By Jeff Poole
A list of the 28 charter members of James Madison VFW Post 2217 is stocked with names essential to the development of early 20th century Orange County: Sherman, Green, Butler, Lonergan, Waugh, Knighton, Newman, Twyman, Mason, Gillum.
“Through their wisdom and perseverance, they joined together to form the James Madison Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2217, here in Orange, Virginia,” current Post Commander Al Dulaney notes. “Their lives are a testimony to their bravery and are the foundation of Post 2217 all these years. It is our duty to carry that tradition forward.”
With that charge in mind, the nearly four dozen current members of the post on Brick Church Road are hosting a 90th anniversary open house celebration Saturday, Sept. 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“To those 28 men, 90 years later, we dedicate this day,” Dulaney writes in a history of the post. “They served their country proudly and returned home to be with their families and start new lives. They attended college, started businesses … became barbers, carpenters, farmers, newspaper men, postmasters … worked for the highway department and the Montpelier estate… we dedicate this day to their memory, family and descendants.”
At the same time, next Saturday’s open house is an opportunity for the longstanding post to share its ongoing contributions to the community and, perhaps, recruit additional members.
Those unfamiliar with the post may not notice it right away. The current building is the organization’s second structure and tucked behind Abundant Life Christian Church on Brick Church Road, opposite the Orange County Airport. The original post building was a brick-faced Quonset hut—that remains inside the adjacent church.
Abundant Life Minister the Rev. Dwane Pugh said he and the church family had been praying about finding a building for the nascent church and first had gotten the old Pizza Shanty building on Route 20 across from the airport.
“That wasn’t really big enough for a church,” he said. “But I was driving down Route 20 and God told me to ‘go right, right now’ and I turned up by D & J and found commander Lewis Byram mowing grass at his house and he said he was praying about what to do with the post’s Quonset hut.”
While the original post members met in the hut for years, they later constructed the block building that has since served as the meeting room. The hut was rented out for gatherings and functions, but increasingly had become the site of unfavorable behavior, Pugh noted.
He said the post members were looking for a tenant that would more accurately share its mission in the community.
“They felt like we fit with their desire of helping others in the community,” Pugh said and the church agreed to purchase the building and post property in 2002, with the organization retaining life rights to the current post building.
Ultimately, church members renovated the Quonset hut and constructed Sunday school classrooms and offices around it, it’s rounded roof only visible through a couple of access doors in upstairs closets.
Consequently, he noted, the post’s legacy of service lives on in both church missions and post programs.
Dulaney and Sr. Vice Commander, Joe Parra, report the Post 2217 awards two annual scholarships, supports the Orange County High School JROTC, contributes to the Orange Volunteer Fire Company, Rikki’s Refuge, Hospice of the Piedmont, the Boys & Girls Club of Orange, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office National Child Safety Program, the Virginia Veterans Service Foundation and the VFW National Home for Children.
It also sponsors local Voice of Democracy and Patriots Pen competitions and continues to work toward the creation of an Orange County veterans memorial.
Parra said the August and September meetings are some of the most popular ones as the veterans decide how their fundraising will be distributed. Most of the organization’s contributions are raised through the sale of the popular “buddy poppies” and donations from other individuals and organizations.
Dulaney and Parra hope the upcoming open house will both introduce the post to the community and remind others they’re still working to support veterans, their families and Orange County.
“We’re a community service,” Dulaney says. “We haven’t done a good job of publicizing what we do or that we’re here.”
He also said the group fights the stigma that, “were a bunch of old men sitting around drinking beer. That’s not us.”
“That’s part of why we’re trying to get the word out,” Parra added, noting the group also will be part of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce Street Festival Saturday, Sept. 11, which will honor local heroes, including veterans.
“We’re trying to draw in some of the younger generation—those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Parra noted.
“Our average age is about 59,” Dulaney added. “If we don’t have enough members, we can’t do a good job and we want to do a good job.”
“They fought on the battlefield for America and to make it better and then came home to do the same thing,” Pugh said. “They still want to do that. They just need people to help make the community better.”
The Sept. 4 open house will begin at 11 a.m. with an introduction from post communications officer, Pete Ewing, followed by comments from VFW District 13 Commander Deadra Miller. Navy diver Kirk Davis will be the guest speaker and Ewing will read the names of the organization’s charter members.
Much of the program will be conducted outside, in the pavilion behind the post and the church. It will include food, drink, games and activities, as well as displays and information on membership, history, the veterans memorial and more. The address is 19105 Brick Church Road, Orange.
The post meets the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. For information, contact Dulaney at (804) 205-7408 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find them on Facebook at OrangeCountyVA.VFWPost2217.