American Legion Post Prepares to Leave White River Junction Home
Jim Parmenter, of Wilder, the commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post 26, moves tables with his son, Luke Parmenter of Hartford, to be used for a special meeting of legionnaires on the future of the building and their meeting place at the American Legion building in White River Junction yesterday. Jim Parmenter, who became a member several decades ago, says while he will miss the building, he understands why it needs to be sold. “In the heyday of the legion, every single room in this building was being used. Now that we have much fewer members, we don’t need a space as big as this anymore.”(Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Tagged kitchen items wait to be auctioned at the American Legion Building in White River Junction yesterday. This kitchen could serve up to 450 people for events such as weddings, parties, and conferences. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Jim Parmenter, of Wilder, who works for Greene's Oil and Propane in Hartford, peers through the locked doors of American Legion Building in White River Junction. Parmenter was hoping to deliver a bill for propane to someone at the Legion but no one was around. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Chandeliers tagged for auction hang in the ballroom of the American Legion Building. Kitchen items, dishes, silverware, and furniture are being auctioned off and the building is to be sold.
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — The bar was quiet, the kitchen empty and the only sound from the second floor of the American Legion Hall was the clink of silverware and ceramic plates being sorted for auction.
“It’s hard,” said Dan Reed, commander of Hartford Post 26, as he stood in the building he entered 41 years ago when he joined the Legion. “It’s not easy for any of us. None of it we want to go.”
But it is going. All of it. The chandeliers, tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, decorations — even the four bars — as Post 26 adjusts to a new era in the Legion’s 93-year history. Next week will be Post 26’s final meeting in the place it has called home since the building was constructed in 1969. Everything but the trophies and a few treasures from the past will be sold at auction on Dec. 12, and the post will move to a temporary space until it can secure a new home.
The 22,400-square-foot building on South Main Street has become too big for Post 26 as membership declines. At one time, the post had more than 1,000 active veterans, Reed said. Now it numbers just over 400.
The costs for electricity and heat alone are burdensome for such a small organization, said Sue-Ellen Parmenter, the post’s general manager. And so the Legion is looking to sell the property and downsize to something half as big.
The move reflects changing times for veterans organizations.
Post 26 lost a few people to a new Legion post that opened in town last year, Jeffery S. Holmes Post 84. But the real issue has been changing demographics among its members, Reed said.
World War II veterans are aging fast and those who fought in Korea and Vietnam aren’t far behind, he said.
Nationwide, Vietnam veterans make up the largest proportion of Legion members, accounting for about 44 percent, according to Matthew Herndon, who handles membership for the national organization in Indianapolis. Veterans of World War II and Korea account for 34 percent. Meanwhile, younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been slow to join. Only about 7 percent of Legion members were involved in the Persian Gulf and war on terror, Herndon said.
“Across the nation, you’re going to see that,” Herndon said. “The veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re looking for jobs, raising their families. So their time to give back to an organization (is limited).”
Most Legion members tend to join in their 40s, Reed said. And it will be a few years before many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are at that point. Post 26 can’t wait that long.
The Post 26 building has been on the market since early spring and has several potential buyers, said Cheryl Brush of Moseley Associates, the White River Junction real estate agency representing the property. It’s listed for $875,000.
The Legion Post will remain active and continue to meet, hold regular bingo nights a few doors down the street and sponsor community programs as it searches for a new home. The Sons of the American Legion and the Ladies Auxiliary, two groups that also met there, will follow Post 26 to its new home, said Parmenter, who is also chairwoman of the Auxiliary’s executive board.
But Post 26 is in no rush to find something right away, Parmenter said. The past few years have been exhausting.
“They’re going to take a little time,” she said. “A little breathing room. It’s been a rough three years, economically.”
Post 26 thought about selling the building three years ago, Reed said. Members weren’t ready to take that step. This year, there appeared no other choice.
“You have to be able to raise the money to pay the bills,” he said.
When Hartford resident Dan Hillard moved to town 36 years ago, Post 26 was a central force in the community, he said. Hillard was a dues-paying member but minimally involved. He has since joined Post 84, which has 46 members and meets at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The two Legion posts are not in competition, he said, and he hoped that Post 26 would be able to regain its footing.
“We wish them well,” he said.
On Wednesday, Post 26’s building was largely packed up. The entrance to the lounge was filled with leftover cases and kegs of beer. Upstairs, the chairs were stacked high and tables covered with large soup pots, ceramic plates and coffee cups, silverware and other kitchen items to be auctioned.
Parmenter offered some hopeful context.
“It’s a passage,” she said. “It’s been emotional. It’s hair pulling. But in the end, (the institution) is the members in this post.”
Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.