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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nashua VFW moving, but not before it hosts four more events

Dean Shalhoup

Oh, if these tired old walls could talk, I mused as I followed Lew Chipola, former Nashua Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 483 commander, along the hallowed halls and creaky staircases of the landmark edifice generations of members called home for 84 of the organization’s 921⁄2 years.

Though Chipola joined Post 483 just seven years ago after moving from New Jersey, the Vietnam veteran is quite well versed on the history of 2 Quincy St. and makes a great tour guide. ...

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Oh, if these tired old walls could talk, I mused as I followed Lew Chipola, former Nashua Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 483 commander, along the hallowed halls and creaky staircases of the landmark edifice generations of members called home for 84 of the organization’s 921⁄2 years.

Though Chipola joined Post 483 just seven years ago after moving from New Jersey, the Vietnam veteran is quite well versed on the history of 2 Quincy St. and makes a great tour guide.

But the walls, well, they’ve been listening from the get-go – Sunday, Feb. 10, 1929.

A gala dedication and open house that day drew local war veterans of all kinds to the corner of Quincy and East Pearl streets, many of whom marched in parade formation to Deschenes Oval and back, according to The Telegraph’s next-day story.

Now, more than eight decades later, Post 483 members are in the process of saying goodbye to 2 Quincy St., which grew into a blend of three buildings in order to accommodate a membership that floated just above 1,000 for decades.

Come April, assuming all goes as planned, the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter will be the proud new occupants of 2 Quincy St., the result of a transaction that seller and buyer have hailed as a win-win solution for both organizations.

The equation is simple: With declining membership, the cash-strapped VFW needs a smaller place; the Soup Kitchen, with increasing demand, needs a bigger place that’s close to downtown.

All along, Post 483 leadership has emphasized an important point: The organization is moving, not disbanding.

“There will always be a VFW Post 483 in Nashua,” Cmdr. Barry Palmer has said more than once since the membership voted in October to OK the sale. “It will just be in another location.”

Where that location will be remains up in the air, Palmer said, which seems to be exacerbating the inevitable sense of sadness among members.

“If we had a place to go, we’d have something to look forward to other than closing down the post,” Palmer said. “I’m sure it would be easier for everyone.”

Admirably, the membership, along with the ladies’ and men’s auxiliaries, have pulled together four more fundraising events before the March 31 deadline. Indeed, doing something is a lot healthier than sitting around counting the days, and besides, longtime Ladies Auxiliary member Shirley Labonte said, the coffers can sure use the money.

“It’s a difficult time, but we’re hopeful these events will build up our funds a little more,” said Labonte, whom Palmer called “the heart and soul of the Ladies Auxiliary.”

Details about the events are listed in an accompanying fact box.

Palmer and Labonte said the VFW’s ideal new home would be somewhere around 8,000 square feet, roughly half the size of 2 Quincy St.

“It’s gotten too big and too expensive to maintain,” Labonte said, pointing to the series of major renovations the organization recently endured.

“That’s what really sunk us. We needed to put in a sprinkler system, and while they were doing the work, they found we had a ceiling within a ceiling,” Labonte said, describing a common pitfall of older buildings.

She and Palmer agree strongly that struggling to raise money simply to keep the building together and the lights on isn’t what the VFW is about.

“We’re here to serve veterans, the community, emergency personnel, the VA hospitals and so forth, not to support a building,” Labonte said. “We were able to do all that and still keep up until this year.”

Post 483’s beginnings go back to the Spanish-American War. Nashua men who served in the brief conflict began gathering at a small East Pearl Street building that once housed a public kindergarten.

Then came the “Great War” – World War I – the armistice of which brought hundreds of Nashua soldiers home. Many began joining their Spanish-American War comrades to share spirits and spirted tales of war, a bond that grew into the first incarnation of a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

When it was “mustered,” or organized, in August 1920, the membership of Post 483 – so named because it was America’s 483rd VFW post to organize – was a mix of Spanish-American War and World War I veterans.

A bronze plaque displayed just outside the front doors of 2 Quincy St. commemorates the 1929 dedication. Mayor William F. Sullivan and Cmdr. Edward Leblanc are listed, along with Board of Aldermen President Henry Legasse.

The program included “a stirring address on behalf of the veterans” by honorary VFW member Thomas J. Dowd, according to The Telegraph story. Capt. Nelson Gendron led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Gertrude Batchelder sang “Grateful, Oh Lord,” and four guys calling themselves The Nashua Male Quartet did proud a rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Palmer, meanwhile, thinks about VFW members such as Louis Prince, who has shared laughs and tears with fellow veterans at 2 Quincy St. for more than 60 years. He also recalls the post’s final New Year’s Eve party at its longtime home.

“I’d say there was a strong sense of sentimentality that night,” Palmer said. “When we got around to singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I think everybody was getting a little choked up.”

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443
or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).