The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3199 building on West Hatch Road, destroyed by arson in 2007, was beautifully rebuilt within a couple of years. There’s a bar and lounge just inside its entrance, an exhibit room full of donated military memorabilia, and a reception hall used for breakfasts and dinners and rented out for special events.
The first impression upon pulling up at 2801 West Hatch – well, that’s another matter. The parking lot is riddled with large potholes and crumbling asphalt. In places, it’s hard to tell where pavement ends and dirt begins.
The lot plagues veterans who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes and crutches, and giving it proper paving and painting has been a long-term goal. Post leaders and community volunteers, though, are working hard to see the job done.
A second, shorter-term “home-improvement” goal is building a playground at the post. That could be achieved as early as September.
These folks would take a bullet for you. ... We need to take care of them because they’ve taken care of us.
Patsy Wood, volunteer with Century 21 M&M’s Realtors for Veterans program
Pat Rosales, a past commander of the post, said the hope is that the playground and parking lot not only will benefit veterans and their families who use the post but attract more people to rent the VFW hall.
“I’ve wanted a playground here since my daughter was 2,” said Rosales, an Operation Desert Storm veteran who served in the Army from 1983-92. “Now my grandson is 2.”
Post chaplain and caretaker Jason Simpson, a Navy veteran from 2007-14, said he hears from a lot of young families that they don’t come out to post gatherings because there’s nothing for little kids to do.
The post definitely draws a mostly older crowd – primarily Vietnam and Korean War veterans – said Junior Vice Commander Joe Anchondo, a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1966-69, including a tour in Vietnam in 1967-68. The survival of any VFW post ultimately will depend on the participation of younger veterans, he said.
“It’s very important for these guys who are coming back from wars to have a place to bring their children where the children to have something to do,” said Patsy Wood, a volunteer with the Realtors for Veterans program sponsored by Century 21 M&M and Associates. Wood’s daughter Sandy Taylor is a Realtor with the agency, and Wood’s family has a long history of military service.
$116,000 A bit less than the estimated cost of the parking-lot project
An area of roughly 60 by 80 feet, much of it shaded by large trees, has been designated for the playground. The ground will be leveled and given a base of rubber mulch, then post members will put in the first play structure.
The initial goal was metal-frame playground equipment similar to what is used in parks and schools, Rosales said, “but that was way out of our range.” Instead, the post is going with wood-frame swing sets and slides from a home-improvement store. As fundraising continues, there is space to add more play equipment, picnic tables or other amenities, post leaders said.
So far, the post has raised about $13,000 through a variety of means: a quilt sale, tamale sales, raffles and more. An additional $9,000-plus was raised through a tri-tip dinner sale in the Century 21 M&M parking lot on Standiford Avenue in May.
The post hopes to have the playground up in time for its 13th annual chili cook-off Sept 26.
Wood has been “a firecracker” in helping raise money for the playground and especially in driving the parking-lot effort, Rosales said. “Before Patsy and Century 21, the parking lot was way out of our reach,” she said.
Even with insurance coverage, money was tight when the post had to rebuild after the 2007 fire, Wood said. Because the land is part of the Tuolumne River floodplain, the VFW was forced to build the foundation higher than that of the original 1961 building. Consequently, a lot of money that would have gone to the building was spent on dirt, she said.
The roughly 37,000-square-foot parking lot wasn’t much to start with, post leaders said.
“A company would come by and throw down some asphalt or oil or what have you,” said Al Pound, a Post 3199 official and Navy veteran. “But at some point that ceased and it gradually wore down. Of course, the asphalt they put down was about a quarter inch, so it didn’t do much anyway.”
Fundraising to improve the parking lot always has been a challenge because the post has ongoing operational costs and other expenses to cover.
“We do a lot of community work, donations to different charities, and we can’t let that stop,” said Pound, who served from 1965-69 and, like Anchondo, was in Vietnam in 1967-68. Among the post’s services to veterans and their families, he said, are three $500 scholarships to Modesto Junior College students each year, contributions to to Navy and Navy SEAL cadets, and distribution of Christmas baskets.
Since I’ve been coming out here in October, I’ve witnessed three falls in the parking lot.
Jason Simpson, VFW Post 3199 chaplain and caretaker
“This post survives on canteen sales and breakfast and dinners” it holds, Rosales said. Fundraisers including the chili cook-off and a beer booth at X-Fest that benefit the post’s general fund, little of which can be squirreled away for projects beyond general maintenance.
But the parking lot – a job estimated at more than $116,000 – is greatly needed, post leaders who gathered Wednesday agreed.
“Since I’ve been coming out here in October, I’ve witnessed three falls in the parking lot,” Simpson said.
He also noted that the post frequently is visited by motorcycle clubs, “and when they put down their kickstands, sometimes they don’t stay,” but rather sink into the cracks or dirt.
An Impala car club held a big meeting at the post not long back, Rosales said, and it was embarrassing to have the beautiful cars pull into a lot full of dirt, grit and gravel. The chassis of low-riding cars would strike the ground when the cars went through potholes, she said.
Pound said a couple of car and motorcycle shows are in the works, with proceeds directed to the project.
Through the Century 21 M&M Realtors for Veterans program, Wood has used letters, emails, phone calls and face-to-face visits to try to get labor, materials and money donated. An informational meeting is set for Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. at the post.
One company, Modesto contractor George Reed Inc., has volunteered to do half the job, Wood said. Another, DL Cathcart Asphalt Seal Coating of Ceres, has agreed to paint the striping on the finished lot. “It’s veterans – you have to take care of veterans,” General Partner Dennis Cathcart said.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
How to help
- To RSVP for the Aug. 7 dinner meeting at the post, or to donate toward the parking lot project, call Patsy Wood at 209-577-2567 or 209-544-0584.
- For information on the 13th annual VFW Post 3199 chili cook-off, call chairwoman Donna Huggins at 209-505-0182 or post Commander Basil Amesquita at 209-566-4121.
- For more on VFW Post 3199, go to www.vfwpost3199.org.