by Sarah Squires
Veterans, old and young, will have a new place in Winona to gather in 2008, as the local VFW has found a new home.
The new building is close to home "” formerly Swiggers and the Teamsters Union "” at the corner of Third and Market, and will accommodate the needs of older veterans in the Winona area. But the move also hopes to draw in younger veterans and add to what the VFW already offers its members: a place to come together for all veterans, their friends and their families.
One of the biggest benefits that the VFW and members will enjoy with the new spot is handicap accessibility. That means bathrooms, entrances and no more battles up and down flights of stairs. The new facility offers everything on one floor, from a banquet hall space (they're still calling that "the upstairs," a holdover from their old building) to storage and kitchen areas.
"We aren't losing any space going from one building to the next, so that's nice," said Bruce Reed, chairman of the VFW Board. Even though the new spot is all one level, it's actually adding square footage.
The kitchen alone is nearly three times as large as the current one, meaning there is a possibility of adding more dinners during the month. The VFW currently hosts a fish fry on the fourth Friday of the month, and Reed said there are new ideas like a monthly steak fry that might develop in the future.
"We aren't going to be a restaurant," said Reed of expanding food at the new site. The VFW, he said, is not for profit, and its interest is simply in serving its members the best it can. "As long as we pay our bills, and we serve our members well, we're happy."
Along with the added space comes added parking. The old place only has one private stall, but the new site down the block has about 20.
The new parking and handicap accessibility means that the club will be able to better serve those who founded the organization "” the veterans of WWII and their families. Making the site easier to get to, said Reed, means there are fewer worries for aging members, and events won't be limited by staircases and faraway parking stalls.
But the new building, at least 75 years newer than the last, will also hopefully draw in younger generations to become more active. Reed said that while the Winona club is going pretty strong with just under 300 members, VFWs across the nation are suffering. Over the last year or so, about ten or so younger vets have joined the local VFW, said Reed, and those young folks are needed to help keep alive an organization that brings so much to the community it serves.
"We need the young blood," he said, adding that the newer facility could help draw them in. "We just have a lot of potential here that we never had before. We want to maintain what we had, but also offer something new and different, and better, for our area vets."
For now, volunteers have been working on getting the new building ready. The VFW is planning some fundraising in the future months to help with the transition, and are also looking for in-kind skill donations to help with the move. There isn't much technical work to be completed, but folks who'd like to help with plumbing, electricity, finances or just plain cleaning can contact Reed at 452-3885.
Reed said that, for now, VFW leaders would like to get the doors open and keep modifications to the building layout to a minimum. As members visit the new spot, it will become clearer what improvements might make the new home even better.
The inside of the new building also has some charms of its own to check out. Along the east end wall, large murals have been painted depicting scenes from Winona's history. Checkered floor tiles and a shiny tiled bar edged in woodwork will enhance the barroom, and the banquet hall has high ceilings and lots of space. Reed said although it will likely change some, it will be interesting to see how the VFW will fit in the home that already has so much to offer.
The new spot still has some work and organizers expect it will open some time in February. The closing on the sale is near, and Reed said that the Bank of Alma, which owns the building, has been very kind during the purchasing process. "[The bank] has been so cooperative and supportive through all the little technical hang-ups," he said. "It's been great."