has 256 members, but only 10 are active, according to John Mullins, the Ottawa VFW’s quartermaster.
To be a member of a post, a person is required to have served in the military in a foreign war. Ottawa VFW members provide military funeral services for veterans who have died and pay for Ottawa-Glandorf High School students to play taps at the funerals. At each funeral, a flag is folded and presented to the family and a 21-gun salute is performed.
“When the Phillips plant was here, there were a lot of social members who came here, with Fridays and Saturdays being packed, and we had at least 400 members then,” Mullins said.
He said it is scary how close the VFW is to closing its doors. At 57, Mullins is one of the younger involved VFW members and he has been a member for 25 years.
The VFW put up a sign outside its facility that reads, “Many VFW Posts Are Closing. We Don’t Want To Be Next Please Join!”
He said the VFW is trying to draw awareness to a lot of people that the organization needs more members.
“For the past four or five years, we have made just enough money to pay our bills like electricity, gas, food and operational costs, and we own this building,” Mullins said. “Our lifetime members are dying and we need the younger crowd to join and get involved.”
Membership dues are $30 per year and there is an auxiliary for people whose family members have served in the military.
The VFW sells lunch to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The organization also receives funds from cash drawings and bingo.
“As much as we can, we give money to the community through our charity account. We donate to the schools and food bank,” Mullins said.
The VFW provides camaraderie and support for veterans and directs them to services needed for medical care and benefits.
“There are 22 veterans a month who commit suicide after coming back from PTSD and that is why VFWs are important, because they give them the support they need,” Mullins said.
Lima VFW Post 1275 currently has 725 members, and 100 of those are active members, according to Butch Brewer, the post commander.
He attributed the decline in membership to the fact that more than 400 members have died. Another reason he cited was that veterans coming home having other commitments and are not joining the VFW.
The post offers veterans connections to the veterans clinic in Allen County and the VA hospital, and they can talk to veterans who have been through similar experiences.
“All of us in this building have been in their shoes one time or another. Each war is different, but the bullets coming at you are all the same,” Brewer said. A yearly membership is $35 and an auxiliary membership is $30 per year.
Brewer said the post is struggling for active members, but they are not closing. They have tried to combat the decrease in active members by offering a military social member program for those who have honorable discharges and they also can help with the honor guard. The VFW donates funds to local charities in the community.
“We did 174 military funerals last year, and this year have done 28 military burial funerals in Allen County, as of Jan. 1,” Brewer said.
Columbus Grove VFW
Columbus Grove Post 9648 currently has 144 members with five who are active, according to Brian Siefker, the VFW commander, who cited the deaths of members and the lack of incoming, younger members for a decline in membership. A yearly membership is $35 and an auxiliary membership is $30 per year.
“The veterans organizations initiated the GI bill and forced government into helping our servicemembers,” Siefker said. He said the VFW wants to make sure the government provides for what veterans have fought for.
The VFW is doing things to make sure they are established in the future, such as the canteen where beverages are sold.
“As a member, the numbers count with government. If we become below a million members nationwide, I feel we will lose a voice in Washington and see veterans benefits decline,” Siefker said.
The Wapakoneta post currently has 284 life members and 406 total members, and their membership is growing, according to Delmar Merricle, the post commander.
“We go out and talk to the young veterans about the VFW and visit veterans in nursing homes,” Merricle said. The yearly membership for members is $35 and the same price for social and auxiliary members.
The posts are important because they provide a large family, Merricle said.
Delphos VFW Post 3035 Commander Andrew Munshower said the post currently has more than 300 members and 40 active members.
“I think the reason the VFW organization has seen a decline in enrollment as a whole is due to younger veterans’ getting out of the service not joining,” Munshower said. The membership is $35 per year and they do membership drives at county fairs and through word of mouth.
He spoke about the importance of VFWs to honor the sacrifices made by veterans. Last year, the VFW donated $38,000 to the Delphos community and sponsored ball teams in the summer time.
“VFWs play pivotal roles in small communities because they may not have a lot in terms of commerce, so when the local Boy Scout troop needs a donation, they rely heavily on the VFW,” Munshower said.