Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie
TALON 

Aztec VFW 614 Soldiers On

Aztec VFW Post's 35th Memorial Day Observation

 

It is not the price you pay to belong,

It is the price you pay to be eligible.

To some members the Post motto may have a dual meaning this year.

On December 31, 2016, New Mexico Department of Regulation and Gaming closed the Post for failure to comply. Stunned members rallied, dug in and held their position.

Post Commander Claude Coberly served in Viet Nam as a Navy E5 corpsman attached to Headquarters Battalion First Marine Division. Coberly has seen an obstacle course or two.

"Due to mistakes in filing (from previous administration) we lost our liquor and Bingo licenses," he said.

Permanent Post closure was never an option according to Coberly, "We just set our minds to take care of it. We knew it was going to be rough, we put our heads down to take care of it and get it done."

Coberly insists, "It was a group effort from all the people to keep the place. This place is a "safe haven" for many vets. We are like family; sometimes we get mad at each other but we work it out somehow."

The Post re-opened with renewed liquor license in mid February. However, six months later Coberly and his administration are still negotiating their way through a bureaucratic minefield to renew the Bingo licensure.

"The Bingo side of the club represents about 60% of our revenue," Coberly said. "So not having Bingo is a real hit in the hip pocket." According to Coberly donations of time and money by members and staff have been what has kept the Post open through the lean months.

After the club reopened, manager Evelyn Beeson worked without pay until the Post caught up on the bills. Beeson has been overseeing the bar at the VFW for 15 years and takes the responsibility seriously, "Our purpose is community service but also to provide a nice place for our veterans and their guests to socialize."

The large airy lounge area at the VFW has two pool tables, a stage and dance floor and seats 125. A commercial kitchen separates the lounge from the Bingo hall which has a capacity of 210.

The Bingo hall, including kitchen, is available for private events. Unlike many non-profit organizations VFW by-laws prohibit the Post from advertising for the lounge, hall space or soliciting donations from any public or private entity.

"Bingo was keeping us alive!" Claims Celestia Keeling. At 80, Keeling has worked at the VFW for 35 years and has done almost every job including bouncer. "I don't enjoy throwing out the ladies as much as the men. I get a kick out of throwing the guys out," Keeling said. Friday evening saw Keeling moving deftly from table to table greeting patrons with a gentle hug here and pat on the shoulder there. Every Friday or Saturday (depending) Keeling prepares dinner for patrons serving 40-60 meals. Her specialty is chicken fried steak. She said, "I do the cooking myself...those kids just get in the way."

On Memorial Day the VFW Post 614 and affiliated Auxiliary group hold a ceremony to remember the brave men and women who were lost in service to our country. The Post places flags and crosses on the graves of veterans at Flora Vista, Aztec, Cedar Hill and La Plata cemeteries.

While the Post focuses primarily on veterans issues and needs, the Post and auxiliary also positively contribute to the community at large. "They organize clothing drives for needy and abused kids, food baskets for shut-ins," Manager Beeson said. The Post also collects bikes-for-kids at Christmas and groceries for local churches.

Ross Lane acts as the current Junior Vice Commander for the Post. An eight year Army veteran, Ross attained the rank of sergeant and saw 18 months in Iraq and 11 months in Afghanistan. Ross hopes to see membership roles grow with younger vets returning from the middle-east.

"The older guys have 'been there done that'...they can help younger vets to re-enter the community. They can hang out with their peers." Ross contends that while the loss of Bingo has been a financial blow to the Post, surrender is not an option. "For a lot of vets this place is like a second home, they would be lost without it." Ross encourages the public to come in and enjoy the VFW, "Everyone is welcome! The more the merrier!"

Saturday, May 27, Post 614 will be hosting a party featuring karaoke with Rocky and free hot dogs.

While it has been a tough year so far all agree that the darkest days are behind the Post and things are improving.

Commander Coberly steadfast in his resolve says, "Right now I'm just concentrating on getting Bingo back so we can get back to helping our vets and the community...Then I'm going fishin!"

 

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