Local American Legion post returns from brink with membership nearly quadrupled

Members of the American Legion Milford Post 3 at the new facility on North Dupont Blvd. From left, are Richard Benedict (Department Historian), Jeff Crouser (Alternate National Executive Committee Post Adjutant), Rebecca Crouse (Finance Officer) and Nancy Soriano (Commander). ((Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — Early last year, Milford’s American Legion Post 3 was struggling.

It had no permanent building and just 52 registered members.

Today, the organization has nearly quadrupled its membership numbers and has a new space on North Dupont Boulevard with a full bar and grill.

“The American Legion is a veterans’ service organization based on four pillars: veterans, defense, children and youth, and community programs,” said the post’s Adjutant Jeff Crouser. “We’re a totally nonpolitical organization by virtue of our charter.”

He said the Milford branch was chartered in 1924 and reached its highest membership in 1975, while based out of “a little blue building over on the other side of town,” on Rehoboth Boulevard, near the Dairy Queen.

Membership declined over the final decades of the 20th century. Five years ago, the branch sold its space and began meeting at the local Blue Hen Veterans of Foreign Wars building.

American Legion Milford Post 3 new facility on N Dupont Blvd. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

“I had five regular guys” at that point, said American Legion Post 3’s Commander Nancy Soriano, “so if someone was out, we couldn’t get a quorum.”

Without a quorum, Mr. Crouser explained, “they couldn’t even conduct business, (because) any money that’s spent in an American Legion has to be approved by the membership.”

But all hope was not lost.

“We had a revitalization program,” Ms. Soriano said. She received “a list of people who joined the American Legion, but who are not assigned to a home base, so we called a lot of people and invited them to join us.”

She said the post’s rolls quickly started to grow, and soon, it outgrew the VFW hall.

“People were walking in at that point wanting to join,” Ms. Soriano said. “We thought it was time to find our own little nest.”

The branch was in a good financial position to do just that.

“When they sold the blue building, they had some good stewards,” Mr. Crouser said, who “took the money and put it into interest-bearing savings accounts.”

“If you look around, you see where the money’s at now,” he said, referring to the new space.

In June 2019, Milford’s American Legion Post 3 signed a lease for 664 N. Dupont Blvd. in The Plaza at Milford shopping center. They moved in the next month.

“We’re just now starting to garner a nice following,” Ms. Soriano said of the branch’s 198 current members. “We have regulars that come in for lunch and regulars that come in for dinner and some in between that just want to come in for a drink.”

Today, the branch has a bar and grill for veterans, their children and any invited guests, and profits go to local programs like the Sea Scouts, Little League baseball and scholarships.

But Mr. Crouser’s wife, Rebecca, who also plays a big role in the post’s daily operations, said it’s more than that.

“Our social quarters is a fundraiser for our American Legion programs,” she said, but “its main function is the emotional and mental well-being of our veterans in the community.”

The branch is looking to expand that mission to a new generation of veterans, as well.

“We now have a new crop of veterans that’s coming up, but they’re not here, they’re deployed,” Ms. Soriano said. “When they come home, we’re looking to do a lot of recruitment in that bunch.”

Older veterans are still the majority as of now.

“Our largest group is still Vietnam veterans,” Mr. Crouser said. “Part of the issue is so many young veterans picture the American Legion as a smoky hole where a bunch of veterans are just sitting around complaining and getting drunk.”

He said that perception is inaccurate and that the members of his post actually voted for their space to be smoke-free, even though many American Legion branches are not.

“Yesterday evening, a young veteran walked in, and he’d just bought a home here in Milford,” Mr. Crouser said. “He’d seen our sign out on the pylon … and he came in and said, ‘I’m a veteran. Can I join?’ ”

Mr. Crouser said his response was an enthusiastic “yes.”