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posted: 6/20/2014 5:30 AM

Gambling money can't make up for dwindling membership

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Gambling money might help veterans social clubs stay in business, but it can't solve the biggest problem they face -- dying membership.

American Legion halls in Crystal Lake, Marengo and Union have recently closed. But that still has not meant a raft of new members at Huntley American Legion Post 673.

"It's not improving the membership at all," said Mike Stojak, 65, of Burlington who served during the Vietnam War. "Veterans' organizations all over are struggling because after Korea and Vietnam, there's not a lot of new blood coming in. That's one of the things we're concerned about."

Post 673 has 260 members, and while membership hasn't declined much in the last 10 years, it isn't growing, either.

"The World War II veterans are gradually depleting. It takes a lot for the younger ones to get involved," Stojak said.

Older Legionnaires -- mostly Korean War veterans now in their 80s -- have been trying to revive participation through other means. The Huntley post allowed the village to host its farmers market inside legion hall during winter months.

"We opened up the eyes of the town a little bit ... that kind of pushed up the awareness," Stojak said. "We are getting a lot of new business. I feel it's a pretty critical point in Huntley, not only for the veterans. We are one of the few places that have a facility for the community to get together."

American Legion Elgin Post 57 has lost 350 members, and about 30 to 40 veterans -- mostly World War II era -- die each year, said 85-year-old Donald Sleeman, a Korean War veteran.

"We're picking up Gulf War veterans, so eventually it will pick up," he said. "Vietnam veterans were slow in coming in and they were also slow in becoming involved, but now they are becoming our predominant population in the post. They are taking over the activity, committees and leadership. So it's an evolution."

-- Madhu Krishnamurthy

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