Though many VFWs are struggling nationwide to attract new memberships, the Camdenton post, along with a majority of other posts comprised in Missouri’s District 2, have seen a skyrocketing number of members join.
The Camdenton VFW Post 5923 hasn’t hidden the fact it has struggled to finance and construct a new building that started in 2013, but that hasn’t stopped these dedicated veterans from expanding their membership by 20 percent and achieving All-American status as an individual post in 2016-2017.
The 53-year-old post has had significant membership and leadership changes over the years and had to fire its first building contractor in its recent project for incomplete work, leaving the post in debt and the project significantly delayed as funds dried up.
At the same time, the post began ushering in a new era of veteran service organizations catered to the increasing size of Generation X and Millennials returning home from active service overseas.
Though many VFWs are struggling nationwide to attract new memberships, the Camdenton post, along with a majority of other posts comprised in Missouri’s District 2, have seen a skyrocketing number of members join and transfer online as well as inactive or expired members return to posts.
District 2 was one of 60 districts in the entire country to achieve All-American status with an overall growth of 103.32-percent with 14 of 21 posts achieving 100-percent growth or more.
The Camdenton post also achieved All-State and an individual All-American honor, along with the Eldon post.
“We gained 32 members in the last quarter of our VFW year, and we plan to gain even more when the new building opens,” Post Commander Blake Distler said.
Post Senior Vice Commander Keith Lucas credits the post’s efforts to reach out to younger veterans while also respecting the values and traditions passed down by its older members.
Camdenton Post 5923 has officially adopted the slogan of “Not just your grandfather’s VFW” and most in charge of leadership have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as Operation Desert Storm, though some remain from the Vietnam War.
“Many veterans are not joining the VFW because they are joining recreational and community service driven smaller organizations,” Lucas said. “Once the new building opens this summer, we plan to offer many new events and programs.”
A big portion of the post’s attempts to recruit more members centers around its new building still under construction, but expected to be open later this summer. Plans include a media room along with a place for kids to play, a new bingo hall/community center and the Bunker Bar & Grill.
The post hopes it will be a place veterans and community members alike can enjoy the atmosphere and come together in support of community-based charitable functions.
Through generous donations of time and material from local businesses, Ft. Leonard Wood soldiers, and post members and families, as well as numerous fundraising events, the project has made progress over the last few years, but it’s been a challenge budgeting for the project estimated at a total cost of approximately $600,000 and also giving back to the community — a source of pride for the VFW.
“Every penny lost is a penny that doesn’t go to our mission, and every member lost makes it more difficult to complete our mission to serve our fellow veterans, the military, their families and our community,” Post Quartermaster Terry Reaka said.
Reaka also said the post will be adding for the first time in its history a military honor guard, comprised of 5-7 veteran volunteers, that will perform memorial services for fallen brothers and sisters during funerals or being escorted from airports. Junior Vice Commander Josh Sims is already working to implement the program and following through with the proper paperwork.
The next event hosted by Post 5923 will be a “They Were Soldiers” benefit, dinner, dance and silent auction scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 11. The event, open to the public, will honor WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans and tickets can be purchased through lakevfw.org.
For more information about memberships or post information, contact Lucas at 314-809-4666 or Reaka at 913-481-3436.
Donations can be made at gofundme.com/camdentonvfw.