For the first time in decades, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 497 in Havre do not have their own club in which to relax, hold functions and conduct their organization’s business.
Post Commander Bill Bilger said the Havre VFW Club closed a few weeks ago, after failed attempts over several years to raise enough business to pay the mortgage.
“We were trying everything we could think of for several years,” Bilger said. “They would work for a while, then people would quit coming in again.
“We didn’t expect it to come to this, but that’s the way it goes, I guess,” he added.
Bilger said the post turned its mortgage — and its state liquor license — over to Independence Bank after it became clear the post could not keep up on its payments.
Calls to Independence Bank asking what will happen with the building and license were not returned by deadline this morning.
Hill County records and the Polk Directory show that the VFW post bought the building, formerly the offices of Wink Ford on 2nd Street, from the Havre Hotel in 1976 for $80,000.
Prior to that, the club had been on the 100 Block of 4th Avenue, on the eastern edge of where the Town Square now is.
In 2008, the uncertainty of the club’s future came to the forefront when then-Mayor Bob Rice, a former Post 497 commander, called on the community to support the club, which was having difficulties making its payments.
The post had taken out a mortgage to help pay for repairs and expenses, including finances for a new roof, and was struggling to pay that mortgage as well as deal with increasing costs of taxes and utilities.
In 2009, two former bar owners announced they were buying the club and would try to bring it back to financial stability while continuing to provide a location for the VFW Post, its auxiliary and the American Legion and its auxiliary to conduct their business.
That deal fell through by last summer.
A new push, changing the style of the club to try to attract new patrons as well as its VFW regulars — Bilger said the enrollment of the post also has dwindled over the years — was unable to bring the club back to its feet.
“We just didn’t have enough clientele coming in to support (the operation),” Bilger said.
“It’s a big place, and the overhead just killed us.” The post itself still exists, he said, and will continue its business, including hosting events like the Veterans Day and Memorial Day commemorations held each year.
He said the post is looking for a place to lease or rent to use to hold its meetings.
Marjorie Purkett, head of the Havre VFW Auxiliary, said not having a building will make it difficult for the auxiliary to conduct its business.
One of its prime functions is to hold funeral dinners for deceased veterans, which were held in the club. Purkett said.
The auxiliary will continue to do that, if it can find a place to hold the dinners, she added.
It also is looking for a location in which to cook dinners twice a month for the local Elks Club, which the auxiliary has been hosting.
Purkett said the auxiliary historically had hosted other events, such as wedding receptions and holiday parties for companies and organizations, but that had dropped off over the last few years.
“Nobody was calling because nobody was certain how the future was,” she said.
Jed Damson, adjutant for the Havre American Legion post, said the change will not affect t h a t o r g a n i z a t i o n . Th e American Legion Auxiliary already had moved to using the North Central Senior Center as the base for its operation about a year ago, and the post itself joined them there several months ago, he said.