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Bradenton VFW Post a fixture for 26 years, moving to new location

MANATEE -- Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10141 has been a fixture on 67th Street West for 26 years, right behind McDonald's on Manatee Avenue.

Its 685 members have looked after not only their own, but the community, too.

Charity events and fundraisers are frequent at the VFW, right along with the regular bingo nights, karaoke and Sunday breakfasts and Monday dinners open to the public.

"We think of ourselves as the friendliest post in town," said John Baumgarten Sr., 65, the post commander and former Marine. "We want to see that continue."

It will have to happen at a new location.

The VFW is moving to a new address -- 5105 Manatee Ave. W., site of the former Mr. Mei Asian Bistro.

Post officials were approved for a $350,000 bank loan last Tuesday, hope to close on the restaurant site in 10 days and then begin 3-4 weeks of remodeling.

The goal is to be moved in by the end of October, which coincides with the end of their present lease.

"We've been looking for another place a long time, but hadn't found anything that meets our needs," said Mike Clinesmith, 60, the post quartermaster and another former Marine.

Those needs that are physical and fiscal.

Whereas the present VFW building is 2,200 square feet, the new site is 3,450 square feet -- more suitable to a

membership that's increasing with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We've just outgrown it," Baumgarten said.

"We don't have the room to bring in the young (veterans), who like to shoot pool, play darts, bring their families. We are a family-oriented post."

The move will give post service officers more office space to counsel returning veterans on benefits, job training, etc.

Fiscally, the move makes sense, as well, post officials said.

"We've got to do it for the future," said business manager Tonya Long, who's been at the post for 27 years. "This place is like home to me, but we can't continue to pay rent. We need to have a home of our own."

Baumgarten estimated renovations are going to cost $40,000 that will have to come out of pocket.

"We're in need of contributions to our building fund," he said.

John Anderson, who owns the VFW's present property, said he offered to sell the land to post officials six months ago.

But they declined, he said.

"I'm sorry they've decided to move and I wish them the best," he said.

While most VFW members look forward to the move they still have fond memories of the old post and its membership.

"When I got my hip replaced and I was short of money, they pitched in to help me out," said Navy veteran Archie Lee, 90.

"A lot of people who've lost loved ones had the memorial services here," Clinesmith said.

Army veteran Bill Riley, 78, won't miss the old place.

"It's the people who make it," he said. "As long as they all continue, it's going to be a much better situation. There's more parking and it's close to where I live. But having a place of our own is important."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.