VFW

Indiana VFW golf course.

The financially embattled Veterans of Foreign Wars post in White Township has announced the sale of the golf course at its post home along Indian Springs Road, but the organization will have a decidedly new look on a bigger scale as the year unfolds.

A year after publicly disclosing its plight, citing its aging and declining membership and decreasing business at its Indian Springs Golf & Country Club facility, the VFW Post No. 1989 board of directors has been dissolved and replaced by a panel of trustees appointed by the state VFW organization to oversee its reorganization.

Abiding by a May 24 vote of its members directing the officers to sell the golf business, the post has accepted an offer of $600,000 for the VFW property, including the clubhouse, golf course and pro shop. The interim leaders also have opened a search for a new location in the Indiana area, former state VFW Commander Larry Wade told post members this week.

The golf course apparently has seen its final days. Wade said the new owner intends to build a home on the 125-acre property that the VFW has owned since 1938.

Wade said the VFW would pay most of its debts but have little cash left to develop a new site. Among the debts that the VFW can’t afford to cover, he said, will be repayment of golf course members’ 2020 season dues payments that the local VFW leaders had solicited from them in late 2019 in their effort to fight deficit operations.

The advance dues payments, which VFW officials said as late as July that the post intended to refund, total almost $50,000, according to golfers who told the Gazette that they’ve now been told their money is gone.

“I’m a 40-year golf and social member and my husband is a 50-year golf and social member, and we paid $1,800 with a check last December because … they needed the money early,” said Diane Daskivich, of White Township. “Unfortunately by paying by check, there was no recourse for us to take. Everybody that paid by credit card or debit card went through their credit card company to get reimbursed.”

The VFW complied with state orders to keep the golf course closed through early June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but didn’t open the links after state restrictions were lifted.

“The funny thing is, the other golf courses opened and had their best seasons ever, but we paid for a service we never received,” Daskivich said. “We asked numerous times last year to get our money back. ... They put us off, saying ‘wait ’til we sell, wait ’til we sell.’ Well, they sold and we’re not getting our money back.”

Resigned to writing it off, Daskivich said her last chance to get a refund now would be to hire a lawyer, probably at a cost greater than what she would recover.

Military service veteran Fred Hunter, a full member of the post, said he learned that his cash payment of $625 wouldn’t be refunded. Hunter said he was discharged from military service in 1976, joined the VFW in the mid-1980s and has “golfed there forever.” Hunter, of Indiana, said the decision was disappointing, unfair and “reeks of dishonesty.”

Then-post Commander Greg Marsh told the Gazette in June that members’ requests to get their money back could depend on proceeds from the sale. In a letter written July 21 to all VFW members, solicitor Gina Force asked social members to complete a form and submit receipts showing proof of dues paid in order to get reimbursed.

In the letter, Force asked members to not “attempt reimbursement via alternative means.”

“Though the board understands the frustration of its members, this can only prolong the mutual goal of prompt reimbursement,” Force wrote.

At the Tuesday meeting, Hunter said, “they pretty much told us they had an offer and they accepted that offer. He said the guy that bought it wants to build a home and there will no longer be a golf course. But they (trustees) are not interested in the golf course.”

Hunter said the leaders read a list of $500,000 worth of debts and bills that had to be covered, and the list included $50,000 that members paid for golf dues.

“They decided they were not going to be reimbursed. They gave no explanation,” he said. “A couple of us tried to get some answers out of them but they just moved on to another subject. That’s what has riled up a lot of us.”

Hunter also said the state leaders on Tuesday refused to hear of an offer of $750,000 that post member Dana Henry presented on behalf of an unidentified suitor for the property. Henry declined to discuss the alternate offer for the club building and golf course. He called it “proprietary information.”

Wade, of Cresson, declined to identify the intended buyer. He said the sale will close Feb. 26 and the new owner has agreed to let the VFW hold membership meetings at the building while the post searches for a new site and gets reorganized.

“It’s basically dissolved. It’s under trusteeship from the national headquarters and out of the (Pennsylvania) department,” Wade said. “There’s a lot that we’re not going to disclose. I know there’s a big cry from golfers saying they paid their money for the 2020 year for golfing.

“But that was a subordinate unit of the VFW anyway, and basically the trustees have taken over the post itself and we are not interested in subordinate units.”

Wade said members will be asked to elect a new set of local officers at the post on Feb. 2.

Indiana’s VFW post marked its 90th anniversary in December.

“We’re waiting for further communication on what step may be taken next regarding the sale,” Force said. “On a local level we are doing our best to work with all parties involved to choose the best outcome possible for the members, the officers and the community. This has been a long process and we are just trying to reach the best outcome.”

Force was the only local official who responded to a request to comment.

Marsh said he left his role as post commander in August and referred questions to Quartermaster Herb Gleditsch. He also could not be reached.

Force said she was unsure how national and state VFW officials became involved in control of Post 1989.

“The ultimate goal was always to sell the golf course, to have the money to rectify all the financial issues that occurred,” and the post’s priority has been to continue its service to veterans, she said.

Force said Friday that she was unclear of her exact status with the post. She had identified herself as both solicitor for the post and member of the country club board in the letter to members, but said she expects to learn Feb. 2 whether she would be retained. Force also has announced her candidacy for judge of the Indiana County Common Pleas Court in the election this year.

Wade  said the Pennsylvania VFW’s concern is to reinvigorate Post No. 1989 an its programs and services in support of veterans, not the associated golf course that he said imperiled the post because of its drain on finances.

Foremost, he said, the state’s review of Post No. 1989 has satisfied him that all money has been accounted for and its debts would be satisfied.

“One of the big questions at the meeting was, ‘did anybody steal money?’ No,” Wade said. “A lot of mismanagement, but the money is all accounted for. We know where it went.”

Too much was put into the golf course, Wade said, considering the declining return on the operation.

“They’re not going to have a heck of a lot left over, but yes, the obligations will be met. All except for any dues or whatever memberships were paid for the golf course, because we’re not interested in that,” Wade said. “They’re not a golf course, they’re a VFW.”

Wade said VFW membership has declined at all levels with the passing of the World War II generation that made up the bulk of the membership. Korean War and Vietnam War veterans accounted for another bulge in the curve.  But wars have been fewer, far between and fought by fewer servicemen and women since then, Wade said.

VFW Post 1989 arranges for military tributes at veterans’ funeral services and burials, posts wreaths at cemeteries throughout the county and has sponsored loyalty lessons for students at area schools, among other programs in support of past servicemen and women.

Wade said the Indiana post’s survival is important to veterans of neighboring counties where other posts have folded.

He said the post would welcome offers of sites that the post could call home as soon as possible.

“The main thing for us is to find a warehouse with a parking lot that could be converted,” Wade said. Vacant sites with utility service in place for putting up a new building also would be of interest, he said. “There’s only X amount of dollars they are going to have left over,” he said.

But going forward, the organization will concentrate only on its traditional mission in Indiana County.

“It’s a sad story,” Daskivich said. “We love the VFW and we would have gone back in a minute if they opened it back up again. But the way we’ve been treated this past year has been horrible. ... They didn’t even engage us.”

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.