VFW still plans to build

Pam Monson

Elections may turn focus away from project, however

    Although other opportunities have been presented, the members of the Wilmington VFW Post 5422 are still planning to build a new post.
    Malcolm J. Mayo Post 5422, at the corner of Baltimore and Third Street, was heavily damaged by a fire last April. The insurance company still hasn’t settled, and representatives of the VFW have had to stay on top of every decision and offer the company makes, challenging many.
    In addition, the few members who are actively engaged in the project have been accused of procedural errors and faced a union contractor debate, had to prove to the insurer that what was being discarded was truly garbage and wait while it explores the possibility of cleaning rather than replacing restaurant equipment.
    The VFW has to pay the bills for cleanup up front, and wait for the insurance company to reimburse those costs from its dwindling savings.
    The members of Post 5422 approved the construction of a 10,000-square foot building last year, about double the size of the original building. Whether or not that particular plan proceeds could very well be the decision of the officers who are elected at the April 10 membership meeting.
    Opponents of the plan could take control of the organization, and therefore the project, and eliminate many of the features that the active members and the community consider valuable assets, including the banquet hall.
    Without the hall, the VFW cannot host the fundraisers that help it support veterans, including its fish fries and the controversial but highly successful Queen of Hearts raffle. It also would be unable to support a long list of local causes, not the least of which are fundraisers for individuals facing catastrophic medical bills and terminal illness, who are allowed free use of the hall.
    “Our mission is to help veterans,” said Terry Cerutti, who is running for commander and supports the building project.
    Commander Mario Cornelio points out that if the group doesn’t have a hall and can’t raise funds, it will not be able to provide much help to veterans. What comes to the VFW in support of veterans, mostly goes out in support of veterans — whether that be in the form of donations to the Manteno Veterans Home, helping an indigent veteran’s family with funeral costs or sending care packages to entire units of active duty service men and women, when a tube of toothpaste can mean not having to do without until the next supply order.
    “We can’t do that anymore, unless we get going again,” Cerutti said. “People don’t realize how much we did for the community.”
    “And the people around here do miss it,” added Cornelio.
    Meanwhile, residents are hearing that the group is looking at Ben Franklin, which is not true — they were invited to tour the 33,000-square foot building but rejected the offer because parking would be inadequate. They might consider Factory to You Furniture; it has potential as an alternate plan because of its location.
    Post 5422 is not moving to Braidwood, either. Its members were working with the state organization to establish a Braidwood post. They signed on new members, but the coming election may determine whether Post 5422 can help the new group with transferring members.
    Enough of the building plan is in place that it will take just a couple of phone calls to get the project started. Cornelio can make those calls before he leaves office, if the settlement comes through in the next three months.
    “It’s for the future generations, it’s not going backwards,” commented Gina Wills, director of operations. “We’re going from 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet, so we have a lot of room, a lot of possibility; a bigger hall, an outside eating area, a bigger state of the art kitchen, pizza oven — we’ve got a lot of plans.”
    The owner of property behind Faletti Meats has donated the lot, valued at $165,000, to the VFW last month for overflow parking.