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Once the state’s largest, VFW post hopes to survive by selling property

Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 members Bill Manke, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, and Desert Storm veterans Ed Scrivenak and Jim Young pose in front of the VFW insignia and tributes to the two Navy sailors for which it’s named. Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 members Bill Manke, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, and Desert Storm veterans Ed Scrivenak and Jim Young pose in front of the VFW insignia and tributes to the two Navy sailors for which it’s named.

Jim Young remembers one day, when he was 6 or 7, as he sat at his grandfather’s diner on Asheville Highway, the Smokehouse. A young veteran who was obviously down on his luck walked in and sat down at a table. Young’s grandfather, Red Lemons, fixed the stranger a ribeye steak, baked potato and tossed salad.

 

“The young man looked up at my grandfather, ‘Sir, I can’t pay for this,’” Young said. “And my grandfather looks down at him and says, ‘You already have,’ and turns around and walks off.’ So that always stuck with me.”
Service to veterans is much on the mind these days for Young and a remnant corps of combat veterans desperately trying to save the Hedrick-Rhodes Post 1506 from closing down. After an episode of “bad bookkeeping” by former commanders who are now banned from the property, the remaining post commanders — Young, who is junior vice commander, Senior Vice Commander Robert “Bobby” Sumner, Commander Ed Scrivenak, and District Commander Johnny Taylor — are holding the post together.
The post has 234 members, although that’s down from the early 1950s, when it had 1,600 members and was the biggest Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the state.
Formed in 1946, the post is named for two Navy sailors from Henderson County who died aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Born in 1911, Paul H. Hedrick was the son of Mr. and Mrs. O.H. Hedrick. He joined the Navy in 1929 at age 19 and had served for 12 years when the Japanese attacked the Navy base in Hawaii.
A Henderson County native, Mark Alexander Rhodes, a seaman 1st class when he died, attended Edneyville High School before joining the Navy in 1939. News of his death reached his mother, Stella Ruff, on Dec. 16, 1941, in the form of a telegram signed by Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who would go on to command the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who came home from World War II formed the new post and bought property at Five Points for its home.
“It was dedicated in 1948,” Young said. “They built it with their own money and paid it off in the first year.”


‘We’ve had a rough patch’

A native of Hendersonville, Young, 53, joined the Army out of Hendersonville High School in 1985. He served as a nuclear, biological and chemical engineer during Desert Storm. “In other words, when they thought they had chemical rounds drop, which they thought they had a few, we would have to go check it,” he said.
After he retired as a Spec. 4 in 1993, he came home and joined the VFW post, just as his dad had. Military service runs in the family. Young also had two uncles who landed at D-Day and came home to tell about it.
“The VFW’s been in this community and volunteered I don’t know how many millions of hours — they still do,” he said. “We still have a college fund for the children of Henderson County. If they’re a member of this VFW they can put in for a scholarship.”
The VFW no longer operates a bar and it stopped hosting bingo and dances. The post has no money — in fact, it has a small amount of debt — and it’s trying to sell its largest asset, the building and property, either to the city of Hendersonville or another buyer.
“The fact is, we’ve had a rough patch,” Young said. “We took what we had to the Hendersonville police department. They said there was nothing to prosecute other than bad bookkeeping.”
The new leaders ousted the old guard, changed the locks and barred them from coming back, Young and Sumner said.
“We’ve had individuals that didn’t do their job or due diligence to their job, so we’re having to rebuild and the problem is it doesn’t seem as if Hendersonville the city is as willing to help us as we have been to the city in the past,” Young said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way.
“As I explained to the city manager, we not only gave when we came back but we gave when we were at war,” he continued. “And it doesn’t matter if you were handing out food to a soldiers or you were handing out bullets or you were shooting a bullet, you were still boots on the ground.”


City is willing to work with VFW

The VFW has offered the property to the city for $535,000, Young and Sumner said, but negotiations hit an impasse over the price and VFW’s demand for space at a city building to continue to operate.
“We’ve made a counter offer back to them but we have not heard back from them,” City Manager John Connet said Tuesday. “We are absolutely willing to talk to them about providing them with a space to meet. We could work with them to provide them a space. But they wanted some exclusive rights, which we could not give them.”
The city is open to a deal because it could combine the post property with the Edwards Park land to make room for a new Fire Station 1. At the same time as the VFW post sale is under consideration, the city is also negotiating with the Henderson County School Board to swap Berkeley Mills Park for Edwards Park.
City Council member Jeff Miller, who is also the cofounder of HonorAir, the national organization that has honored thousands of veterans with a flight to Washington, said he hopes the city can reach an agreement that helps save the Hedrick-Rhodes post but not at a price that fails to protect city taxpayers.
“We would love to (buy the property) but it’s kind of hit the wall right now,” he said. “The city is trying work with them, with one of our facilities to provide them a meeting place, a room to keep all their things they would need to have their meetings and to have a dance once a month, things like that.”
“When you go from owning your own building and doing anything you want to sharing a facility, there’s a lot of challenges you have to address,” he said. “You’re not going to get ownership. We’re more than willing to work with our veterans and try to help them with that. Some of the requests, almost demands, were what we felt was not doable, almost asking for ownership. We’re not going to do that. We definitely would love to help them with that and it would help us with the new fire house to make that all a part of it. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and understand everybody is not going to get exactly what they want.”


‘We have to ask for help’

Young, who lives in Spindale and works as a custodian for the Spartanburg County, South Carolina, school system, talks about the legacy of the post, which hosted the 14-state Southern Conference of the VFW in the late 1940s. He and Sumner, who’s working closely with him to save the post, both have sons in the military they hope would join the Hedrick-Rhodes post when they’re discharged.
“For us it’s about lineage,” he said. “When you sit down with a fellow veteran, you sit there and you talk about, say for example, digging that foxhole. Well, digging a foxhole in 1941 or 1942 is no different than digging one in 2020. It’s a shared bond that you share with guys that walk through that door or women that walk through that door that served in combat.”
Young said he knows that many veterans, new ones coming home now, shoulder a heavy burden, suffering from PTSD, and could use the fellowship of other veterans in order to heal.
“Some gave their lives, others give their lives but in a drawn-out matter,” he said. “It’s the old saying: Nobody comes back from war unwounded. So I guess the long and short of it is we are looking to survive for those that come after us. I think for once we’re to a point we have to ask for help.”