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Blackduck American Legion building hits the market

When the Blackduck American Legion Post 372 regained their charter in 1926 after losing it in 1923 due to the lack of the annual election, the Legion's one-room building sat on the west side of Main Street, made from solid wood logs donated by Otto Hoefer of Langor Township.

Today, the Blackduck American Legion club on Summit Avenue West is definitely more than one room, but stands to be more than the local post can handle.

First Vice Commander, bar manager and former Air Force veteran, Fred Larsen has been running the club for the last two years and tendered his resignation on June 1 after suffering through health problems and handling the club's financial troubles.

"I can't handle the daily upkeep," Larsen said at the June 19 Chamber of Commerce meeting.

"We've already had a realtor out to look at the building."

The long winter took a toll on the club's spring finances. The prolonged cold and snow brought on the delay of fishing opener and the business that comes with it. The finances change every month, Larsen said.

Accepting change

Post leaders brought a realtor from Century 21- Dickinson based in Bemidji out to take a look at the building, but it remains to be appraised and no deal has been signed between the two parties. For now, the post is merely "looking into it."

According to Legion bylaws, Larsen shouldn't have been able to hold the two positions of bar manager and first vice, but he has been running the club with a few volunteers since December of 2011. The club plans to stay open until December of this year and Post 372 will honor all booked events at the club until September.

With the club still waiting to hit the market, its difficult to tell what will happen to the future of the building and business that Post 372 has been running since the 1960s when the structure was built.

"We don't have any concrete plans at the present time for the continuation of the club other than to fulfill our obligations," present Commander and Air Force veteran Eldon Dietel said. "Should a buyer come up, we will discuss it with them."

Throughout the years, the Blackduck American Legion has been home to weddings, birthdays, steak dinners, laughter and memories. For Larsen, those memories have been "coming in here and running it and seeing the place full," he said. "Having dinner and people sitting around talking that haven't seen each other in a long time -- people enjoying themselves. We still have a pretty good crowd at some of the dinners."

According to Larsen and Dietel, these monthly dinners will continue to take place on the third Friday of each month until November when the event will come to a close.

Post leaders have been discussing options with a banker and have tossed around the idea of leasing the building from the future owner, should that owner wish to do so.

"It depends on how they want to do it," Dietel said. "We're very flexible."

Membership decline

But financial loss isn't the only problem plaguing Post 372. American Legion membership across the nation has been steadily declining over the past 20 years.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the population of veterans living in Minnesota totals just under 369,300, a number that has fallen at an approximate rate of 15 percent over the last 12 years.

Like any service branch or organization, the American Legion works to improve its recruiting and retention. But its website claims that despite gaining 300,000 members a year, it loses half that number after the first year of membership.

For Post 372, the population of Blackduck area veterans is simply getting older.

"The only reason why these Legions and VFWs can't go anymore is because there are no young members coming in and the one's who do, never come in (to the club)," former Commander and Army veteran Frank Watson said. "They have a card, but they never come in."

According to Dietel, there are 163 paid-up members but some are over 90-years-old.

"There's one member who is 95-going-on-96, and the only way he gets here is if somebody brings him," Dietel said. "It's very difficult for some of them to get here with their age and health issues."

The American Legion national website provides tips to its programs and posts, but the fact remains that there are fewer veterans than there used to be and even fewer veterans interested in being a member of the American Legion.

"Years ago, when the Legions and VFWs were in town, you'd think there was a political campaign going on," Watson said. "There would be posters and pictures around of commanders asking for your vote. It was the good old times. But in the late 70s, early 80s, it all changed."