When a new set of officers took over AMVETS of Hillsboro Post 61 about three years ago, they say the organization was in such a bad place financially that they struggled to keep the place open, let alone perform their primary duty of helping veterans who can’t find help elsewhere.
It was so bad, Commander Gary Smith said, that they lost their liquor license for one day and their bingo license for four months, because the past the administration had not paid taxes for five years.
“From the past history of people taking from the post and not fulfilling their obligations, it put the post in a position where we have to work extra hard to catch up,” said Gary Smith’s wife, Carla, who runs the cantina, bingo events and schedules other activities. “We have put our blood, sweat and tears into making this post what it is. We have so many members who are so great and so commendable – to lose this post would be really sad. We’re struggling day to day to pay the bills.”
Located at 11541 N. Shore Drive since 2006, things have improved over the last three years. But it’s still a daily struggle, partly, the Smiths said, because people still owe the post money.
Gary Smith does most of the maintenance, and the other officers are first vice Jonah Hatfield, second vice John Walker and adjutant Kent Daughtrey.
“When people stand us up and don’t pay their bills, how are we supposed to do our job in helping the veterans?” Gary Smith asked. “Veterans come to us if they need food, clothing or shelter. That’s our job – to provide whatever assistance they need if they can’t get it elsewhere. That’s our whole purpose.”
According to Smith, the post currently has about 900 members, mostly from Highland County, but also from other counties and even some from other states.
Members must be veterans who have been honorably discharged, but veterans’ children, grandchildren and siblings can also be members through the AMVETS Auxiliary or Sons of AMVETS.
The post is open to members from 11 a.m. to around 10 or 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and recently started opening on Sundays until around 8 p.m.
But what the Smiths would like the public to know is that many of the post’s events are open to public.
It recently started serving breakfasts from 9-11 a.m. on Saturdays that are open to the public.
Bingo, also open to the public, is held on Thursday and Friday. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and bingo starts at 7 p.m. Non-members can purchase food and non-alcoholic beverages.
There are dances and steak dinners open the public the last Saturday of each month, karaoke twice a month, and non-members can visit up to three times on other occasions before they become a member.
Fundraisers for the post that are open to the public are held from time to time, and there are also various fundraisers that are held for people facing health and other issues.
This Saturday, June 9, there is luau with a live band and hog roast that’s open to the public. Vistors can eat for a donation.
Camping on the large, partially wooded grounds is also open to the public. The cost is $10 nightly for members, $15 for members of a different AMVETS post, and $20 for non-members. There are also weekly and monthly rates.
The park has around 110 campsites, a few with water and electric hookups (they are trying to add more) along with showers, restrooms and a dumpsite.
The post serves a monthly dinner to homeless veterans from the Chillicothe area, where it also gives away $50 bingo pots.
“We part of the community and we try to help people out,” Gary Smith said.
A local antique tractor club holds an annual show at the park and Smith said that in addition to paying all its bills, the club also cleans up and helps with other park projects.
“You have two or three that don’t pay and that makes things kind of tough, but then you have people like the antique tractor club that go above and beyond to help. We can’t praise them enough.” Gary Smith said. “It’s people like them and those we help that makes it all worthwhile.”
For more information call the post at 937-393-2990, or just stop in and knock on the door.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.