The Elk Grove Village Veterans of Foreign Wars post will celebrate its 50th anniversary Sunday, and John Tokarewich remembers most of those years.
Tokarewich, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, joined Post 9284 in 1968 at the urging of a friend's father.
He served as the post's commander four different times, including in 2011, and loves it for its charity work, like the monthly bingo games for patients at the Hines VA hospital.
He recalls how active his fellow members were in the early days.
"We built that darn thing," Tokarewich said of the current headquarters at 400 E. Devon Ave.
Post 9284 was erected in 1963 and was moved to its current building in 1973. Before that, meetings were held at a Wood Dale golf club.
The building on Devon is home to the post's famous fish frys, offered every Friday, said Terry Tomaso, current commander for the post. In fact, the fish fry is so popular, it was featured on ABC News in 2005 as one of the best in the Chicago area.
Proceeds from the fry and the group's annual Poppy Sale are used to fund operations and assistance for its members, Tomaso said -- a key reason the post exists.
Members can ask for financial assistance, an honor guard at a veteran's funeral or even just a ride to the Hines VA Hospital.
Tokarewich said membership has declined over the years. About 500 members were in the group around 1973, but membership now stands at about 200.
Tomaso said the post is reaching out to returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But "the younger veteran is not so inclined to join the organization," said Tomaso, who wasn't sure why.
He said they're also trying to recruit more women, since the post has only two female members. He fears women may think of the VFW as an "old boys club" but wants to diminish that concept.
The post's key legacy, Tokarewich says, is how members are always fighting for government assistance for veterans. The new GI Bill in 2008 gives veterans more educational benefits, for instance.
"The government isn't gracious enough to give us that help; we had to fight for it," Tokarewich.
A banquet will be held Sunday afternoon, where Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig B. Johnson will speak.