EAU CLAIRE — Spanish-American War veteran Leonard Loken and a contingent of World War I veterans received the charter for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 305 in 1921.
A century later, the Eau Claire VFW post — the second established in Wisconsin — no longer has any members from those two wars, but it continues to pursue its dual mission of camaraderie and community service.
Regarding the post’s golden anniversary in 1971, Department Commander Ara Fish offered these words: “Man’s greatness is revealed when he is willingly and graciously helping the less fortunate. The members of Post 305 have truly displayed this over the years. Through 50 years of service the post has met the challenge brought on by major wars and minor skirmishes, by depression and prosperity. They have met the test of time.”
Fifty years and hundreds of dances, fish fries, bingo games and Honor Guard appearances later, the remodeled post building at 1300 Starr Ave. continues to meet the test of time, serving as place of fun and fellowship for members and a popular eating, drinking and recreation establishment for Eau Claire residents.
VFW Post 305 will mark its 100th anniversary with a community celebration on Saturday, Sept. 18 that will include guest speakers, a grilled chicken luncheon and tours of its historical museum room filled with displays of photos, weapons, uniforms and mementos from wars gone by.
The post’s longevity — it has been at the former Davis Beach property overlooking Dells Pond since 1951 — is not lost on Gary Nesgooda, senior vice commander of Post 305 and chairman of the anniversary committee.
“A lot of people celebrate their 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries, but you don’t see many make their 100th,” Nesgooda said with a hearty laugh while seated in the post’s dining hall. “It’s special.”
Committee member Clint Rudesill, the post’s quartermaster and a former U.S. Marine Corps major who served in the Vietnam War, agreed, adding, “It’s a big deal to keep any organization going for 100 years.”
Post 305 membership skyrocketed in the years after World War II, peaking at around 1,400 before gradually declining as the number of surviving veterans of that war declined.
Membership is now roughly 550, with members ranging in age from about 35 to 95 and representing every armed conflict since World War II, including the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The chief qualification for membership is that veterans must have served in a foreign war zone. VFW officials don’t get caught up in a battle of semantics about whether a military action is technically considered a war or conflict.
“The VFW says if we lose one American, it’s considered a war,” said Nesgooda, a former Marine corporal who served in the Vietnam War.
Nesgooda and Rudesill both said they take pride in the long list of veterans and community causes Post 305 has supported over the years, ranging from Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to veterans homes and hunger relief organizations.
But their eyes really light up when discussing what the VFW does for the veterans who make up the membership.
“It’s the camaraderie,” Rudesill said. “Guys who join want to hang out with like-minded people. We can talk shop and tell stories all day long, but very seldom will we share those same stories with civilians. It just doesn’t happen.”
Nesgooda chipped in, “They wouldn’t understand.”
That support group function may be particularly important, the men agreed, for Vietnam veterans, many of whom were scarred by the negative reception they endured after completing their service and returning to the United States, and other veterans who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Gary Culver, a Vietnam veteran and commander of Post 305, called it an honor to lead an organization that has done so much for veterans and the community for so many years.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Culver said, encouraging Chippewa Valley residents to attend the 100th anniversary bash and check it out themselves.
CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman was rushed to the hospital Wednesday, Sept. 1, his fever spiking to 103 degrees, as he was suffering from pneumonia caused by COVID-19.
While at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital that night, his white blood cell count jumped, and doctors worried he might die from the virus.
Hoffman, 70, is resting at home now, but he fears it could be a few weeks before he is feeing back to normal. He skipped the Chippewa Falls City Council meeting on Tuesday, and isn’t sure when he’ll be back on his normal schedule around the city.
“I would say I’m on a short leash,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman actually got sick with COVID-19 on Thursday, Aug. 26. Hoffman was fully vaccinated in the spring, so he didn’t expect a breakthrough infection to impact him so much.
“I was having a light cough,” Hoffman said of his symptoms on Aug. 26. “Then I started getting tired. I told (my wife) Lois ‘I think I’m getting COVID.’”
His temperature jumped to 102 degrees that night, so he checked himself into HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, where they confirmed he had the virus. They gave him steroids, watched him, and sent him home on Sunday, Aug. 29.
“I still felt good Monday (Aug. 30),” he said.
However, he woke up with a fever on Tuesday, and it only got worse by Wednesday afternoon. He realized he needed to go back to the hospital.
“I told her to call the ambulance, because I couldn’t even get out of the chair,” he said. “I felt like my lungs weighed 500 pounds.”
Once at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, a blood draw showed his white blood cell count was spiking. Doctors gave him plasma from someone who had recovered from the virus.
“They became really concerned,” Hoffman said. “My pneumonia was getting worse.”
Hoffman said doctors later told him he easily could have died from his symptoms.
“I’ve had a number of medical people tell me if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Hoffman’s symptoms improved over the next couple of days. He was treated with the antiviral medication Remdesivir, and sent home Saturday afternoon.
The city of Chippewa Falls has not adopted a requirement that city employees be vaccinated for COVID-19. Hoffman said he doesn’t plan to push for a mandate, but he urged everyone to get their shots.
“I can’t stress enough how serious this is,” Hoffman said. “It’s very impactful on your life. I hope I can bounce back in a week or two. I would highly recommend, with the experiences I’ve had, you get vaccinated.”
Hoffman, who joined the Chippewa Falls City Council in April 2001, was appointed to fill the mayor’s seat on Aug. 5, 2008, to replace Mayor Dan Hedrington, who was resigining. Hoffman is now the longest-serving mayor in city history.
The previously longest-serving mayor was Virginia Smith, who held the seat from 1991 to 2003.
Hoffman had worked in management for 38 years for Genex, a division of Shawano-based Cooperative Resources International. He retired last month.