Legion sells post hall but won’t fade away


Bid farewell to a fixture in the Harrison firmament: American Legion Post 282 is shuttered – a casualty of dwindling membership and income.

The two-story post hall, which dates from 1941, will soon fade from memory, likely soon to be replaced by a parking lot.

Sitting on a 36- by100-foot lot at 10-12 Patterson St., adjacent to Washington Middle School, the property was acquired last week by the Harrison Board of Education for $225,000, according to BOE attorney Michael Pichowicz.

Pichowicz said that the board will probably tear down the building and expand an existing staff parking lot onto the site. Overnight, he added, it could be used by residents as overnight parking.

Or, said BOE personnel director James Doran, the board may opt to develop the lot as play space for school children, “depending on our needs.”

Meanwhile, the American Legion may be down – or coming down – but it’s definitely not out, stressed the current post commander, Bob Gerris, who served as an Army Spec. 4 during the Vietnam era from 1974 to 1977.

“We intend to still hold onto our charter and function,” Gerris said, by continuing to conduct monthly membership meetings and by participating in annual events like the Memorial Day parade, Veterans Day and Flag Day ceremonies.

In fact, one of the post’s members – Korean War Army veteran (1950-1952) Ed Marshman Sr. – referred to as its “commander-emeritus” – was honored as this past weekend’s Harrison Fest as the Veteran of the Year. His son, Ed Marshman Jr., who served as an Air Force Sgt. E-4 from 1973 to 1977, is the post finance officer.

“We’re not going anywhere,” was the way Gerris put it. “We’re just disposing of our property.”

The Harrison/East Newark Elks has offered the use of its lodge on Harrison Ave. for meetings, said Gerris, adding that the Elks “have always been strong supporters of the Harrison Veterans Association.” Additionally, he said, the Kearny American Legion and VFW have also extended an invitation to use their facilities on an as needed basis.

“A merger with the Frobisher American Legion Post in Kearny was an option we looked at,” Gerris said. Under Legion rules, “three quarters of the active membership is required to put through a merger proposal,” he said. One of the factors weighing against going that route, he said, was another rule that requires a post to turn over its assets to the host in a merger.

With the funds from the sale of the building, coupled with the savings from no longer being saddled with costs for building maintenance and a club license, “we figure we can still operate at least over the next few years,” Gerris said. The post Auxiliary also plans to continue its activities, he said.

“Declining membership,” aggravated by the fact that “fewer people are serving in the military,” were the primary reasons triggering the decision to sell the post building, he added.

Artifacts like the post charter, flags, plaques, photos and “shadow boxes” containing military ribbons are being sorted through for eventual relocation to repositories such as the Harrison Town Museum at the Public Library, Gerris said.

A post history lists John Flynn as its first commander and, in the first formal election held in 1939, Michael Bruder took over as commander, joined by John McGuigan and Arthur Cassidy as senior and junior vice commander, respectively; John Blue as financial officer, Albert Rentschier as chaplain, Joseph Dowd as historian, George Tintle as judge advocate, John Carney as sergeant-at-arms and Peter Boyle as assistant sergeant-at-arms. All were WWI veterans.

The membership acquired the land for its present-day building in early 1941, purchasing the property from the estate of Peter Hauck, who owned the former brewery, part of which stood on the site.

The post experienced its biggest growth in the late ‘60s, when it claimed around 170 members, according to Marshman Sr. and post adjutant Ted Clancy, who served in the Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm as a Master Gunnery Sgt. and in the Reserves, 1977 to 2001, and ultimately it embraced veterans of later conflicts including the Kosovo War in the late ‘90s where past commander Kevin Kochell fought.

Today, of the 54 veterans remaining on its rolls, the post’s oldest living member, according to Gerris, is Leon “Moe” Niedzinski, a WWII veteran now in his 90s.

The post, which has been a traditional sponsor of annual Police Officer and Firefighter of the Year awards, was known particularly during post-WWII years as a repeat state champion in annual Legion-sponsored post band competitions.

Perhaps the biggest event the post will be remembered for is the annual Fourth of July picnic which, Marshman Sr. recalled, drew close to 300 attendees.

Now it will be up to those faithful fifty-plus members to set the course for the future of the post.

Learn more about the writer ...