American Legion Post 97 sits quietly outside Marengo on County Road 26, and that’s the problem. It’s too quiet.
The once bustling center of community activity is empty more often than not now, and officers are anxious over the post’s future.
“We’re not the only post that’s struggling these days,” says Post Commander Ray Deetz. “The interest just isn’t there anymore. We have about 65 dues-paying members, and we meet once a month. If we get four or five guys here, we’re lucky. You can’t have much of an official meeting with just a few people.”
Finance Officer Larry Stanley agrees. “We can’t get younger people to come in. “When young people come out of the service today, the atmosphere is totally different than when we were in; they just don’t have the interest anymore. In Vietnam, we were predominately drafted,” Stanley said. “Now, they’re mostly volunteers. They went in because they wanted to. How they view themselves getting out probably varies widely. “
Stanley says they realize younger adults have their families and are busy with school and extra-curricular activities.
“You have to decide where you’re going to spend your time,” he says. “If they could give us some time, that would be great, too.”
“The number one mission of the legion is to help veterans and their families,” Stanley emphasizes. “Americanism is number two, and community service number three. That’s what we’re trying to do, but we can’t do it alone.”
Deetz said 4-H groups and scouts help with the upkeep of the property through their club projects, but a more steady income overall is needed to pay the bills.
“We’ve cut everywhere we know where to cut,” Stanley said of the budget. “It costs about $20,000 a year just to have a post here. We furnish flags for the cemeteries, the school, and funeral flags, plus scholarships.”
The Bingo that was regularly held at the hall was popular with the older generation, and alot of the legion’s membership has gone down because those people have passed on and aren’t being replaced by younger people. Bingo could resume if six or seven volunteers would commit to working regularly at sessions, Deetz says. He also feels feels if more people would come to the meetings, more ideas could be generated to make the post more financially stable, offer more programs to the community, and have a stronger presence in the schools.
“We’re a charity post,” says Deetz. “We give our money away; six or eight scholarships to the school, send boys to boys to Boys State, and we sent ROTC members to basic training camp.
The Legion, chartered in 1947, places over 900 flags in 11 cemeteries for Memorial and Labor Day observances. Scouts and ROTC help greatly with these tasks.
“I know there are people among those 65 members that can do all kinds of things, how do we get them interested?” Stanley asks, noting the legion hosts a free steak dinner for Veterans Day, but participation is poor.
Hall rentals do occur but they say what they really need is to have more participation, and to rent the hall out more often. The building is ideal for wedding receptions, fundraisers, parties, as a meeting hall, graduations, funeral dinners, and other events. An outdoor shelter is also available in warmer weather.
What happens if things don’t change? “We’re probably stable for a few more years, but after that, it’s shaky,” Deetz says.
Member Burgess Castle says more family-type functions and more people to help out would make a big difference.
“We’re just trying to tell people what’s going on,” Castle says. “We need to keep things going so we can keep giving the scholarships, and Boys State (sponsorships) and awards for Americanism tests. For a hall like this to exist, we need young members with young thoughts and fresh perspectives.”
To contact the legion hall, call 419-253-8975 and leave a message, or call Ray Deetz at 419-718-9068.
Reach Randa Wagner at 419-946-3010, ext. 1803 or on Twitter@MorrCoSentinel.