BY JEFF WILKIN
NISKAYUNA — Mothballs are hidden someplace inside American Legion Post 1092.
The sinus-clearing scent hits as soon as you enter the old white house at 1809 Union St.
“There’s a reason for that,” said Claude Dutcher, 69, of Round Lake, the post’s first vice commander.
“It’s to keep the squirrels out,” said Michael Struys, the post commander. “They’re working, too. They don’t like them.”
Struys and Dutcher believe their visitors — just a few — have broken into the post through one of the kitchen air vents. They’ve trapped a couple of invaders and found new homes for them.
The two veterans are hoping for fewer squirrels and more people inside the building, the last American Legion home in Schenectady County.
These are hard times for the Niskayuna branch. The post has been behind on bills, and last weekend’s Super Bowl party happened only because cable providers sated with a $131 late payment turned the video service back on.
Struys said the post is struggling to stay open. Repairs and revenue are both needed. The place could use a new furnace in the basement and insulation all over. New flooring is also on the wish list, and kitchen vents could be updated to prevent break-ins. There are water taxes to pay, liability insurance to pay, heating bills to pay.
Any donations, from anybody or any company, are welcome.
“We are continuously seeking funds and donations to help us restore this building to a functional level,” Struys said, “so this post can continue to support veterans and preserve its historic nature. We must preserve this post for future generations of honorable soldiers, Marines and airmen.”
The Niskayuna post opened around 1945, Dutcher said, when the Marshall family donated the building to veterans then returning home from World War II. The vets made changes.
Right now, the front room is used as a dining room with seven round tables and three long tables. The rectangular-shaped bar is in the back room, just behind the dining room. A small kitchen is located across from the bar.
There are a few ways veterans are trying to raise funds.
Struys recently started a “GoFundMe” page to spread the word about the post’s situation and secure some donations.
The post makes a few bucks on Saturday mornings, when a breakfast open house attracts veterans and their friends. “You can get two eggs, bacon, home fries, sausage and toast or you can get French toast or pancakes, bacon, sausage and toast, all for $6,” Struys said. “And that includes your coffee and your juice.”
Proceeds from clothing — everything from hats, handbags, sheets and sneakers — dropped into a large blue box on the side of the building help the vets.
Local residents whose parents served in the armed forces or are (or were) members of the American Legion are eligible to join the Sons of the American Legion. Dues are $20 a year.
The American Legion Riders held a chicken wing social this past Friday night, serving up wings, macaroni salad and coleslaw to raise more funds for veterans. The Riders call Post 1092 home, and so do other Schenectady American Legion posts that are still active, but no longer have permanent homes. Post auxiliaries also meet on Union Street.
Another fundraiser will be held March 25, Good Friday, when a fried fish dinner will be on the post menu. “We’re trying to attract new, younger people,” said Struys, 53, who lives in Niskayuna and is an Army veteran. “We’re trying to turn this property, this home, into more of a family community center, instead of the traditional smoky bar.”
Membership at the Niskayuna post has dropped. There are currently 162 members (down from highs of about 225) but not all the men and women are active. Unlike posts that open daily, Post 1092 opens only two days a week.
World War II era veterans are passing away. And while Post 1092 has a small number of veterans from the Iraq wars, other veterans have new jobs and new families, and not enough time for post membership and projects.
“Volunteers have been committed to maintaining our post,” said Struys, a cook at the Schenectady County Jail. “They are the foundation which keeps the building standing. However, the Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest portion of our membership and are unable to volunteer to maintain the post.”
The post has received some help from the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department, which has occasionally provided work details for interior and exterior work. These inmate units, supervised by two guards, also have been on duty at Vale Cemetery and local athletic fields, among other places.
Dutcher, a member of the Army signal corps — 8th Infantry Division, 8th Signal Battalion — said the post is also trying to line up more hall rentals. The place might not be large enough for large wedding receptions, but small parties could find the space just right. Same goes for retirement, bachelor and birthday parties, bridal showers and holiday gatherings.
People who rent the hall for $150 bring in their own food — dishes fresh from a caterer or foods that come in Crock-Pots are ideal. Soda, beer and other beverages are sold at the bar, that’s another way the post can make a little bit of revenue.
OTHER USES FOR FUNDS
Not all money raised goes to Post 1092. Funds also help the Honor Flight and Adopt-a-Soldier programs, and Fisher House, a home for families of hospitalized veterans, or to help vets in the area visit a hospitalized family member.
But the biggest concern is just staying open. Dutcher, former post commander and former American Legion county commander, said it costs about $1,200 a month to operate. Finances remain a chief concern, but there are worries about tradition and legacy, too.
“What scares us is it’s the last one, it’s the last county home,” Struys said.
“It is paramount that we do not lose this last American Legion Post home in Schenectady County.”