Updated: Nov 11, 2021
By Jamie Wiggan
About 12 years ago, the American Legion Post 618 in Stowe seemed to be on the brink of permanent closure.
Membership had dwindled, the building was getting shabby and the inventory was exhausted when Joe Bopp took over as legion commander around 2009.
“We didn’t even have any toilet paper,” he said.
With help from family and other volunteers, Bopp put forward a significant personal investment to renovate the interior and replenish the stocks. Then he tapped into his local networks to bring in new recruits.
The hard work paid off. Every year since then – barring 2020 when COVID-19 was in full swing – the organization has fed hundreds of people with hearty Thanksgiving dinners, raised thousands of dollars for Toys for Tots and other charities and has supported local youth organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and the Sto-Rox Little Vikings.
This vital community service looked like it was once again in jeopardy, though, after a leaky roof gradually worsened into a $40,000 repair job that couldn’t be put on hold.
Bopp said there was no way the small organization could raise that kind of money, so the officers put out a plea to their elected representatives.
“The community definitely needs this place, I’d hate to see it close,” he said. “We were determined to bring it back.”
Fortunately, State Rep. Anita Kulik (D-45) was able to secure a grant to front the total project cost. And once that work was completed in late 2020, Bopp once again rallied volunteers to touch up the paint inside and found support from local business owner Jimmy Lind who donated a new floor to finish off the new look.
“It looked like we were gonna shut down,” said Joe Mixter, junior adjudant. “If [Anita Kulik] wouldn’t have come through with the roof, we wouldn’t have been doing Thanksgiving dinners, Toys for Tots – we wouldn’t have been doing anything.”
Freshly renovated and with coronavirus restrictions lifted, the club has once again been bustling with activity.
Bopp – an avid darts player – has since early 2021 hosted weekly darts tournaments that he says regularly draw in contestants from as far away as West Virginia.
The winnings are split with a rotation of local charities.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, volunteers at the legion are preparing to cook as many as 20 turkeys to feed families in need.
As well as hosting a “Thanksgiving Feast” inside the post, officers and volunteers expect to deliver up to 150 to senior citizens around the community.
A few days later, they’ll be hosting a silent auction as part of their annual Toys for Tots drive that ensures low-income parents can surprise their children with holiday gifts.
“That whole week is brutal for me, but it’s part of what we do for the community,” said Bopp.
Photo by Lynne Deliman
McKees Rocks veterans prepare for a Veterans’ Advocacy Day event scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, at 1242 Chartiers Ave. Pictured from left to right are American Legion Post 618 Commander Joe Bopp, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Vesle Post 418 members John Ferguson, Rich Dercic, Ed Beliunas, Ed Carter III, Larry Joint and Bill Dawkin. In front is Huckelberry the service dog.
VFW and American Legion join
up for veterans advocacy day
Local VFW and American Legion officers are joining forces to lift up veterans across the McKees Rocks and Stowe communities in a planned veterans advocacy day Nov. 21
Attendees will receive a free meal and raffle tickets, and will have the opportunity to learn about available services and programming from a slate of veteran leaders.
“We’re excited to be doing this,” said Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran Ed Carter III.
“Our VFW post and our membership here are dedicated to helping our fellow veterans...Many veterans are eligible for things like healthcare and educational benefits that they may not be aware of. The advocacy day will provide an opportunity to give them some insight about what is available.”
Co-hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Vesle Post 418 American Legion Post 618 in Stowe, the event will take place at the VFW headquarters at 1242 Chartiers and will run from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. For more information about VFW Post 418 and to RSVP, contact Carter at: 412-771-7034.