Aging membership part of why Sewickley VFW for sale

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | 1:30 PM


When the members of the Donald T. Campbell Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5756 in Sewickley put the Beaver Street building up for sale earlier this year, it was a matter of economics.

“The post has 72 members on its roster, however, many no longer live in this area and only about five are active,” Gary Farole, a post member, said in an email. “We had to put the building up for sale for financial reasons. It is a large building to heat and cool, electric, gas, maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc.”

The VFW closed the bar in July 2017, “as we were not getting enough income from liquor sales to even pay the salaries of the manager and bar tenders,” said Farole, 76, a Marine Corps veteran.

The post will remain in existence only if the membership steps up and takes part in running it, he said.

What is happening to the Sewickley VFW is happening to posts across the country.

In recent months, VFW posts in East Pittsburgh and Monaca have closed. Other posts, such as the Leetsdale VFW Post 3372 have had to resort to nontraditional revenue streams — such as possibly charging Leetsdale Borough for use of its parking lot — to stay afloat.

Tom James, 74, quartermaster of the Leetsdale post, said it has an annual budget in excess of $85,000. It has 125 members, a combination of veterans and social members. The average age is around 75, he added.

“We are usually able to hold our own during the fall and winter,” said James, a Navy veteran. “The cold weather drives members to the post and the canteen sales increase. We suffer starting in early May and on to the late fall. Our members, like 99 percent of us, get busy with outdoor activities.”

And so far, there have been no formal discussions between Sewickley and Leetsdale about merging the posts, James said.

“We would love it if the members of the Sewickley Post 5756 would transfer their memberships to the Leetsdale Post 3372,” James said.

The national VFW was started by veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection to secure rights and benefits for the soldiers who returned from those battles either wounded or sick.

The problem, however, are veterans who have been active in VFW posts are aging. World War II veterans now are mostly in their 80s and Vietnam War veterans have reached retirement age, said Matthew Nute, a VFW spokesman at its national headquarters in Kansas City. Mo.

“A lot of posts have had the same membership for years,” Nute said.

The numbers do tell the story. In 2013, the VFW had 1.36 million members, but last year that number dropped to 1.2 million. The number of posts nationally totaled 7,172, but last year there were 6,496 posts.

The same holds true in Pennsylvania. There were 485 VFW posts in 2013 and 449 in 2017.

Nationally, the bulk of the VFW's membership is between the ages of 70 and 79. In Pennsylvania, most of its VFW members are between 61 and 70.

David Sandman, a spokesman for the state VFW in Harrisburg, said an aging membership is common in service organizations.

“It's a reality for all these groups that most younger (people) are focused in getting college degrees, raising families, getting careers started and/or moving their military careers ahead,” Sandman said in an email. “So in general, it's hard for nonprofits to make the connection needed to get the next generation of members on board.”

But the VFW is attempting to address the issue, such as partnering with military personnel and providing needed services such as emergency financial grants. Posts also are being encouraged to make their canteens smoke free and more family friendly by providing amenities such as free Wi-Fi.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at selliott@tribweb.com, 412-627-9423, or via Twitter at @41Suzanne.

Correction: David Sandman's last name was misspelled in one reference in an original version of the story. His name has been corrected.

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