May 03, 2013 - 12:19 PM
The son of a war veteran is watching the Vernon legion fade away as financial pressures take their toll on the once vibrant organization.
John Miller, president of the legion, says the branch, like numerous others across B.C., has been gradually losing members, and money, in recent years.
"Many factors slowly throttled us over the years," Miller says. He traces it back to the legion's move from its downtown location to its present perch on 29 Street. The building is hard to find, and not very visible from the road. Most can't walk there, and bus stops aren't close.
"At the downtown location, some elderly folks walked there every day," Miller says.
Combined with the new drinking/ driving laws, Miller says people just don't come out as much as they did five years ago.
Perhaps the largest impact has stemmed from a dwindling member base. War veterans, those the legion was created for, are rapidly being lost to old age. "We've buried two war vets in the past two weeks," Miller says. "We have almost none left."
Though the legion's events are open to the whole community, the bulk of the patrons were families of war veterans. As less and less of them started coming out for a drink or a twirl on the dance floor, the bar—which is the legion's only source of revenue—began to go dead.
The legion's rent, its electricity bills, and the price of liquor all rose while the bar went quiet. "All our costs stay on the incline; we can't raise beer prices fast enough to meet them," Miller says.
Proceeds from the legion's other events, like meat draws and the Poppy Campaign, are infused into the community, without a dime spared for the legion's operational costs. Miller says the branch raised $80,000 total last year for war veterans, bursaries for students, and organizations like the Hospice House and the Food Bank.
"A gap will be felt in the community," Miller says, adding resources for the Remembrance Day ceremony will also feel the strain.
The legion itself is being bled dry. Last month, it was forced to cancel all live music. Once, the legion was packed on Friday and Saturday nights. A bartender with the legion for 14 years recalls the legion in its glory days.
"I remember in the '80s, if you weren't there by 5 p.m. you wouldn't get a seat," Doreen Mueller says. "It was a lot better than a regular bar because you knew everybody, it wasn't just a bunch of strangers."
That sense of community is something Miller feels has been lost, not just in Vernon, but everywhere.
"The war soldier of today, the comaraderie isn't there anymore, it's a different type of war, a different type of fighting now," he says. "In the old days they all kept in touch. The legion was formed as something of a group therapy. They could come in, talk, have a few drinks."
Miller says the remaining war veterans are deeply saddened by the legion's situation, as he is.
"It was our parents that started it. I keep it going for my relatives that fought," Miller says. "Sadly, my kids won't have that kind of connection."
While the social scene is ending, Miller says the branch will "go back to the basics" and somehow manage to keep the branch alive. He predicts moving to an office setting and reining in the events put on by the legion.
"Our aim is to host events again, I'm optimistic about that," Miller says.
A Save the Legion fundraiser is being held this Sunday. Admission is by donation, and the event kicks off with a pancake breakfast from 9 to 11 a.m. After that, there will be a BBQ and live music all afternoon with a silent and live auction starting at 4 p.m.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com or call (250)309-5230.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013