Aberdeen VFW commits to reopening its damaged downtown building

Last summer, officials with the Aberdeen Veterans of Foreign Wars shuttered the doors on its venerable old building, citing roof damage that made the building a safety risk.

After months of soul searching, including whether the group should disband altogether, officers from VFW Post 224 and the Ladies Auxiliary have decided to start a massive fundraising effort to collect the money to re-open the Aberdeen facility.

Post Commander Jim Daly says he knows it may be an uphill climb, but he says the group has a dedicated membership that wants to keep the building open and the post’s programs operating.

The post had made its home in the 1908 building that once housed the Bijou Theater at 105 E. Heron in Aberdeen. In May, the doors were closed, after extensive damage was discovered on the roof and rafters. Early estimates showed it would cost $200,000 to $375,000 to fix it all.

VFW members believe the damage originates from the December 2007 storm and that things deteriorated following wind and snow storms that came later. The club tried to submit an insurance claim on the damage, but it was denied.

At this point, the entire roof needs to be replaced.

“There was a time when you could see some cracks and holes, but we took it all down to the trusses and we don’t have any significant leaks, but it’s not safe,” Daly added, noting that the city never red-tagged the building. He says the VFW made the choice on its own to close the doors.

Daly says the group needs to do another estimate to see determine the current costs for fixing the building. At a minimum, he says, the group needs to find $250,000. One big issue on cost is how much bracing needs to be put in to keep the roof safe.

“We will be taking out a loan with Anchor Bank, lots of fundraising, applying for grants from every possible source and accepting donations,” Daly said.

Daly, a retired Marine who also serves as director of Grays Harbor Community Foundation, says he’s identified a couple of potential grants for the group, but it’ll be up to the VFW membership to depend on the general public to raise most of the funds.

Nell Todd, the president of the Ladies Auxiliary, noted that even in light of the costs that will have to be directed at the building, the post isn’t willing to discontinue programs that support veterans.

“We provide scholarships for 3rd grade through high school, a Patriotic Art Scholarship, an annual fishing derby for kids, Teacher of the Year, Safety Officers of the Year, food baskets for families at Thanksgiving, food and presents at Christmas for families, and other community benefit programs,” she said.

Even more important, she said, is the work done by the post’s service officer, Maurice Fox, who has been at the state WorkSource office every Tuesday the past 27 years to help veterans and their families navigate federal bureaucracy for employment programs, death and medical benefits and other services.

VFW Quartermaster Terry Holderman said he enjoys not just the socializing aspects of the club, but also the times the club has given back to the community.

Holderman said that there was a serious discussion to disband the group and have the membership join the VFWs in Montesano, Hoquiam or Westport, but he thinks the membership can still sustain an Aberdeen post. The final decision to keep the club alive was made during a meeting on Tuesday.

“Membership declines make things tougher and it’s a lot of money to spend, but in my mind this is home and it has quite a history to it,” Holderman said.

Daly said the club has been around since 1919 and the goal is to be here for its centennial in 2019 and beyond.

Once the building is prepared, the VFW plans to be open for dinners and is considering other food service options to increase their income to help pay back the loan. The building has a capacity of 280 and would be available for rentals.

Support the VFW by giving at a special donation account set up at Anchor Bank or drop off a donation at the 40 et 8 Club or the Aberdeen American Legion. For more information, contact aberdeenvfwbuildingfund@gmail.com or contact Holderman at (360) 589-2201 or (360) 533-1338.