Franklin VFW one of the last to ban smoking in the state in hopes of attracting young members 

  • New Franklin V.F.W. Commander Bill North hopes that with some renovations to the building and the no smoking policy will bring new members into the organization. North started on June 1st and has plans to revitalize the veterans welcoming place. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Franklin VFW Commander Bill North hopes that with some renovations to the building and the no smoking policy will bring new members into the organization. North started on June 1 and has plans to revitalize the veterans welcoming place. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Former VFW Post Commander Ernie Tucker visits the Franklin organization on Thursday evening. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Former V.F.W. Post Commander Ernie Tucker visits the organization Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New Franklin V.F.W. Commander Bill North hopes to take advantage of the building's modern kitchen and bring new members into the organization. North started on June 1st and has plans to revitalize the veterans welcoming place. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/12/2019 4:19:47 PM
Modified: 7/12/2019 4:19:34 PM

Ashtrays used to line the long wooden tables inside the doors of the Franklin VFW. The smell of smoke lingered in the air, long after the last patrons had left for the day. It clung to the walls and stained the ceiling tiles.

“It’s a lot cleaner now,” said Post 1698’s new commander, Bill North, walking through the building on Thursday. “You can actually breathe in here.”

North, a 51-year-old Army veteran from Northfield, officially took over the post last month. One of his first initiatives as leader was to put smoking indoors up to a vote with VFW members – who voted to ban the practice, effective July 1.

Smoking bans have become more common at VFW’s in New Hampshire in the last few years, as VFWs try to appeal to younger members. Concord banned smoking inside a few years ago, as well as Laconia, where North was commander from 2014 to 2017. Franklin was one of the only VFWs left in the state to allow it, North said.

“The perception with the younger generation is that this is a place to smoke and drink and we really want to move away from that,” he said. “We want this to be a place where everyone feels comfortable and at home.”

The Granite State banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2007, but exempted “buildings owned and operated by social, fraternal, or religious organizations when used by the membership of the organization, their guests or families,” among other locations. And although they are legally allowed to have smoking in the building, most VFWs and Elks Lodges in the state have voluntarily opted to discontinue the practice.

Many have encouraged patrons to smoke outside, or have built ventilated smoking rooms for people to smoke in. Franklin is in the process of building one now, North said.

North said it was an important step in the future of Franklin’s VFW, specifically. Post 1698 was suspended last year after the state’s VFW office said they had violated several of the organization’s bylaws. State officials refused to say exactly what bylaws were violated, just that they had missed several deadlines for filing reports and submitting fees. Officials also said the VFW was prioritizing the drinking and smoking culture over community service.

The Franklin VFW is one of a quarter of the 44 VFWs in New Hampshire to still have a canteen in its club. But it’s becoming a smaller part of the organization, North said. What will keep the VFW alive will be making the organization more about events, community and fundraising, he said. He wants to bring in more dinner events, Zumba and yoga classes. There’s a veterans motorcycle group that is planning to meet at the post in September, he said.

He’s hoping he’ll be able to collaborate with that group, and is continuing to work closely with the post’s auxiliary to connect with the community.

He said other members want that, too. The vote to eliminate smoking was a lot smoother than North expected: The members at the meeting agreed to eliminate it with more than a two-thirds majority.

“We had the meeting, and I let everybody stand up and say their piece. I was surprised, I was thinking they’d all argue about it,” he said. “But the vote wasn’t even close.”

“A lot of the older members even talked about coming back. They said they had stopped coming after they quit smoking and didn’t come in here anymore because of the smoke,” he added.

North said it will be important for the post to keep its current membership numbers and try to grow by reaching out to younger people. He said the average age of members at the Franklin VFW is probably around 70 now. Nineteen members of the Franklin VFW died just last year, North said.

He said what’s most important to preserve over time for members is the common thread that ties them together.

“The main reasons our members come here is just to talk about what they went through, the war and service,” he said. “Because you obviously don’t talk to everyone about that, so it’s nice to have that environment where you feel safe and supported.”

He said he’s trying to make the organization as inclusive as possible to suit all member’s needs.

“I don’t want to dredge up the past. I just want to move forward with a new era, a new time, a new outlook on the post,” he said. “I want to do the right thing.”

On Thursday, former commander and Vietnam veteran Ernie Tucker, who was in charge when the post temporarily closed last year, said he thinks the post is headed in the right direction.

“We’re coming back,” Tucker, 71, said. “One thing I’d like to see is younger people coming in and helping out, making it stronger than it was.”




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