After 75 years, Oak Creek VFW members recall post’s heyday
June 27, 2010
Steamboat Springs — It's been 75 years to the day since the Veterans of Foreign Wars post opened in Oak Creek. Since then, America has been involved in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Persian Gulf War, several interventions and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For a time, the veterans returning from those conflicts buoyed VFW Post 3311 to a social hub in Oak Creek. The post was a restaurant and a bar, right along Main Street, and in the mid-1970s, dozens of members would turn out for important meetings.
The post had a bingo fundraiser every two weeks and frequent big barbecue parties with steaks and fries cooked on the brick grill behind the building.
In 1994, the group laid the groundwork for the Oak Creek Ice Rink, an accomplishment members still look on with pride. But in the past decade or so, the post membership has dwindled and activities have slowed.
Now there are two or three members at the monthly meetings, held at one of the men's houses. The post had to sell the bar and restaurant to pay debts, and the Ladies Auxiliary VFW disbanded several years ago.
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"Everybody kind of moved away," VFW member Tom Spicer said. "The older guys moved to lower altitudes and warmer climates and things like that."
The few remaining veterans continue to put out flags on the holidays, and they ride down the street in a car during the Labor Day parade, even if they no longer march.
This past Memorial Day, the post skipped the usual ceremonies because no members were in town. Still, VFW and Auxiliary members made sure to decorate veterans' graves.
Spicer said there are 20 local VFW members with their dues paid up, but they haven't had a meeting with all of them attending in some time.
"There was a lot of older members who passed away and expected us younger guys to carry the torch, and a lot of Vietnam veterans don't want to carry any more torches because we have enough to carry," he said.
Spicer served in the Army during Vietnam. He's been a VFW member since 1973 or '74.
The old post building, leaning to one side by its end, was torn down. The debts the post owed — Spicer said they resulted from mismanagement and bar tabs that reached thousands of dollars — crippled the finances of the group.
The town's population, listed at 855 in a 2009 census estimates, doesn't seem to have the number of new veterans needed to bring the group back, he said.
"There's very few veterans that have fought in Iraq … that came back to Oak Creek and stayed," he said.
Spicer said he doesn't expect the group to find a permanent home any time soon.
"Not at this time, with the members all retired and things, and some of them planning to move out of the area, I don't think we have plans to get another post home because it's just too much expense to maintain," he said.
The VFW's national office honored the post with a "Diamond Jubilee Award" for reaching 75 years. Now it's not clear how much longer the post will last.
"It was a lot of fun for a while," Spicer said. "Real fun."