Cuyahoga Falls -- As reconstruction work continues at Veterans of Foreign Wars Ralph Huff Post 1062 after the building was damaged by fire in February, members of the veterans' group are planning a benefit dinner in March to pay for it.

A fire at the Main Street building on Feb. 27 caused approximately $380,000 in damage to the building and its contents. The blaze was ruled an accident, according to Falls Fire Chief Paul Moledor.

Construction manager John Ostlund said he and architect John Toomey spent four months developing the plans for the VFW's building and remodeling project. The new addition includes a commercial kitchen, basement offices, handicapped bathroom, waitress station and a dining hall with a seating capacity of 90.

"With [the existing canteen's capacity] at 98 and this at 90, this will hold just about 200 people when it's all said and done, which is really awesome," Ostlund said. Those in the new section will have access to the old section for crowd overflow and bathroom use, he added.

When it's completed, the new hall will be available for rent to the general public, Ostlund said.

Located at 1581 Main St., VFW Post 1062 hired Ostlund's company, Ostlund Construction Inc., to complete the work. A former Navy SEAL, he said he looks at the project as a mission. "We took a three-phase approach," he said. "Phase one was to stop the bleeding and get this place put back together so members could come back here." The post's canteen reopened on Oct. 18, he said. While phase one was under way, phase two, demolition of the original section of the facility, began on Sept. 25. Phase three is construction of the addition.

Ostlund said he knew the insurance money was not going to be enough, so the post needs to raise $180,000 to pay for construction as well as kitchen equipment, a condenser unit for the walk-in cooler and new security system. "So far, we've raised about $30,000 in donated materials and labor from my subcontractors and suppliers -- local businesses that said, 'Whatever you need, John, we'll help you.'"

The city's mayor, police chief and fire chief have pledged their support, Ostlund said. The city, police and fire rosters are full of veterans, he said. "It's important to understand that because this project is underfunded, it will take a whole, solid year of fundraising based on the support of the community," he said. Ostlund said the post plans to reach out to its approximately 600 members for support through newsletters and mailings. Of the total membership, about 120 are active members, Ostlund said.

"We want the community to know we are here, we are working hard, but we can't do it alone," he said.

"If it wasn't for John, we probably wouldn't be building back here," said the post's quartermaster, Ronald Moore. "He was the only contractor willing to take on the project. We had $350,000, and everybody else wanted $550,000. He said he would try to do it for less, and he's working to get donations."

The benefit -- which will consist of a dinner, reverse raffle, silent auction and car raffle -- will take place at 6 p.m. March 8 at Todaro's Party Center, 1820 Akron Peninsula Road, Akron. Big board tickets are $100 and include the meal, beer and wine, and one chance in the reverse raffle. Dinner-only tickets are $25 and include the meal, beer and wine. Tickets will go on sale the first week of January.

Attendees can bid on gift baskets donated by local businesses and organizations during the silent auction. The car that will be raffled off is being donated. A total of 1,200 tickets will be sold for $20 each.

For more information on the project or the benefit, call the VFW at 330-929-9494.


phone number: 330-541-9420