by Maria King
The history of Coon Rapids VFW Post 9625, which celebrated its 60th birthday last month, shares some interesting parallels with the history of the community that gave rise to it. Post 9625 and Coon Rapids both started at about the same time. Both grew rapidly and for the same reasons.
During the early 1950s, Coon Rapids experienced a building boom due to three major factors that all involved the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.
First, after the war and throughout the early 1950s, there were thousands of returning soldiers, who all wanted the same thing at the same time: a job, a house and a family.
Land was still undeveloped and inexpensively available, good roads made an easy commute to jobs in the city, while the semi-rural atmosphere of Coon Rapids was perceived as a healthy place to raise children.
Second, most of the returning soldiers qualified for government-backed mortgages – a notable VFW victory.
Veterans Administration mortgages replaced the old Federal Housing Administration government program in place since the 1930s, and the rules were amended later in the 1950s to include Korean War vets.
The third major growth factor was the opportunity for gainful employment, due in part to defense industries, Federal Cartridge in Anoka and Northern Pump Company in Fridley.
Although not yet law, the policy of preferential hiring for veterans was socially expected and supported by most defense contractors, thus bringing even more veterans into the area.
Builders like Vern Donnay and Orrin Thompson, responding to pent-up demand, began building on an unprecedented scale.
Both industries provided thousands of lucrative, secure, blue-collar jobs and thousands of potential VFW members.
Initially, returning soldiers often met with one another in informal gatherings to share their stories and enjoy the camaraderie of those of similar wartime experiences.
Initially, 25 men were committed enough to seek a charter from the National VFW to start a post in Coon Rapids.
They met at LaBounty, a bar in Coon Rapids, later renamed the Bonanza Club.
The charter was granted and was signed by the 25 original members on July 23, 1953. Officers were elected and dues collected, leaving an initial account balance of $45.87.
The ladies auxiliary was formed a few months later in October 1953.
That Christmas, the fledgling post held its first dance at LaBounty and after expenses, recognized a profit of $81.45.
Coon Rapids was less than a year old at the time Post 9625 was being formed, having incorporated as a village in 1952.
The very first liquor license issued by the new village council was given to the VFW.
The new post focused its attention immediately on the needs of the community.
A spaghetti dinner was held in March, which cost 75 cents a plate, with all the proceeds going to support the local Boy Scouts.
The VFW participated in parades and other civic functions, often providing the color guard.
In July 1955 a parcel of land became available on Foley Boulevard and was purchased for $800. Here the VFW built the first post home, but was unable to sustain it financially and sold the property in 1957 to Robert Kinus.
The post was without a building and met in homes or in the Sportsman’s Club bar until 1963, when it moved into the Bonanza Club.
During this time period, Post 9625 made generous contributions to Thompson Park’s Little League and the Mercy Hospital Fund.
As the three-year lease on the Bonanza Club neared its end, the Yunger Hardware building became available.
It was an “L” shaped single-story structure on approximately 5 1/3 acres of land, right across Coon Rapids Boulevard from L.O. Jacob School (where the Washburn-McReavy Seman Funeral Home is today).
The VFW remodeled, adding the bar, the bingo area and a club room for cards and conversation.
With increased revenue coming from the bar, the VFW was able to be even more generous than before.
Social activities and charitable contributions were the norm for Post 9625 throughout the 1960s.
Parties, dances and picnics made the club the social hub of Coon Rapids.
Softball tournaments offered opportunities for competitive athletics, while bingo provided fun for the less robust.
The post sponsored Little League baseball teams, Boy Scouts and the community youth fund.
In 1971, the post purchased a snowmobile for the Coon Rapids Police Department ($900).
Already in 1972, only five years after purchasing the hardware store building, there was talk of building a bigger and better post home on the land adjacent to the west.
Plans were drawn up for a new post home to be located at 1919 Coon Rapids Blvd., a single-story building, with no basement, about 10,000 square feet, at a cost of $300,000.
The Coon Rapids City Council approved the building plans May 8, 1973, and groundbreaking ceremonies were held April 6, 1974.
Volunteers greatly reduced the labor costs, and the post enjoyed a steady income from the bar while it continued to use the hardware store building during the construction.
On Aug. 2, 1974, the cornerstone-laying ceremony was held, and the building was ready by November.
The building nearly doubled in size with the 1984 addition, and the result is the building in use today.
Contributions to the community have been documented since the earliest days of the Coon Rapids VFW and include money, volunteer labor and the donated use of the hall.
The hall and grounds have been used for ball tournaments, horseshoe tournaments, firearm safety training classes, Boy Scout meetings, Lions Club meetings, bicycle safety inspections, city employees’ Christmas parties and countless fundraisers for local charities.
Volunteer labor by VFW members (documented as community service hours) included Boy Scouting, softball, basketball, hockey and baseball coaching, leadership roles in local churches and schools, civic participation in politics, flag raisings, parade marchers and the national VFW effort called “Light-a-Bike” to increase bicycle safety.
Financially, the VFW has supported sports teams, as well as marching band and the debate team at the high school.
It supports Snowflake Days and the Coon Rapids Scholarship Association every year.
Appreciation dinners have been held for various veterans’ advocacy groups, as well as for the police and fire departments and testimonial dinners for local dignitaries.
The post essentially purchased all the classroom flags in the schools and donated books for their libraries on historical topics.
Working with the American Legion, the post paid for flags and installation of flagpoles at the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, Sand Creek Park and City Hall, as well as the building of the Medal of Honor Memorial at Bunker Hills Park.
In the 1970s the VFW worked with the Jerry Lewis Telethon to raise over $2,000 for muscular dystrophy.
The Coon Rapids VFW, working with the national organization, has built and supported the cancer research facility at the University of Minnesota and is currently supporting a similar institution at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
In 1986, the post donated $5,000 per month to the Coon Rapids scholarship endowment fund. It also purchased the first bullet-proof vests for the Coon Rapids Police.
Between 1990 and 2003, the post donated nearly $2 million locally.
Every year the VFW sponsors three contests for school-age students: Patriotic Art for elementary school students, the Patriot’s Pen essay writing contest for middle school students and the Voice of Democracy speech and video contest for high school students.
For many years, the Coon Rapids VFW was the closest thing to a community center that the city had.
Now it continues to serve the community in myriad ways. We believe that the work we do fosters a strong community, strong and patriotic youth and a strong committed citizenry.
And just because we’re 60 doesn’t mean we’re considering retirement.
Editor’s note: Maria King is a member of the Coon Rapids VFW Ladies Auxiliary.