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WF VFW recognized nationally

Bill Tuff, left, and Jamie Olson of VFW Post #7564 in West Fargo received the national Outstanding Community Service award at the 115th annual VFW National Convention in St. Louis. This is the first time since 2007 the West Fargo post has won the award over every other North Dakota VFW post. Nick Wagner / The Forum

West Fargo’s Arthur W. Jones VFW Post 7564 and Women’s Auxiliary was presented a national community service award Monday in St. Louis.

The National Outstanding Community Service Post Award was awarded during the 115th National VFW Convention.

“It’s for all of the people in the post,” said Commander Jamie Olson.

That represents 1,012 VFW members and

619 Women’s Auxiliary members.

“Our motto is: ‘Nobody does more for veterans,’” said Olson. “But we do an awful lot for our community, too.”

The local post, chartered in 1946, has a long history of community service ranging from providing color guards at funerals, school functions and public events to donating funding for youth academic, sporting, and scouting, city police and fire department programs.

The post donated over $1 million to the West Fargo Park District to build Veterans Memorial Arena and provides $15,000 annually to Veterans Memorial Swimming Pool.

Its color guard appeared July 9 at the Red River Valley Fair “Salute to the Military,” with country music star Kelly Pickler.

Ten years ago, post member Charlie Weible started the “Remember our Serving Soldiers” program. The post has since donated over $125,000 to family readiness groups that assist military members while they are deployed.

“It’s been a wonderful program and we want them to know that we are there for them,” said Olson.

The current post, built in 1974 at 308 Sheyenne St., is open to the public, not just veterans.

Patrons often pack the place to socialize, play pull tabs, Bingo, blackjack and to hit the dance floor, said William Tuff, a Vietnam veteran who serves as post quartermaster.

The VFW previously operated Arthur’s on Sheyenne, a full-scale restaurant.

That eatery closed one year after a 2004 city smoking ban was imposed.

Likewise, gaming revenues fell 40 percent and bar revenues 35 percent.

Stricter DUI drinking/driving laws had a sobering effect on alcohol sales.

Overall club sales dropped $800,000 and 20 jobs were eliminated.

“When you smoke you drink and you gamble. We lost some of the gamblers who smoked,” said Tuff. “Those are the guys that never came back and, unfortunately, those are the guys who dropped a ton of money in here.”

The smoking issue became moot on Nov. 6, 2012 when voters made North Dakota a smoke-free state.

Today, the West Fargo VFW appears to have rebounded.

The dance floor is filled on Friday and Saturday and once-a-month, third Thursday summer cruise nights.

“We still have one of the best dance floors in the region,” said Tuff.

Bingo is big, Monday, Friday and Saturday nights. “It’s packed. You can set your clock to some of those people,” said Olson.

A new American Legion post and Amvets post meet there, along with two veteran’s motorcycle groups and Red River Singles Dance Club.

Private groups often hold events in the basement.

“We’re surviving but we’re nowhere where we used to be,” said Tuff. “Between smoking and DUI laws we don’t make nearly the money that we used to.”

Gaming is steady, he said. “It still brings in quite a bit. Because of them we’ve still been able to give quite a bit of money away,” said Tuff.

Membership is up and down. “This last year we lost about 70 members. Next year we might gain 70,” Tuff said.

Many World War II and Korean War vets have died. “I’m a Vietnam War vet and we’re starting to lose them too,” he said.

However, the post has been gaining Iraqi, Afghanistan and Gulf War veterans.

“We have a very good core of members that have done what’s required, that’s to take over and do the job,” said Olson, a U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1989-1993 in the Persian Gulf during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

“They’ve taken the bull by the horn. They want to see this continue to succeed,” said Tuff. “They’ve all stepped up to the plate and made it a fun place again.”