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A Change for the Ages: Northfield VFW Membership Dwindles

A lack of young members limits the post's community engagement efforts.

Editor's note: In recognition of Veterans Day, this is the first of three stories this week looking at the Northfield Veterans of Foreign Wars and the membership struggles facing Post 4393, its men's auxiliary and its ladies auxiliary.

READ THE SECOND STORY:

READ THE THIRD STORY:


Charlie Wells, an army veteran who served in Korea in 1952, has been a member of since 1961. 

He has taken on the role of post commander four times during the past 50 years, but now the post he has served so loyally for decades is losing its momentum.

“Our membership is dwindling,” said Wells. “A lot of the young guys—they come here and they see a lot of us old guys—well, maybe they don’t want to join with us old guys, you know?”

“The older guys aren’t able to do as much as they used to."

That was certainly the case for who fought in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, when he first attended a VFW meeting.

“After one meeting I just decided, ‘Well, these old guys don’t really know what they’re talking about,’” said Murphy.

At Northfield's VFW, the average age of its members is 75. Last year, the post claimed 219 members. This year? Membership is down to 192.

It's a problem that is not unique to Post 4393 alone. The decrease in membership is part of a larger trend.

Minnesota VFW membership decreased to 45,288 in 2011, down from 51,116—or more than 12 percent—the previous year, according to the VFW membership statistics website. Minnesota's VFW clubs has welcomed only 318 new members this year.

Out of the state's 242 VFWs, only five posts saw any increase in membership, while six maintained membership. The rest declined in membership.

For the VFW as a whole, the numbers are worse. Last year, there were 1,445,550 VFW members in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and 19 foreign countries. As of Sunday, there were 1,190,214, down nearly 18 percent.


Changing of the guard

Though Murphy joined VFW Post 4393 in 2005, he wasn't a member who spent a lot of time at the establishment on Division Street. In 2008, however, he decided to become more active.

Today, at 30 years old, Murphy is the Northfield VFW post commander.

VFWs are often viewed as the places veterans gather at to play cards and have a few drinks or coffee. But Post 4393 is involved in several community service projects. The post donates flags to local organizations, accepts flags for proper disposal and sponsors youth baseball, hockey and soccer teams.

Unfortunately, many of those activities are becoming increasingly difficult to operate because the Northfield VFW is limited by its lack of younger members.

Murphy expressed a desire to make the post more community oriented and promote the VFW’s various scholarships and awards, but noted that it can be difficult for the post to fulfill its potential when the core of its members are closer to 100 years old than 50.

“The older guys aren’t able to do as much as they used to,” said Murphy. 

He says only about 60 members of the Northfield post are active.

Murphy insists that members have much to gain from taking part in the VFW’s many activities, adding that inactive or potential VFW members don’t need to make every meeting to become more involved. Simply attending ceremonies and events benefits the post.

“It’s nice to have that camaraderie,” said Murphy. “To be with those guys who’ve served, who understand where I’ve been in my life, the things that changed me and made me who I am.”


THE HISTORY BEHIND THE
VFW

Origins: 
In 1899, the American Veterans of Foreign Service (Columbus, Ohio) and the National Society of the Army of the Philippines (Denver, Colo.) were organized to secure rights and benefits for veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippines War (1899-1902). These two organizations merged in 1914, creating the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. VFW was chartered by Congress in 1936.

Organizational Structure: 
Thousands convene each August at VFW’s national convention to elect officers, adopt resolutions and discuss business affairs. Leading the organization are the elected commander-in-chief, senior vice commander-in-chief and junior vice commander-in-chief. The National Council of Administration serves as the VFW’s board of directors. More than 7,600 Posts comprise 54 Departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Latin America, the Pacific Areas and Europe. Posts form the basic local chapter.

Membership Eligibility  Those serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces in a foreign war or overseas operation recognized by a campaign medal, in Korea after June 30, 1949, and recipients of hostile-fire or imminent danger pay. Veterans of World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other expeditionary campaigns, as well as occupation duty, also qualify.

Source: VFW


You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing Amerian Dream” from across the country
at The Huffington Post.


MORE VETERAN DAYS COVERAGE

• —Northfield Patch
• —Northfield Patch
• —Northfield Patch
• —Northfield Patch
• —Northfield Patch
VIDEO: Tribute to All Veterans—Northfield News

Bill Murphy November 07, 2011 at 02:59 PM
A great start to what I am sure will be a great series of articles. Can't wait to read the next one.
roberta rankin November 07, 2011 at 03:22 PM
I think Murphy is on the right track. Hopefully more young vets will join and change the perception of the organization. We all need to socalize with our peers.
Bill Murphy November 08, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Thanks Roberta, and thanks again Corey and Anna. Through my new knowledge of online resources and Patch, I have been able to reach out a little more to my generation and now the younger veterans. Hopefully we will soon be able to start growing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in northfield so we can keep serving the community.

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