SIDNEY — A desire to better serve the needs of Shelby County veterans has led to the merger of three veterans organizations.
American Legion Post 217, AMVETS Post 1986 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4239, while keeping their independent identities, will be operated through the Sidney Veterans’ Association (SVA). All three posts will be located at the newly-named Sidney Veterans’ Center, 1265 Fourth Ave., Sidney, the former home of the American Legion.
The merger process began in 2017, said Mike Bennett, VFW judge advocate.
“The VFW was losing money every month,” said Bennett. “It cost us around $600 a day just to open the doors if you looked at the cost for utilities, water, sewage, insurance, the gaming license, food license, liquor license and employees salaries.
“We knew something had to change,” he said. “We had to get more members in the door, cut expenses and sell the building or in two years we’d lose everything to a sheriff’s sale.”
All three organizations were facing the same problems — lack of new members as the older members passed away.
“We actually closed our doors,” said Carl Wical, AMVETS first vice commander of the event that happened several years ago. “Our group said we needed to reopen, so we did. But we were starting in the hole. We tried to clean up as much (or existing debt) as we could from the past.
“But we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Wical. “As time progressed, our members were passing away so we had even less income coming in. We thought if we all combined, there would be a chance (all three organizations) would be all right.”
Each post will continue to hold its own events, Each post’s charter will remain in tact.
“We’re just getting out of the bartending business,” said Bennett. “We will stay as organizations serving our veterans. This is happening across the country.”
It takes a lot of energy being in the bartending business,” said Wical. “Now we’ll be able to use our time to help the veterans.”
VFW’s across the nation, said Bennett, are closing their doors — at a rate of one a week.
“I’ve talked to the American Legion at the state department,” said Jim Muhlenkamp, who is assigned by the local American Legion post to the executive committee assigned to the consolidation committee. “They are calling it an epidemic (veterans groups closing their doors).”
Muhlenkamp said the local Legion was not operating at a loss.
“There has been profit,” said Muhlenkamp. “We used to have 1,500 members and it’s now down to less than 700 members. That’s happened in the last 18 years.
“The American Legion post would last about five years at a current membership,” he said. “But there are 30 to 40 members lost each year.”
The younger veterans, all three said, are involved with their families, coaching their children or they work the night shift, which limits their time to belong to a veterans organization.
“They want two cars, a nice house and vacations every year,” said Bennett. “They have to be able to work to get that. Today’s military is also discouraging soldiers from hanging out in officers’ clubs. Their (military) philosophy is changing.”
One canteen with merger
With the merger, the canteens of all three organizations will be combined into one, which will be operated by the Sidney Veterans Association.
“Our lawyer (handling the merger) wanted to know if each national organization would allow this to happen,” said Bennett. “The VFW’s national bylaws were changed and we realized this merger could happen.”
Under the new association, the group will be a 501 (c)(3) non profit group which serves community charities.
“We went to Stow, Ohio, because they had merged their organizations,” said Bennett. “We talked to their director and they’ve been doing this since 1969. They were very helpful and gave us a copy of their bylaws and articles of incorporation. We decided the LLC was the way to go.
“They (Stow veterans groups) had seen the signs of what’s happening today so much earlier,” said Bennett. “They did all the legal path work for us. Having a copy of their documents really helped us.”
With paperwork in hand, the three organizations started the process which has led to the merger.
“The VFW sold its building,” said Bennett. “Then Jim (Muhlenkamp) took the lead on how to do this. Each post is an equal partner in the Sidney Veterans’ Association. Each of us wants to enter the partnership with as little debt as possible.”
The buildings owned by the American Legion and AMVETS will remain in the LLC. An inventory is being taken to decide which equipment will be sold at a future auction.
“The auction’s money will be included as profits for the post,” said Bennett. “We (VFW) also has some hall rentals in 2019 which we will be honoring. Jim has worked this so we all come into the merger equally.”
Muhlenkamp said the lawyer was amazed at the work the consolidation committee has achieved.
“Jim is in the LLC business,” said Bennett, “So it’s been good to have him on board with the merger.”
Who is the SVA?
The Sidney Veterans’ Association LLC, said Bennett, will have a board of directors. There will be voting members from each organization on the board. Each post will be represented and provide assistance to the board.
“We’ll have three directors,” said Bennett. “The director of finance will be chosen by the American Legion. The director of IT will be overseen by the VFW. The director of buildings and grounds will fall to the AMVETS.”
There will be an overall chairman, said Bennett, who will run the meetings.
“That person will be the voice and face of our organization,” said Bennett. “Once we get the articles of incorporation done through the lawyer then each post will sign it and then the Sidney Veterans’ Association will be in effect.
“All the monies will be directed to the Sidney Veterans’ Association,” he said. “We don’t want to shortchange or offend anyone. Our philosophy is this organization is for all veterans. We talked to all three different groups. They all voted to approve it (merger).”
Bennett said there is a lot of overlapping membership for the three organizations. Bennett is a member of all three groups.
“We went through the roster for the VFW and there were so many names on both VFW and American Legion roster. For the AMVETS, there’s about 50 percent member in both.”
There are 185 common members in the American Legion and VFW; and 183 common members between the American Legion and AMVETS.
With the merger, members will still pay dues to each individual post.
The SVA’s board, said Bennett, is in the process of establishing short term goals, mid-term goals and long term goals.
“We want to have a 20-year plan to pay off the buildings,” said Bennett. “The canteen money will go back to all three posts.”
Auxiliary groups still active
The auxiliary groups and Sons of American Legion will continue with the merger.
“The DAV (Disabled American Veterans) will continue to meet at the veterans’ center,” said Bennett.”The Forty and Eight American Legion group will continue also.”
”With the Forty and Eight, you are asked to belong to the group,” said Muhlenkamp. “They do a lot of volunteer work for the Legion. All the members are veterans.”
With the new association, each group will still be able to hold individual events. But the SVA will encourage the other groups to become more active in fundraisers.
“The VFW awards scholarships and we’ll continue to do so,” said Bennett. “But now we’ll have a combined scholarship dinner with the other two posts to present the scholarships.”
The drawings will continue under the association’s leadership. There will still be daily, weekly, life, Saturday, Sunday and Queen of Hearts drawings. The three group’s drawings will merge into one drawing run by the association.
Each post, said Bennett, will have raffles, but they will be combined and cleared through the association.
“The association will come to the other groups and encourage them to participate in the raffle also,” said Bennett. “The money raised in a raffle will go back to the individual posts.”
A benefit to the veterans
All three men feel this merger will benefit all veterans in the county.
“We want to bring everyone together as veterans,” said Bennett.
“It was a lot harder to bring three groups together than two,” said Muhlenkamp. “But we all have common ground. And an offshoot to this is we no longer have to manage the canteen. It was also hard to get officers and we feel this shouldn’t be a problem no. There will be no canteen, just a group that works for the veterans. I can see people offering their time more. I also see them volunteering across the aisle (between the groups).”
All three are appreciative of all the community support they have received for fundraisers, dinners and other events which were open to the public.
“I’d like to way thanks for supporting our wings, fish and chicken dinners,” said Wical.
“All of the groups are thankful for the support they’ve received,” said Muhlenkamp.
Bennett said there are approximately 1,300 members in the three posts.
“We’ll have more to offer as a combined group than we could as individual groups,” said Muhlenkamp.
Questions about the merger can be directed to American Legion members Post Commander Jim Moorman, Muhlenkamp and Theresa Manteaufel; VFW members Bennett, Jeremy Wick and Bill Carpenter; and AMVETS members Terry Cupp Bob Shoffner and Wical.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.