Leaders of American Legion Post 567 are hoping to sell their historic building in Orchard Park because of the dwindling number of veterans active in the post.
Dropping participation in post meetings and events is one of the main reasons why the property at 3740 North Buffalo St. is being put on the market, the commander of American Legion Post 567 told The Buffalo News on Thursday.
It's a sign of the times, according to Erie County's veterans services director.
Lower numbers of veterans these days are active members of posts run by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other service organizations.
“We have about 300 members, but only 20 or so show up for our meetings,” said Joseph P. Cash, 86, commander of the post in Orchard Park. “Most of us who do show up are older guys. The younger veterans just aren’t interested. Most of our guys who used to participate are up in heaven, playing pinochle up there.”
The Orchard Park post is not the only veterans organization in Erie County that suffers from a lack of participation, said David J. Shenk, the county’s director of veteran services.
“A number of posts in the area are talking about either closing or merging with other posts,” Shenk said. “You get a lot more participation from vets from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Not so much with the younger veterans from more recent wars. The older veterans are dying off, and younger guys just aren’t as interested in joining posts.”
Erie County has more than 50,000 veterans and at least 73 veterans posts, said Shenk, who also estimated that “about half” of the county’s veterans belong to some kind of veterans organization. But many members are not active.
The number of veterans posts in Erie County is shrinking, Schenk said.
Over the past decade, "we've seen a post close every year or two," he said.
Since 1995, Shenk has been commander of VFW Post 2556 in Boston. "At one time, we had about 60 members," he said. "Now, we're down to about 15 members. About five of those members attend meetings."
Shenk added that, in his opinion, one reason why many of the county’s older veterans joined posts and actively participated is that they were interested in getting information about important issues involving veterans.
“The younger veterans, it seems to me, go to the Internet for that kind of information,” Shenk said. "They just aren't joiners."
Cash, an Army vet from the Korean War era, said his post’s building at the corner of Webster Road dates back to 1870 and was originally built as a home for Erastus D. Webster, who during the Civil War served in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln.
Cash said he believes the building, which includes a meeting room and a hall suitable for weddings and other events, should sell for at least $1 million. If the building sells, Cash said the organization itself will continue to operate as long as some members are still interested.
“Give us a million dollars, and we’ll build a smaller hall, or we’ll rent space somewhere else,” Cash said.
According to local folklore, the Orchard Park building comes with a special added feature – Erastus Webster's ghost.
"It's been said that he's heard rattling down there in the basement sometimes after midnight," Cash said. "I've never seen him."