When post commander Ed Byrne and other members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4042 began envisioning the future of the Bigfork organization, they asked themselves three simple questions: What do the local veterans need? What does the community need? And what does the VFW need?
The collective answer has come into focus inside a revitalized 5,200-square-foot building and community gathering space along Montana Highway 35.
Bigfork’s new VFW post has a vibrant new home. The bar and restaurant, located inside the classic Masonic Lodge at 8098 MT 35, celebrated its soft opening recently and will host its grand opening ceremony on Dec. 9.
The new VFW leaves behind the old, smaller site down the road, which enjoyed a loyal following despite the building’s shabby shortcomings. The VFW post operated out of the 1,000-square-foot space, which was a retrofitted home, since 1999 but has long sought a bigger and better hub for veterans and community members.
The dream is realized thanks to community support and donations that have helped cover a portion of the roughly $480,000 remodel of the new building.
“The response has been incredible,” Byrne said.
The new VFW features a full bar and restaurant, with beer and liquor served until 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. A full menu featuring hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and more is available during kitchen hours from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and until 8 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. The kitchen is closed Tuesdays.
Ten gaming machines are perched in a walled section of the space, while a shuffleboard and future pool table will occupy another corner. Televisions are displayed throughout. Free wireless internet is also available.
A large 88-seat multi-purpose room is attached that can host a variety of banquets and other community gatherings, including VFW and Boy Scout events.
Last week the Dirt BAGetts, a weekly women’s Bible study group, enjoyed a gathering during the morning hours.
“This is centrally located and it works very, very well,” Phyllis Anderson, a longtime member of the local Bible study group, said.
Byrne said the revamped post has helped increase membership for the local VFW to more than 110. The goal is to increase membership among younger veterans, and hopefully the new space will do just that. The new building will also welcome older veterans who could not navigate the hazards of the older building, Byrne said.
Bigfork’s VFW post has a rich history dating back more than 40 years.
On Sept. 22, 1976, a group of veterans gathered in Bigfork to formally charter the new Post #4042. The organizational meeting featured 17 people in attendance, according to old newspaper accounts, and there were 27 charter members. Col. R.W. Lindell, retired, opened the first meeting by welcoming those present and asking for nomination of the first officers. Rodney Lindell was elected post commander. Max Ganz was elected senior vice commander and Milton Hopkins was named junior vice commander. Also, James McAndrew was named quartermaster; Del Contchi was named judge advocate; Alfred Arvidson was named chaplain and Charles Baumann was surgeon. Bob Morris was a one-year trustee; Lloyd Russell was a two-year trustee; and Bob McShane was a three-year trustee. Dick Walsh of Columbia Falls was the state commander and named installing officer.
The VFW post was established as part of the nationwide organization that featured more than 10,000 posts across the world in the 1970s. The national organization, a nonprofit service group, says its mission is to foster camaraderie among U.S. veterans and to serve veterans and their communities.
The Bigfork post plans to host community events at its building, including the summer farmers markets.