Hampered by the COVID-19 shutdown, the Frazee VFW is hoping an upcoming fundraiser will help get the club back up and running at normal speed.
The VFW closed in March as a requirement of the state’s stay-at-home order, and after a delayed reopening due to tight finances, it’s now back open on a limited, four-day-a-week basis.
Anne Omundson, the VFW’s general manager, said the goal is to “get back to our full schedule and just be able to operate normally.”
If about $4,000-$5,000 can be raised, “we can survive,” said Becca McCollum, the lead organizer of the fundraiser and a friend of the VFW. “It’s still going to be tight, but we can survive.”
The fundraiser, set for Saturday, Aug. 1, has been dubbed “Celebration Day!” and will include family-friendly games and activities, a motorcycle ride, motorcycle games, a street dance with live music, and more. Parts of Frazee’s Main Street will be closed off to accommodate the downtown event. There’s no cost to attend, but free will offerings will be accepted.
“It’s just going to be fun,” said McCollum. “This is just a fun way to come out and support the veterans. If you see a free will offering jar, just throw a couple dollars in it. Anything is gonna help.”
Paul Lakin, who recently took over as Commander of the Frazee-Vergas VFW Post 7702, described the VFW club as “the lifeblood of veterans in the Vergas and Frazee area.”
The club is a place for veterans to gather and “talk stories with somebody else who’s been there, who gets it,” said McCollum. “When these guys come home, they should have a place where they can go. And to have a VFW that’s shut down because of a pandemic…is unacceptable. We should have more respect for the people who go off and serve.”
Lakin said the VFW club functions as an ongoing fundraiser for Post 7702, which gives profits from the club back to the community in various charitable ways, most often as scholarships for local graduates. For that reason, he said, the club is important not only to veterans, but to the community as a whole, and he’s heard a number of comments from local residents saying, “Please don’t let it shut down, we need to have this club here.”
Lakin’s hope is to keep the club open and see it thrive into the future.
“It would be exciting if we could get back on our feet so the club could sustain us and we’d be able to give back to the community even more,” Lakin said. “They’ve been so supportive of us, even in these very tough times.”
The Frazee VFW has struggled with debt before in the recent past (see related story from 2014), but was managing until COVID-19 hit.
McCollum said the timing of the virus put the VFW in a tight spot: “The club had just paid off some large balloon payments that came due… so they were low on cash reserves.”
“We weren’t really able to expand on income through curbside pickup or anything, so we didn’t have much to compensate (for lost revenues during the closure),” Omundson explained.
Meanwhile, the bills continued to pile up, and inventory expired as it sat there unused.
When the stay-at-home order was relaxed and bars were allowed to reopen June 1, the VFW’s doors still stayed shut. A GoFundMe account was created for the club shortly after that, June 6.
“After 74 years as a solid presence in the Frazee community, our local VFW club was rocked and left financially devastated within a matter of months,” states the GoFundMe page. “The COVID-19 pandemic left an unfortunate hole in the middle of so many small businesses; our VFW club is among those hit hardest … We literally shut the doors on March 16 and have taken in zero revenue since then.”
“We needed more time to strategize,” explained Omundson of the delayed reopening. But despite rumors, she added, “We were never in danger of closing permanently.”
Thanks to support from the community, including multiple in-person and online donations as well as monies raised through a smaller, previous fundraiser held at the VFW in mid-June, “We’re on a pretty good track now,” Omundson said. “But we want to get to a point where we can feel comfortable, and have a (cash) cushion.”
The VFW reopened with limited hours June 25.
“We’re not deep in the woods anymore,” Omundson said. “But we’re not out of the woods, either."
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Lakin of Celebration Day. “I hope people in the community bring their motorcycles out and be a part of it — you don’t have to be part of a club or group to be in the (motorcycle) run. Or, just bring your bike and park it, show it off.”
Lakin said McCollum was the catalyst for Celebration Day, but the VFW was quickly on board with her idea, and soon local city leaders and law enforcement were in on the plan, too.
McCollum said the streets will be closed off by noon that Saturday, with “kickstands up” for the motorcycle ride at 12:30 p.m., outside the VFW. The ride will travel to Menahga, go through New York Mills, and then head back to Frazee.
“It’ll be a more out-of-the way route, and all right-hand turns so they’re not crossing traffic,” she said. “It is a charity ride. Anyone who wants to ride, be at the VFW around noon and sign up. It’s $20 per rider or $30 a couple.”
Anyone with a motorcycle and a license to drive it are eligible to take part. A truck and trailer will be taking the ride, too, in case any riders have mechanical issues with their bikes along the way, or need a ride for any other reason.
Riders will return to Frazee about 3:30 p.m., just in time for the bike games, which start at 4 p.m. McCollum said the games will include a slow race (where the last one over the finish line wins), a keg push (where a cyclist pushes a keg over the finish line with the front wheel of his/her bike), and an obstacle course.
“These are the kinds of games that motorcyclists usually only play at their own club events, and not in public,” McCollum said. “But they want people to see these games, and laugh along with them.”
McCollum has been in the motorcycle world for more than 50 years, and she said she’s watched as, “motorcyclists have gone from these tough guys that everybody was afraid of, to just these nice, good guys. … We don’t want people to be afraid of bikers.”
Celebration Day is designed to be a family-friendly event, with local vendors displaying their crafts and talents, face painting for kids, a dunk tank (with a deputy sheriff inside it), a cotton candy maker, an ice cream truck, live and silent auctions, and more. Alcoholic beverages will be available inside the VFW but will not be allowed on the street.
A street dance will be happening from 8-11 p.m., featuring the local band Get Over It. After that, McCollum said, the downtown should be cleaned up and pretty well emptied out by around midnight.
For more information about Celebration Day, call McCollum at 218-375-4161, or stop by the VFW and talk to Omundson. Donations are still needed for the auctions. For more information about the motorcycle ride, call Scott “Scooter” Drewes at 218-530-0221.
How to help
Can't make it to Celebration Day? Donations to the Frazee-Vergas VFW can be made on GoFundMe, at https://gf.me/u/x7iw7j, or by mailing a check to: Frazee VFW, P.O. Box 501, Frazee, MN 56544. For more information, call the VFW at 218-334-5251 or visit the Frazee-Vergas VFW Facebook page.
How to join the VFW
The Frazee-Vergas VFW currently has 60 official members, with about 15 of those regularly attending meetings. Commander Lakin said the primary purpose of the Post is to “support our veterans,” no matter what branch of the military they served in. New members are always welcome. Call Lakin at 218-234-9966 for more information.