Reynolds VFW members vow to rebuild after fire destroys their post

Feb. 15—PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP — An early Thursday morning fire destroyed Reynolds VFW Post 7599 — but not the spirit of its members and surrounding communities.

When the alarm rang at 2:36 a.m., Pymatuning Township police arrived at the scene within two minutes, Phil McCloskey, Transfer Volunteer Fire Department chief, said.

"Less than a minute after that, the fire was going through the roof," McCloskey said.

It took 14 area fire companies three hours to control the blaze.

"We couldn't go inside the building, because it was too dangerous," he said. No injuries were reported.

McCloskey thanked all the fire departments involved and for Pymatuning Township employees for spreading salt on the roads and parking lot making easier travel for fire trucks.

As the sun rose, the building at 115 Edgewood Drive was clearly beyond repair.

"The building is definitely a total loss," McCloskey said.

Built in 1963, members guessed the structure was a little over 8,000 square feet. The State Police fire marshal office said the cause of the blaze is undetermined as the roof caved in, cutting off access to much of the building and preventing inspection.

The destruction of the building was bad enough — worse to members was the ravaging fire decimated irreplaceable keepsakes.

Members' military records, overseas war campaign memorabilia, plaques honoring past commanders and deceased members were among the lost items listed by Johnny Chapman, the post's quartermaster.

"We had a huge flag that was crocheted by our auxiliary that hung on a wall," Chapman, a Navy veteran said.

Roughly 400 of the post's members are veterans, with the rest social members.

Marc Plotner stared in disbelief at the still-smoldering building mid-Thursday morning from the post's parking lot.

"It's horrible," Plotner repeated over and over.

This post has strong family ties with generational members.

"I'm a life member," Plotner said. "My father and grandfather were past commanders here."

Members didn't have to talk about their countless donations given to communities, schools and organizations over the years. Others did it for them.

"You can't imagine what this organization means to this community," McCloskey said. "They've given to everybody."

The post was a popular local center for dancing, eating, celebrating holidays, birthdays, weddings or just to hang out.

After working at the post for four years, Stephanie Brenneman was named manager in September to oversee its restaurant. A dozen or so work in the restaurant.

The restaurant was heading into a busy period, with the arrival of fish fry season.

"We do so much business during Lent, especially on Friday nights," Brenneman said.

Over a dozen members were adamant that the club will continue operating and rebuild.

"It's a great loss," John Whitman, the posts' commander said, "but we'll persevere." Whitman was a 1st sergeant with 24 years in the Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Although the building is insured, there's no way the post will be made whole from the loss, he said.

The post owns a smaller, detached, enclosed structure, the Mickey McKnight Pavilion, next door to the destroyed main building. By 10 a.m. Thursday, post members already began building a new bar in what is likely to be their long-term temporary home.

Whitman said they're determined to hold a live band event as scheduled on Saturday.

"We're getting donations from all over," he said. "We have an ice maker coming, a cooler and so many other things."

Still, the post needs help. Officials plan to launch an online donation site on the post's Facebook page or a drive.

"Reynolds School District is donating paper products and is creating etched glassware for us," Whitman said. " Erme's Distributing in Hermitage is donating 40 cases of beer."

With two stoves and ovens in the pavilion, Brenneman said donations of foods that are simple to cook, such as hamburgers, are needed. Liquor and soft drinks also were on her list, and outdoor heaters would be appreciated.

Military training imbued many members with the resolve necessary to tackle this type of situation.

"You adapt and overcome," Whitman said. "That's what you say in the military."

That's not the only lesson the military taught.

"The club isn't the building — it's the members," Chapman said. "We'll come out of this stronger."