Aging veterans clubs struggle to stay open

Iron Range newsIn a phenomenon seen across Minnesota, veterans clubs such as the VFW and Legion are struggling to stay open as members age and new veterans opt not to join. The Star Tribune took a look at the problem in their Sunday edition, while the Mesabi Daily News reported on the possible closure of the Virginia (Minn.) Servicemen’s Club. In Hibbing, the VFW has battled financial problems and could close or change dramatically in the coming year.

The fundamental problem is demographics. The WWII and Korean War generation was the most active in these veterans clubs and every year more of them pass away. Vietnam veterans are less numerous, and they, too, are aging. Though the United States has conducted two major wars in the last decade, few of the new veterans returning from conflict are getting involved in clubs like these. That’s in keeping with generational trends away from civic or community clubs and toward other forms of communicating with peers and like-minded individuals.

My grandfather, a Korean-era veteran of the Air Force, is a member of the Keewatin Legion post. I accompany him to the annual spaghetti dinner as a member of the Sons of the Legion, but the event was smaller this year. They ring the bell in remembrance of a lot of guys, and no one new ever shows up.

Meantime, other service clubs look to stay relevant in new ways. In Grand Rapids, the VFW retains the talented Sam Miltich and his rotating cadre of musicians  as Wednesday night entertainment. After Reina del Cid and the Cidizens played my radio show last Saturday, they were hired on for a gig at the Bemidji Legion. The hope here is that quality entertainment could attract new customers to the veterans clubs — even if the veterans who caused the clubs to exist are fewer in number.

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