Carlinville VFW looking to expand membership

Carlinville VFW looking to expand membership

Since new leadership took over Carlinville VFW Post 1104 in June — including Blake Hyman as commander and Derren Siglock as quartermaster — they have made efforts to draw in new faces to join the approximately 60 current members. Based on the fact that nine new members have joined in the last three weeks, those efforts appear to be working.

“There’s tons of potential here,” said Siglock. “We’ve seized the potential that’s there, upgraded and improved it, and the bottom line is we’ve provided a more inclusive environment for our fellow combat veterans… Our loyalty to each other is the most important thing.”

The VFW hall itself (located in a former church at 208 South West Street, with the club downstairs) has been visually improved, with new paint, rock, landscaping and sidewalk, as well as improved organization of storage areas for the club. Next on the list, according to Siglock, is replacing the Bud Light sign on the front with one featuring the VFW insignia, a project he anticipates will cost about $500.

Aside from just sprucing up the hall’s physical appearance, though, the current VFW officers have been trying to welcome more veterans from a wider variety of military service. Though anyone who meets the criteria  — the person must be a United States citizen or national, they must have had honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States, and that service must have entitled the applicant to the award of a recognized campaign medal  — is eligible, Siglock said the VFW organization as a whole (not just in Carlinville) was at its largest following World War II, and members were historically not very welcoming to veterans of conflicts that came later, particularly the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Now, the local organization, at least, is working to change that perception and to be more inclusive.

“The VFW’s hayday, their most years of influence, were built on the generation that fought in World War II,” said Siglock, noting that war brought in a large influx of members wanting to bond over their shared experiences. “With those increases and that mindset, there was basically a closing of the guard with them, to where they were not very inclusive of the Korean War veterans, which was a mere eight years later” and the same was true for veterans of the Vietnam War. He noted that while World War II war was the last true war for the United States  and those since have been police actions, veterans who have participated in campaigns such as Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom are also eligible for VFW membership. He said the organization has been reaching out to veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, in particular, to encourage them to come back to the VFW, but many “have a bad taste in their mouths from how they were treated.”

The organization makes an effort to support community outreach programs — such sponsoring the Voice of Democracy essay contest and offering scholarships — but those efforts are largely dependent upon donations received from supporters. “We can’t give more in our various national programs and scholarships if we can’t keep the doors open,” said Siglock. “The patronage here, through the business side of it in the club and the hall rental, directly impacts our ability to increase the scope of our community outreach programs.” He noted donations can be earmarked for specific programs. “We have funding targets for what we want to do, but sometimes reality is that what you take in in a week in the club… the ends don’t meet.”

They also host a variety of family-friendly events, such as social gatherings, fish fries, hog roasts and dart events; their next event will be a fish fry from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at the hall. In addition, the club can provide referrals for veteran-related services and resources, such as to the Veterans Assistance Commission or the Department of Military Affairs.

“Please come support us at our events,” said Siglock. “We give back to the community, and we’re always grateful for the support we receive… Everyone has family that’s either a veteran or they’re living free. They are supported by us. Give something back; interact with a veteran. The more support that’s shown helps with the healing processes.”

Moving forward, Siglock says the organization’s direction will be based upon the needs of its members and the community at large. “That’s how we’re going to find our way,” he said.

The club, which is open to the public, is open on Mondays beginning at 6 p.m.; on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again at 5 p.m.; on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and on Saturdays beginning at 11 a.m. It also can be opened by appointment, such as for sporting events. The hall is available for rentals and seats up to 64 people; it includes wifi and a dart machine and jukebox that are both internet-linked, allowing users to play darts with people around the world or play virtually any song.

Carlinville VFW holds closed meetings at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month at the hall. Anyone interested in becoming a member can call the hall at (217) 930-2125, Commander Blake Hyman at (253) 459-3909, Quartermaster Derren Siglock at (217) 883-8354 Auxiliary Greg McKinney at (217) 827-0958, or any other VFW member. The organization also has a Facebook group for members at facebook.com/groups/233262874010255. For full VFW eligibility information, visit vfw.org/about-us/faq.

Carlinville VFW’s curb appeal has been improved with new landscaping, rock and sidewalk.