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Packed house meeting has legion charting future course

Posted on January 15, 2014 by Taber Times

It is a story that is becoming alarmingly more common in the province, as legion halls look for ways to keep their doors open, facing increasing expenses and dwindling revenues. Taber Legion Hall is no different, as an emergency meeting was held on Sunday to discuss the Billy Williams Memorial Hall’s future.

“We did our New Year’s function and we barely got enough to break even. We needed 80 people to break even and we had 86 and last year there were 110 people,” said Harley Phillips, president of Taber Legion Branch No. 20. “What came out of the meeting, which I thought was very positive, was they formed a committee of the membership called Ways and Means to look at ways to make some positive changes.”

Those changes go far past increasing membership into the legion as the organization looks to reinvent itself to become a self-sustaining entity.

“For some people, they never come apart from paying their membership. Any organization or any business, if you don’t have customers at some point you are paying expenses, but not having any income. We said (Sunday) afternoon, if we didn’t open our doors, it would still cost us $2,500 a month to pay utilities, taxes, and insurance. Opening for business, our expenses are about $15,000 a month.”

Taber Legion Branch #20 books the youth hall by Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park on behalf of the town and has the Taber Legion Park to look after apart from keeping the legion hall open as the local legion faces a crossroads to many events it helps host as well.

“If something were to happen, who is going to look after Remembrance Day? Who is going to look after the poppies and the wreaths? Who is going to look after veterans’ funerals? There are enough of us around we would certainly make sure there was an honour guard for our veterans, no matter what happens, but still,” said Phillips. “We continue to contribute to a couple of programs set up for veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, Outward Bound and some of them, and they need help. You’d hate to see things take place where you can’t help them.”

The committee is being headed up by Phil Abela and has had seven members volunteer for it as of Sunday’s meeting in which more people are always encouraged to come on board. Abela stresses it is not a committee simply set up to fundraise for the legion, but to come up with long-term viable business ideas that will bring in regular income to keep the hall doors open now and into the future.

“I was very encouraged by the meeting and there were many ideas. There were many good ideas, but of course they need to be brought to a formal point where serious plans could be made where things are put in place,” said Abela. “It’s just brainstorming at this point.”

Given the packed parking lots and stalls surrounding the legion hall for the meeting, the ground swell of support is there, where members are hoping it is long term.

“We’re hoping with membership, this won’t go for two or three months and then go back to where we are now. I think there is enough movement, that’s not going to take place.”

Abela stresses part of a long-term viable business plan for the legion is adapt to the situations of today apart from what legion branches across the country are commonly known for.   

“You have to remember, all the service members are becoming older now and it needs to have a switch away from the traditional ideas of what a legion is. When you say legion, what comes to mind? You think of older soldiers with older people remembering. That type of thing,” said Abela. “In order to survive, the image has to change and that’s what we are trying to do.”

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