By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
PIERSON - Commander Earl "Bill" Ziebarth Jr. hopes a turkey shoot will score cash for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9726, Moore Molander North Post. It's sorely needed these days as disappearing veterans and dollars has the post facing extinction.
"We've been holding dinners once a month and haven't been able to bring in that much money there," Mr. Ziebarth said.
A Vietnam War veteran, he talked to the Pierson Town Council at its last regular meeting, Tuesday Oct. 9. He was making sure it'd be OK to have a turkey shoot at the post, 350 S. Volusia Ave. The council had no power to either approve or deny the shoot, but before the meeting Debbie Bass, town clerk, called the Volusia County Sheriff's Office to make sure it would pass muster with state laws.
"They said as long as everyone is shooting safely, they weren't going to stop a fundraiser," she said in a phone interview after the meeting. "They said if there were noise complaints, they'd record them."
The shoot is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9 and 10. Mr. Ziebarth said times haven't been decided yet.
The post was built in days when there were plenty of World War II veterans around - 1948. Today it's got about 35 members, and its Ladies Auxiliary has about the same number. Many, Mr. Ziebarth said, are widows of deceased VFW members.
"I can't vouch for the existence of a couple of (the members), because I can't track them down," he said.
Few show up at meetings these days, Mr. Ziebarth said. "At the last meeting, I had seven members show up. Normally I get five."
The years have been sapping the post of members, donors and volunteers as older veterans get less mobile and die, he said. The Pierson post isn't alone in declining membership - it's a sign of the times for lots of veteran service organizations that are struggling to find ways to attract the dwindling supply of younger veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 22.7 million military veterans living in the U.S. As military equipment improved and accompanying jobs become more specialized, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard needed fewer members. By 2035, the number of veterans is expected to drop to 14 million.
From 2000 to 2010, there was about a 15 percent decrease in veterans, as older veterans died, but weren't being replaced with as many younger ones. Florida lost somewhere between 11 to 19 percent of its population of veterans. However, it remains one of only four states with more than a million veterans, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs - a state agency separate from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nationally the VFW has about 1.4 million members. Membership is open to those who served in overseas operations. There are no living World War I veterans, so the VFW is open to those serving from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom, which is still ongoing.
Mr. Ziebarth said it costs about $200 a month to keep the Pierson post open. A few years ago, the post had plenty of cash and was involved in a number of community activities, such as sponsoring little league baseball. Those monthly dinners aren't pulling in much money now, but they used to.
"We'd buy 200 chickens and that gave us 400 dinners at $6 a dinner. Back in those days, the fern growers had plenty of money and would buy (dinner certificates) for holidays. They'd buy it for their help - 20, 30 dinners or so. We made plenty of money."
The sagging economy and its slow recovery has reduced fern sales.
The Pierson post might be absorbed into the larger Post 9986 in Astor. Mr. Ziebarth said if that happens the Pierson building, which members constructed, would likely be sold off.