FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne’s oldest American Legion Post is back on the map after four years with no home. They held a grand opening for their new hub at 601 Reed Rd. Saturday.
More than 300 people showed up for food, drinks and music. Post 47’s leadership said their recent struggles won’t keep them from looking forward with optimism.
“They sat back, were patient, worked hard and here we are again,” said district commander Jay Hilliard, who oversees posts in eight Northeast Indiana counties.
Post 47 opened in 1919, just after World War I. Financial troubles forced them to shut their doors in 2012. First, the state of Indiana outlawed “cherry master” machines, which dealt a big blow to the post’s income. Then, the City of Fort Wayne banned smoking in public buildings, which lessened membership. And with overall state of the economy on a downturn, less and less members showed up for meetings.
After they closed their former home at 6424 St. Joe Rd., a handful of members kept paying their dues and keeping their faith in the patriotic veterans organization. They would meet at Post 330 in New Haven, Ind. as they hoped for a revival.
“They believe in the American Legion,” Hilliard said. “We can’t afford to lose the post. We’ve got to keep them all active. There were several members that understood we have to survive.”
Hilliard said they are always sticking up for veterans rights and that important fight never ends.
With the reopening putting new life in their systems, the Post 47 leadership is seeking out young blood.
“My train of thought is to get the younger members involved more,” said Gerald Smitley, the post’s commander. “That way there can be somebody here to take over when I’m passed and gone.”
Hilliard agreed that they need the support from younger veterans, such as those that fought in the Iraq War and War in Afghanistan. They are making efforts to reach out to them through popular social media.
“If they don’t get behind us they’re liable to lose some of the benefits we fought so hard for,” Hilliard explained.
A youthful excitement filled the air of Post 47’s grand opening. Smitley said the turnout made him thankful they didn’t give up.
“It’s pretty heartwarming,” he said. “It gives a person a deep feeling inside.”
Post 47’s leadership said they plan to stay afloat with careful budgeting and membership growth. They currently have 536 members with a goal of reaching 683. To keep up with their events, connect with them on Facebook.