Struggling Mattituck Legion hosts free dinner to spark interest

The Mattituck American Legion Post No. 861 has struggled with low numbers in recent years and with a small group of active members, the post is attempting one last push to build participation.

Members will host a free dinner later this month for any interested veteran or children of veterans in a last-ditch effort to bolster its roster with new names.

“If not, this is the last hurrah basically,” member Art Tillman said. “If this doesn’t work, it’s over. That’s the consensus of the guys.”

At its last three monthly meetings, the post named for Raymond J. Cleaves, who was a casualty of World War I, failed to meet its quorum of six members, according to Mr. Tillman.

There are 26 members who pay dues, but most don’t make it to meetings at the Wickham Avenue building for a number of reasons, he said. Some have moved, others are too old to travel, while others may have lost interest in participating, Mr. Tillman added. Volunteer organizations around the country are having similar issues with dwindling numbers, he noted, calling it a phenomenon.

If the post ends its run, membership would be absorbed into other local posts, he said. The building was also home to Mattituck Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 11117, which disbanded about four years ago. It’s not clear what would happen to it if the organization ceased, Mr. Tillman said. It could be reverted to the state’s American Legion branch, but the Mattituck Fire Department has an agreement to use the space, he said.

The Mattituck post is three years short of its 100th anniversary, having formed in 1920, Mr. Tillman said.

“I think it’s important because it’s been in existence 97 years and in the past I had many friends from the legion who have passed away,” he said. “They were good legionnaires, active. I’m getting involved not only for the Legion, but to honor their memories, the guys who put so much into keeping this post going.”

The nation is also approaching the centennial of the end of World War I, he noted.

“Coming on the anniversary of WWI, that really bothers me and it would bother others too,” he said, adding that he hopes to get to people’s conscience. There are many veterans out there, he said, but that doesn’t mean they want to come out at night and go to a meeting after work.

The dinner for prospective members will be held Tuesday, June 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Touch of Venice in Cutchogue. Active members will discuss activities the American Legion takes part in and the veterans’ causes it supports.

“I want to strike the note of seriousness here,” Mr. Tillman said. “This will close unless we get active members and it will close very soon.”

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Photo credit: Kelly Zegers