FAIRBORN — The American Legion Dignam-Whitmore Post 526 facility will soon strike the colors and shut its doors.
“We thought we could get a corporate donor, put their name on the building,” Post Commander Chuck Knaub said. “We’re certainly not looking for handouts, but I think it would be a shame if we have to close this place because it’s been a big, good part of Fairborn.”
The American Legion Post 526 bought the facility in approximately the 1950s or 1960s, which entailed its game room, bar and the open area surrounding it, as well as the kitchen. By the 1980s, the mortgage for that space was burned. Legion officials opted for an 8,000 square-foot expansion and renovation in 1998, bringing upgrades to the then-current area and adding the legion’s hall with the intention of hosting events and meetings. It listed with a local Realtor approximately three years ago with little interest, Knaub said.
By November 2016, the facility still owed approximately $500,000. It worked with the bank and payed only interest on the loan for a period of time, but the foreclosure process had started.
Legion officials considered filing for bankruptcy. However, in order to do so, the facility must have had a steady flow of income despite fundraising efforts. Knaub said the facility is now operating on a month-by-month basis, unsure of when the facility will shut down for good. It will leave seven-to-eight individuals without a job, but the show will go on as it has been until the facility closes shop. Taco Fridays has been a Fairborn tradition for a number of years at the American Legion hall, Knaub said, which will continue for as long as possible.
“Our reach exceeded our grasp,” he said. “Things changed in the 20 years. Membership got older and new members did not replace them … The people who used to keep this place going aren’t coming in anymore.”
A perfect storm set the stage for the troubles Post 526 is facing, including the closing of part of State Route 444 — a concern stated by a number of other business owners along Main Street in Fairborn — an aging and changing veteran population, and changing smoking, liquor and gaming laws in addition to economic difficulties felt across the nation throughout the 2000s.
“Our base of membership is slowly but surely aging,” Knaub said. “I would almost bet that the last five years, deaths have exceeded the amount of new people coming in.”
While Post 526 will soon be without a home, it will not disband. It will instead meet in varying other community locations, such as the Fairborn Senior Center. Knaub said it will work toward establishing a smaller facility upon regrouping in the future.
“We’ve done it before, met at places here and there,” he said. “It is what it is.”
“Unless a white knight comes riding up Broad Street, [gives] $500,000,” Knaub added.
The American Legion Dignam-Whitmore Post 526 was born 94 years ago and stays involved in the Fairborn community. It hosts the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day events, places flags on top of graves belonging to veterans in local cemeteries, volunteers members to perform funeral ceremonies when a local veteran passes, provides a color guard and firing squad at civic events, points individuals in the right direction when wishing to utilize veteran benefits, awards local ROTC students on an annual basis and properly disposes of worn flags, among others.
Knaub highlighted that this issue is not exclusive to Fairborn. He and a group of other American Legion officials previously attended a conference and hoped to explore other local legion halls. When they mapped out one legion hall location and reached their destination, it was gone.
“For whatever reason, and we’ve done the best we can, it’s time to haul the colors down,” Knaub said.
Reach Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.
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