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Local legion to close

File Photo: The American Legion Calvin Knuth Post 5 in Worthington will close its doors at the end of this month, but the charter will remain active. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- After struggling to keep their heads above water for several years, the members of Worthington's Calvin Knuth Post 5 American Legion voted to close the post home and the lounge that operates there at the end of January.

That decision was made during a monthly meeting in December, and was prompted simply because the group is out of money.

"We are keeping the charter, just closing the post home," said post commander Jim Wolterstorff. "We will still be a viable group in the community, present at events, parades and funerals. We have a very active honor guard."

A steady decline in members has caused a problem, Wolterstorff said, but property taxes, a mortgage and the overhead needed to run a lounge play a large part in the decision to close the post home.

Post 5 Financial Officer Steve Ahlberg said the post home is fueled monetarily by two basic sources -- the lounge and charitable gambling.

"Our charitable gambling has not done well lately," he explained. "We had a terrible fall, and used up all of our savings in the last quarter."

Ahlberg said he has lost sleep many nights trying to figure out a way around closing the post, but after five years of barely staying afloat, the post can no longer sustain itself. Even if every eligible member renewed their membership, the money raised would only pay two-thirds of the real-estate taxes for the year, he added.

"When someone renews their membership, $26.75 of that goes to the state and national offices," Ahlberg explained. "That leaves us $13.25 per member."

In its prime, Post 5 had 500 members or more, but like most legion posts, that number has dropped considerably. It is below 300 members, two-thirds of which are over the age of 70, Ahlberg said.

Even though younger people are now eligible to join, Wolterstorff said the younger vets are not joining. Ahlberg said the members who show up for meetings and events actually numbers less than 10.

"The pool of people that uses the facility is shrinking," Ahlberg remarked.

The legion, along with several other clubs in Worthington, is supposed to be a "members and their guests only" club, and any non-member who uses the lounge is required to sign a guest book. Because they are "members only," these clubs pay a reduced fee of $500 for an annual liquor license, instead of the $3,000 paid by other local liquor establishments.

Current plans are to sell the building, Ahlberg said, but final information will be given out to members at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 26. If the building sells, meetings will simply take place elsewhere.

Trying to bolster membership numbers, the group tried to start a Sons of the American Legion chapter several years ago, but Ahlberg said no one was willing to take charge of the group.

"It's a problem," he stated.

Ahlberg is encouraging as many members as possible to attend next week's meeting, where he will have final numbers and facts.

"Would I love to see it bailed out? Absolutely," he acknowledged. "Realistically, that isn't going to happen."

For members who do not agree with the decision to close the post home, Ahlberg said he has four words -- what did you do?

"Did you support the post home? Were you involved in activities?" he asked. "Or did you just pay your dues to be a member?"