Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Capping a busy week at the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building, American Legion Post 274 held its monthly meeting Friday evening.
As the meeting began, there was an empty seat with a patriotic place setting at the hall’s center in honor of the thousands of American soldiers missing in action and held as prisoners of war. In a solemn ceremony, a black shroud was placed over the seat to symbolize the missing soldiers’ attendance.
Prayers are frequent at Legion meetings, but the post has been without a chaplain to lead them. By unanimous vote, Leonard Schumard was elected to the position.
Post Commander Jeff Sterling noted that “our big long-haired bearded friend is missing,” referring to Phil Irvine, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2542 and District 14 commander. According to Sterling, Irvine was injured in a car accident around Christmas. He was a passenger in a car whose driver swerved to avoid a coyote, and crashed.
Irvine was properly safety belted, but suffered whiplash and internal bruising in the violent crash, with even the seat belts leaving marks.
The hall continues to grow as a busy beehive for variegated activities, both those of in-house organizations and renters. The hall’s kitchen is running full-tilt, and its canteen, rechristened as “The Whiskey Locker” with a new redwood bar donated by Rachel Grobey.
Last week saw the monthly Warriors Lunch on Wednesday, an Arcata Chamber of Commerce mixer Thursday and the Legion meeting on Friday. The chamber mixer saw up to 150 attendees enjoying an extraordinary array of food items from the hall kitchen, prepared by Alison Robbins and others from the Legion Auxiliary. Chamber member and Legionnaire Dave Hitchcock was said to have worn his Legion “cover” (a military term for hat) for the first time in 25 years.
A swing dance is scheduled for later this month, and the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Barracuda, stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay, has rented the hall for a private party. The gathering is also open to members of all Vets Hall organizations, and takes place this Friday, Jan. 12. A Super Bowl viewing party will be held there Feb. 4.
Renovations continue at the venerable hall. Some attendees at the chamber mixer – even some who had visited the hall regularly over the years – were surprised to learn of the hall’s canteen. It had fallen into disuse as a storage room, and even after it had been cleared, old paint and a drop ceiling still covered the beautiful clear redwood used to build the structure. It’s now in plain view.
Out in the dining hall, seven coats of paint have been removed from the pillars, revealing more redwood. Sterling said the hall’s painted door and window frames will also be stripped and the underlying redwood revealed, but more volunteers are needed for the effort. “I want people to come in, volunteer and adopt a pole or a sill,” Sterling said. “That would be the greatest thing.”
The women’s restroom has been repainted a light blue color with help from Elizabeth Bogner. Some controversy surrounds the vintage sanitary napkin dispenser, regarding whether to keep or get rid of it. Sterling was dismayed that the supply of sanitary napkins had been thrown away, as they could have enhanced the piece’s value as an antique, were it to be sold to a collector.
Another project is to move the partition between the canteen and the Scouts room south about 25 feet. That would allow expansion of canteen activities, including installation of a new pool table and dart board.
One helpful turn of events is that Sterling and Sophia Bogner, president of the Legion Auxiliary have relocated to Arcata and now live just down the street. This will allow them more time to spend at the hall, pursuing projects and activities.
A prayer was offered for Guy Kulstad, recently deceased VFW member and brother of former Legion Commander John Kulstad.
The Arcata Post recently obtained a dilapidated barbecue trailer previously used at the Eureka post. It is basically sound, but needs a new grill and wheels. Another idea is to get a new trailer, put the grill on that and use the existing trailer for beverages. These assets could be deployed to public events and used for fundraising to support Vets Hall activities.
To fundraise for trailer repairs, the Legion is accepting donations of t-shirts with military logos, with which a quilt might be made and raffled off.
For all its quaint and treasured traditions, some legacy practices are proving awkward in the present day. There are three Legion support organizations, for example. One is an inactive but technically still alive non-profit, the Women’s Auxiliary, limited to female children and spouses. Likewise, the Sons of the American Legion is open only to male family members.
The more contemporary Legion Auxiliary, which actively supports the Legion and hall operations, is gender neutral.
Sterling said the support organizations’ gender restrictions are onerous and obsolete, and that he is trying to get them rescinded through the state-level Legion organization.