Friday morning, representatives from Church Mutual Insurance Company will be joined by representatives and command staff of area veterans and community groups, as well as Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell, for the launch of the “Raise The Flag Capital Campaign,” a fundraising campaign for the establishment of a new ‘Northwoods Veterans Post’ facility near the intersection of 6th and Johnson streets.
The effort’s ultimate goal is to raise an estimated $2 million for an all-new, 14,376-square-foot building for area veterans groups to call home.
According to a press release issued by the organizations, the building which serves as the current home of VFW Post 1638 at 205 N. Cleveland St., was built in 1904. Although the building has served organizations well for many years, it has since crippled the organization’s ability to serve area veterans. Key concerns with the current building include lack of handicap accessibility, limited parking and the overall deteriorating condition of the building and as well as related maintenance/upkeep costs.
“We have been searching for a new location for quite some time,” explains VFW District 7 Commander Michele Rathke. “Our first attempt at securing a new building and location was in 2010 when I was commander of Merrill Post 1638, but to make a long story short we weren’t successful.”
However, as current post commander John Rathke explains, a mix of perseverance, timing and perhaps a little luck resulted in the current success of finding a new home for veteran’s groups.
“Right about the same time I took over as Post Commander in 2014, Colonel Paul Russell had retired from military service and returned to Merrill. A new location was still a high priority for us and due to his leadership experience, we asked Paul to on-board with us in finding a new location. It was a necessity to find a new location for our fellow veterans, there was no question about it.”
A renewed effort began almost immediately with the formation of a 10-member Building Committee, consisting of representatives from each of the eight service organizations the new post will serve; VFW Post 1638 and Post 1638 Women’s Auxillary, American Legion Post 46, AmVets Post 2000, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Post 29, Boy Scout Troop 503, Cub Scout Pack 503 and Girl Scout Troops 7074 and 7060.
By mid-2015, the search had yielded a list of sites conducive to the committee’s needs.
One such site which stood out amongst the others was a 4.3-acre parcel of land near the intersection of 6th and Johnson streets, owned by Church Mutual Insurance Company.
Initial conversations with Church Mutual administration began soon after discovery of the site and this past July, an agreement for the use of the property for the Northwoods Veterans Post had been secured.
“We can’t begin to express how thankful we are for the generosity of Church Mutual Insurance Company,” Michele Rathke adds. “It was apparent right away they were very supportive of our veterans and to our cause. They were more than willing to help any way they could.”
If all goes as planned, the new Northwoods Veterans Post will house a medical room, weight room, an office for each of the eight local service organizations, four meeting rooms, a computer lab, kitchen, storage building, volleyball courts as well as access to hiking, biking, snowmobile and ATV trails.
By constructing a new facility, it is the vision of the organizations to:
•Enhance and improve veteran’s emotional, physical, social and educational health.
•Encourage relationships with other veterans
•Provide service to the community while promoting physical fitness
•Empower local veterans via educational opportunities and the essential role of continuing service to the local community state and nation
•Prepare for the future of veteran care and support while safeguarding entitlements for all veterans.
For more information on the envisioned post as well as a firsthand look at building and floor plans, be sure and attend Friday’s kickoff event scheduled for 10 a.m., at the site of the future post on the corner of Sixth and Johnson streets.