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Legion to go up for sale

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 -- Tuesday's vote finalized the decision. The Calvin Knuth Post 5 American Legion will lock its doors after close of business Saturday.

The first vote by attending members to close the doors took place during the December meeting, but financial officer Steve Ahlberg presented information and numbers Tuesday during an open meeting, followed by a closed meeting and a final vote.

Bingo will continue on Friday nights until the end of March, unless the building sells before then. But as of now, the building is for sale, and the contents will be sold either with the building or in separate transactions, Ahlberg said.

To help local veterans, all money collected Saturday from 4 p.m. until close will be donated to the Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight fund. All open stock inventories such as food, beer and liquor will be sold until gone.

When the doors are locked at the end of the night, Ahlberg said the goal is to have all open product gone and all shelves and freezers cleaned out.

Financial woes

The post has been steadily losing money for several years, Ahlberg told about 40 people Tuesday night while handing out financial spread sheets.

Four activities are used to keep the post going, he said -- general operations, such as donations and dues, charitable gambling, the lounge and the house, which brings in money for renting the hall and hosting hamburger feeds and steak suppers.

"We lost over $15,000 last year," Ahlberg stated. "We lost $11,000 in 2008. Things have not been going well."

A mortgage on the building had been cut down from $46,000 to approximately $22,500 by 2006, but then problems with the building caused the club to take out an additional loan.

"We had a major sewer problem that cost $5,000 to fix," Ahlberg explained.

They sent out a call for donations to help, but ended up having to secure a loan. They also owe the women's auxiliary $6,000.

"In October I took out $1,000 to pay bills, in November I took another $1,000," Ahlberg said. "In December I withdrew every dime we could, just to pay bills."

The combined expense of real estate taxes and the mortgage is approximately $850 a month, yet some days the lounge takes in less than $100 in sales. Based on being open 310 days out of a year, Ahlberg calculated $154 needs to be taken in each day just to break even.

"And we're not making that on a fourth of the days," he said.

During past steak feeds, which take place once a month, the club served 375 steaks on a Saturday night, he added. In November they served 26 steaks, and in December they served 28.

"Our members are not coming here," Ahlberg stated, looking out at his audience. "The general membership is not supporting the facility."

Because the post is deemed a social club, it is to be utilized by members and their "bona fide" guests. Guests are to sign the guestbook upon arrival with a member. Every year the post's new liquor license arrives with a letter describing the policies to which the club must adhere. The license costs $500 for the Legion post, instead of the $3,000 that public liquor establishments pay.

Ahlberg admitted that the Legion, like many of the other social clubs in the area, is lax about enforcing the member and guest rule and ensuring guests sign the book. Looking around the lounge on a regular evening, he said there is maybe one or people tied to the club.

Shortly before King Turkey Day this year, Ahlberg said he received a call from authorities reminding them of the social club rules.

"All of the clubs got notified," he said. "(The officer) was telling me we need to get in compliance."

The bottom line, he said, is that there is not enough money and not enough members and bona fide guests to keep the post home operational.

Facing the facts

Those listening to Ahlberg's presentation, members of the Legion, the auxiliary and others asked several questions and volunteered several ideas, which Ahlberg or Post Commander Jim Wolterstorff responded to as best they could.

One person wanted to know why a separate auxiliary couldn't be formed to gain more members. Wolterstorff said they had tried to start a Sons of the Legion group, even had a charter in place for it, but no one would take charge of the group.

Several people expressed displeasure that the vote in December to close the facility was made by so few people.

"I don't think you can do that with six or seven people," one man said several times. "You have to call everyone."

Each time the previous month's vote was brought up, Ahlberg explained that the bylaws do not call for a quorum or any set number to vote, and reminded everyone in the room that the discussions about the post home losing money had been going on for several years.

"For three years we've discussed this, and everyone had a chance to come to the meetings," he stated, adding that normally about five people showed up each month, instead of anywhere close to the approximate 270 members.

Ahlberg listened to each argument, and explained each time that no one had been trying to hide the situation from the members.

"If you have any great suggestions, we are all ears," he added. "I'm just giving you the facts of what has been happening."

Lora Lee Timm-Knuth, president of the women's auxiliary, expressed concern about the veterans, explaining that a large amount of their auxiliary time was devoted to helping the veterans.

"We have projects to support," she said. "We want to do things for the veterans, not just to pay the bills. We've got people that need our help, and if a Legion isn't supporting veterans, why are we here?"

"The mission of the Legion is not the post," another man pointed out.

Wolterstorff said members had met with members of other social clubs over a year ago to see if there was any interest in combining facilities, but none of the groups were interested. The Elks had recently offered their facility to the Legion for the purpose of holding monthly meetings, Ahlberg added.

Ahlberg, Wolterstorff and several others who have struggled with the decision to close the post doors expressed their sadness over the turn of events, but said they couldn't find a way around it.

The building is valued at approximately $231,000, and Ahlberg said plans are to pay off the mortgage and loans with sale proceeds, then pay off the loan to the auxiliary. What will happen to the rest of the funds has not been decided. There has been some interest in the building, he added.