Legion survives ups, downs

FAIRMONT – There was some confusion recently when lifetime members of American Legion Post 36 got bills in the mail asking that they pay their annual dues.

Commander Bob Altman said the Fairmont post was one of the last to continue its lifetime memberships, but the program simply was not sustainable.

“It was started in the 1950s or ’60s,” Altman said. “Lots of posts did it.”

The money was put into an account to earn interest, with which annual dues were paid.

“Then interest rates went all to hell, and we had to start taking off the top,” he said.

For one year the local Legion paid its lifetime members’ annual dues, but to continue would have quickly drained the post’s general funds. A letter was sent out, explaining the situation and requesting those members start paying the $36 annual membership fee.

“We tried our darnedest to keep it going,” said Altman, who paid about $160 for his own lifetime membership. “Most of them understood.”

According to the commander, the most recent members to pay the lifetime membership fees signed up around 10 years ago.

Though money wasn’t available to continue the program, Post 36 is otherwise doing OK from a financial standpoint, Altman said.

Seven years ago, the post downsized from its spacious hall on State Street to its current downtown bar and restaurant on 106 E. First Street.

“We plan to be there a long time,” Altman said.

The move was a major cost-saving measure, particularly important as the Legion loses members each year as older veterans pass away and fewer young veterans join the organization.

“We’d always like to have more members, or anybody, show up for pop or a meal,” Altman said. “… The more people come in, the more we can give out.”

To increase its revenues, much of which are used to fund scholarships and provide various grants to other local non-profits, the Legion just began renting out a newly renovated space adjoining the bar and restaurant.

The hall can seat up to 100 people, at a cost of $50 for members, and $100-$150 for non-members. More information is available by calling (507) 235-9862.