Middlebury VFW is back after flirting with closure

MIDDLEBURY — Three short years ago, Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 appeared to be on its last legs. The organization was facing a $30,000 budget shortfall, dwindling membership and other challenges that prompted post leaders to consider selling their headquarters and event hall at 530 Exchange St.
That was then.
This is now.
Thanks to new leadership, some generous donations and a sound business plan, Post 7823 is now a solvent, growing organization that earlier this month won top honors at the state VFW convention at Jay Peak. The haul included “National Outstanding Community Service Post of the Year,” as well as individual statewide accolades for Quartermaster Bub Crosby and Commander Kenley Hallock.
“We came from worst to first,” longtime Post 7823 member Roch MacIntyre said of the organization’s tremendous turnaround.
The “outstanding community service post” award touts the Middlebury VFW for the substantial financial assistance it was able to give this past year to veterans causes and charitable organizations. While Crosby did not want to divulge specific numbers, he said Post 7823 gave “thousands of dollars” to statewide and national efforts to help homeless, paralyzed and ill veterans and their families. The local VFW also made donations to the Middlebury Fire Department and the new Middlebury police dog program.
It’s a success story that has been written with a lot of hard work. Crosby and other Post 7823 leaders said they inherited an outfit that was on the brink of financial ruin, with considerable back taxes owed to the state of Vermont. The VFW building needed a facelift, along with a new marketing strategy for its event hall in order to enhance revenues. Erstwhile regular members weren’t visiting the club anymore.
VFW members held a pivotal vote on Post 7823’s future on July 13, 2014. Should they sell their headquarters to clear up debts and then hold meetings at a different venue?
Fortunately, a majority of members at the time voted to fight for the club’s survival.
“The change came about when a bunch of us got fed up with the way things were going,” Crosby explained.
To that end, some Post 7823 members and boosters came up with donations to mop up the organization’s red ink.
New management began to run the post more as a business than as a club.
“We basically laid a financial foundation to build on,” Crosby said.
Former regular members took notice and returned to the fold. Post 7823 now counts 195 members, up from around 150 a few years ago.
Leadership spruced up and replaced furniture in the event hall, which it has showcased through regular community events such as Bingo, monthly community breakfasts and suppers. Folks liked what they saw and wanted to rent it for private functions. The hall is now virtually fully booked through the summer, according to Crosby.
The VFW is getting even greater public exposure these days by hosting the Middlebury Farmers Market. Post 7823’s parking lot and grounds provide ample space on Saturdays and Wednesdays for  various vendors to sell their fruit, veggies, crafts and other wares to a faithful crowd of consumers.
Crosby — who recently retired from a long career at the helm of Bub’s Barn furniture store in Vergennes — spends “at least” 35 hours per week at the VFW overseeing operations. He doesn’t accept pay, though he is entitled to it.
“I volunteer my time happily,” Crosby said. “This has been a labor of love for a lot of people … It is a feel-good project for me after my 45 years in business.”
Other people are becoming involved in the Post 7823 success story. Thanks to a decision last year by the National VFW, local posts are allowed to open their respective auxiliary groups to men as well as women. So men unable to qualify as VFW members can still help out at fish fries and other Post 7823 events.
“They do a lot,” Crosby said of the volunteers.
State VFW leaders said they are proud of Post 7823’s resurgence.
Michael Choquette was rounding out his term as the state VFW commander when he presented the Post 7823 members their awards a few weeks ago.
“I was so proud of that post,” Choquette said during a phone interview. “They were almost shut down. They’ve come a long way, with teamwork. I salute them wholeheartedly.”
So Post 7823 is now able to write a new chapter in a story that a group of Middlebury-area World War II veterans launched in 1946.  Veterans of the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection established the national VFW back in 1899 as a means of lobbying for benefits and health care for soldiers who served honorably in overseas conflict. The VFW grew to more than 2.8 million members affiliated with thousands of individual chapters throughout the country. The chapters not only lobby for veterans’ causes, but also contribute to community charities.
“I’m delighted with the way things have gone,” Crosby said of Post 7823’s renaissance.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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