Berkley American Legion hopes to pay debt with a little help

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 8, 2015

 The American Legion Stanley J. Fons Post 374 in Berkley filled up April 3 for the Friday fish fry as the post looks to raise money to pay $100,000 owed on the building.

The American Legion Stanley J. Fons Post 374 in Berkley filled up April 3 for the Friday fish fry as the post looks to raise money to pay $100,000 owed on the building.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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BERKLEY — The Berkley American Legion has been stationed on 12 Mile Road east of Coolidge Highway for 75 years, but following years of financial mismanagement, the post’s members are at risk of losing the building.


The Stanley J. Fons Post 374 had a balloon mortgage payment come due recently, and if the post can’t pay the $100,000 by April 27, the building will be turned over to the bank. Post Cmdr. Tom Bustance said the bank involved, which he declined to name, has been more than helpful, but the time has come for the post to pay up.


With help from members, members’ families and the community, the post is hoping to raise the funds in time for the payment deadline.


“We have been unable to pay the mortgage, and we had a balloon mortgage come due, and they didn’t foreclose on us, so they were good to extend our time, but we have a lot of financial problems,” Bustance said. “We had some bad management. ... We had funds unaccounted for, and it put us in a tailspin that started about three years ago, and we are trying to work our way out of it.”


Bustance declined to give more details about the problems.


Bustance said the post most likely owes double what the bank is asking for, but the two sides settled on $100,000.


Another big reason for the financial woes is the drastic decline in membership in recent years. Bustance said that, like several American Legion posts, the Berkley post was made up mainly of World War II veterans, but with those veterans passing away, they aren’t being replaced with veterans of more recent conflicts.


“From World War II, we had a ton of veterans and a ton of members, but they are now dying off,” he said. “We have Vietnam and Korean War veterans joining, but membership is still down as the newer veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t joining up right away. So we have declining revenue with membership down, but the overhead costs stay the same.”


Bustance is a Vietnam War veteran and said he got involved with the Berkley American Legion five years ago, at which time he served on the executive board before he was named commander.


While the post members enjoy their time eating and drinking at the post, Bustance said the purpose of an American Legion post is much more than just linking veterans. Last year, the Berkley post alone helped bury 80 local veterans with the post’s honor guard. Throughout the year, members also take time to visit and lend a helping hand to veterans all over metro Detroit.


“When a veteran passes away, we have on honor guard team with rifles, and they all have uniforms and perform the 21-gun salute with the flag folding for the widow and children,” Bustance said. “On Memorial Day, we placed over 400 flags in the cemetery for veterans, and we take food baskets to veterans in Detroit and help put on a dinner at homeless shelters.


“If we didn’t have an American Legion, you wouldn’t have people doing these things for the veterans. There are a lot of veterans who are forgotten, so this is a good place for them to get together and help.”


Dale GoodCourage, who has been involved with the Berkley American Legion for years, said the actual post building is only part of what the post does, but having the common place is vital for the community.


“The (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the American Legion are losing hundreds of veterans a month, people who brought much pride to this community,” he said. “Part of the American Legion is the camaraderie you gain from coming to the club, but the other part is raising funds to help veterans in harm’s way and homeless veterans. We all donate and contribute thousands of dollars to community programs; that is just what we are about.”


GoodCourage is part of the honor guard. Though it can be taxing, he feels it is an honor to commemorate the passing of a fellow veteran.


“This is an honest and sincere organization that strives to do good for the community and the people in it,” he said. “I am proud to be part of the honor guard team, and sometimes it is not easy, but it is a tremendous honor. We get calls from area funeral homes, and doing this is one of the things I would like to continue.”


Whether or not the $100,000 is raised by the deadline, Bustance said the post, which is comprised of roughly 900 members, will most likely look to move to a smaller building.


The difference, he added, is if the mortgage is paid off, they can move sooner and without the burden of debt, but if the mortgage is not paid in full, they will have to take out a high-interest loan to pay it off and then be stuck with large monthly payments while looking for a new building.


The post is accepting donations at the building, located at 2079 12 Mile Road, as well as on its GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $6,200 as of April 3. The GoFundMe account can be accessed by visiting www.gofund me.com/om38t0.


“Whether you are a veteran or not, nonveterans are still thankful for the veterans,” Bustance said. “There is more awareness to veterans now than there has ever been. Our goal is to move to a smaller building with less property taxes and utilities, but we don’t want to get out of this hole still owing money and then soon be back in the same hole.”

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