FROMBERG — At a time when American Legions across the country are closing, a group of dedicated Clark Fork Valley veterans out of Fromberg are working to save their hometown American Legion. They're working on gutting and rehabilitating the building with hopes of bringing even more members to the veterans service organization.
Veteran’s Day is a day to say thank you to our nation's heroes.
"One thing I think about is all the Vietnam vets that came home and the way they were treated," said Wade Hoskin, a Montana Army National Guard veteran, on Saturday. "I would like to say welcome home to all Vietnam vets, and thank you for your service."
In Fromberg, it was a day of planning for one group of dedicated vets.
“We’re looking at all options, but we actually found a guy. His name is Jamie Clemmens, he’s with Northwest Consulting and Construction. We’re also working with Kyle from Dynamic Analysis Structural Engineering in Billings," said Ryan Carson, an Army veteran, on Saturday. "What Jamie said is, he does this for a living. From what you’re going to see inside, it might be a little intimidating at first. But when you do it for a living, he’s not too concerned about it. So we’re going to try to fix the building."
The town’s American Legion building, located on Harley Avenue, is falling apart and has been for more than two years.
“Our insurance came in and did a review and determined the wiring in the roof needed replaced before they would continue. And they were right, it was unsafe," Hoskin said. "So we had to search and do something, and that got the ball rolling. From there, it just led to a bigger and bigger project, as you can imagine with an old building.”
It was built in 1908. The space was originally the Fromberg Opera House and can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Before this building was American Legion, which was, I believe American Legion bought it in the 1940s from what I saw. It was built as the Fromberg Opera House," Carson said. "It was built between 1907-1908. Some say it was built earlier, but kind of splitting hairs there. But it was a community center long before it was American Legion. So not only do we want it to be American Legion Hall, but we also want to have it for a community center for Fromberg.”
Repairs won’t be cheap.
“We’re going to be asking for help. Just get ready,” Hoskin said. “Probably going to set up a gift send or a crowdfunding source. We’re going to get that out through Facebook and also kind of use social media to get that out. We’re also going to put out the P.O. Box if you want to just mail a check. We will send you a receipt so you can get the tax deduction."
The roof needs to be replaced and the walls are caving in.
Hoskin is the second vice commander of the American Legion of Clarks Fork, Post 71. The first vice commander, Stephen Shoemaker, is also leading the charge in rehabilitating the building.
“Being younger obviously has benefits when it comes to, some of our members are older and are limited on what they can do," said Shoemaker, an Air Force veteran, on Saturday. "Some can’t stand for long periods of time. Being younger and being able to do more, get involved more. Do heavy lifting if it needs to happen, especially with something like this."
American Legions are closing nationwide due to a decline in membership, as older vets are dying and younger vets aren’t showing the same interest as generations before them.
“Countrywide, membership is challenging. We’re losing a lot of our older veterans, and a lot of the younger veterans just aren’t interested in it for whatever reason," Shoemaker said. "So that’s where the challenge will be, convincing younger servicemembers of what the benefits are of the legion, what the legion can do for them, and how can they get involved to help fellow vets."
According to Veterans of Foreign Wars data, the American Legion has lost more than 700,000 members over the last decade.
“We’ve heard nationwide membership’s down," Hoskin said. "I encourage all members of the Legion and VFW to go out and talk to people. We’re one of the fastest-growing branches out, in the nation and in Montana. We have a good group of people and they just go out and talk to other vets and get them involved."
Members of Post 71 are dedicated to the project and are hopeful the space will soon become a community hot spot.
“It’s going to be good for us to have our meetings at the post building. The local VFW in Joliet, their challenge right now is to find a location," Shoemaker said. "So we’ve offered, we told the other veteran organizations like the VFW, 'Hey, if you need a place, once we get this done you’re more than welcome to share this.' It’s going to be American Legion on the building, but it’s not just for the American Legion."
For now, the focus is on planning. Next will be raising money to fund the project.
“I would like to thank Jamie from Northwest Consulting and Construction, Kyle from Dynamic Analysis Engineering out of Billings, and John and Matt from Glass Specialists for their generous donation to our building fund," Carson said. "If you would like to donate to the American Legion Hall in Fromberg, Montana, we’re the American Legion Post 71. Our P.O. Box is 471 Fromberg, MT 59029."
To learn more about the American Legion Clarks Fork Post 71, click here.
"I’d like to see people walking around here, waving the American flag and eating some hot dogs," Hoskin said. “I would like to encourage all vets to get involved. I’m one that firmly believes our oath never dies. So come join, get involved, and have some fun."