American Legion Post 301 in Connellsville still open, new commander says
Changes have been made at the Milton L. Bishop American Legion Post 301 in Connellsville. And David Keefer, the new post commander, is trying to get the word out to the city's residents.
According to Keefer, a five-year Air Force veteran, District Commander Richard Zipfel told Post 301 members on Aug. 14 that changes would have to be made or the post would close.
“So we had a meeting, and (almost) all of the old officers resigned,” Keefer said. “We had to hold new elections. Nobody wanted to be elected to office. They were going to close the post down, so I stepped up.”
Keefer, 26, with three tours of duty in Iraq between 2005 and 2010, became “the youngest or one of the youngest post commanders in the United States.” He has a full-time job as a bartender at the Mile Marker.
Now he finds himself with little free time.
“If I'm not there (at his full-time job), I'm here,” he chuckled.
“Right now, we're going month to month,” said Keefer when asked about the condition of the organization. “We're paying our bills, all our utility bills.
“A good thing we've been doing, we have a DJ (disc jockey) every Saturday evening, and we don't have to pay our DJs. We have veterans coming in, volunteering. They have all of their DJ equipment, so that helps us out, now that we have entertainment.”
Post 301 had been cited for illegal slot machines in a raid by state police.
“That's something that we're not going to bring back, in that a lot of people are gossiping about,” Keefer said. “We could bring them back in, but I don't think it's a good idea. That's something I don't want to put myself in or my bartenders in, where they're going to get fines. That's something that will stay with them the rest of their lives on their permanent record.”
Post 301 officers, in addition to Keefer, are Mike Darrell, club adjutant; Roger Adams, first vice commander; Tom Miller, chaplain; Emerson Long, finance officer; and Chuck Echard, second vice commander.
Keefer said the new officers are a little younger than the previous group. Miller, the chaplain, is a holdover. He has been a member for years and was chaplain under the former group of officers.
Post 301 is seeing a lot of new members, Keefer said.
“And a lot of people still do not realize that we're still open,” he added. “I want to get it out to the community that we're not closing down. We lost a few people from the changes, but we're also getting back a lot of members that we haven't seen here for a while.
“We have a real nice kitchen back there. That hasn't been used. But we're having a grand reopening (from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday). We're starting off small — wings and french fries (cheese fries and loaded fries). Then we'll build out our menu from there.”
Keefer said they will start renting out their banquet hall to the community.
“We're working on finalizing the prices for all of that,” he said. “We'll also start doing monthly dinners through the kitchen — spaghetti dinner, meat loaf dinner. Things like that, which will also be open to the public. If they want to come in and get a dinner, they're more than welcome to do that. You don't have to be a member.”
Word around town after the meeting with the district commander was that Post 301 was shut down, he said, but that is not the case. The new officers are planning ways to raise funds to restore the health of the organization. They are getting a new jukebox. Bike runs have been coming in, according to Keefer.
“We're going to work on getting bingo back in,” he added. “I'm going to get up to the courthouse, hopefully by October, and get a bingo license.”
They are bringing back small games of chance, pull tabs, and they are going to change up the amounts — make them bigger and better.
“We're getting a bowling machine in here, a pool league, and a dart board machine is being donated,” Keefer said. “We need your (the community's) help. We're a nonprofit organization. We try to do as much as we can throughout the community with the American Legion baseball teams. That's something we want to get involved with — the baseball team — as much as possible.”
Keefer said the post also will do fundraising for the homeless veterans. “I plan to go around to all the homeless shelters between now and Christmas,” Keefer said. “I like to go out there and sit down with them and talk. We want to get a certificate with a little pin (to present to them). I love sitting down and talking to a World War II veteran.”
There is one change that post members, present and past, should not forget: Meetings will be held on the first Sunday of the month.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-626-3538.