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Community rallies to rebuild Westover VFW Post 9916

WESTOVER — “It was one hell of a mess.” 

Wilbur England offers the line with the understated delivery of a man who’s been to war. 

He’s standing near the bar on the ground floor of the Westover VFW Post 9916 building sharing pictures on his phone — pictures of the same room 15 months in the past.  

It was Dec. 26, 2022, when Desert Storm Veteran and club member Jason Morgan found the front of the 15,725 square-foot, two-story building encased in ice. 

He was on patrol as a deputy with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department. 

“I couldn’t get the door open. It was frozen solid. There was a foot of ice on the front of this door. We actually ended up having to get a floor jack and jack the metal back up so the door would open. So, we had to get in back here,” Morgan said, gesturing to a secondary entrance.    

“Me and another deputy had to force that door open. I thought somebody had stacked chairs in front of it. No. It was water. There was six inches of standing water. As soon as we got that door cracked open, the water just poured out.”  

The pipes in the 52-year-old building had suffered the same fate as many pipes across the region during the Christmas 2022 deep freeze. 

The building had been empty over Christmas. Water ran into its ground floor for days, freezing where it met the outside air. 

The weight of the ice ripped off much of the building’s front facade. Old ceiling tiles absorbed their fill and dropped, exploding on the bar, pool tables, electronics, paperwork, mementos and memorabilia below. 

“I thought, well, now at least we can get the insurance and completely fix this place up and make it really nice again,” Morgan said. 

About that. 

“What had happened, the previous commander had canceled the insurance we had down the street here and was in the process of getting other insurance. So, it ended up there was a period of six or seven days where we were without insurance. Well, guess what,” England explained. 

Like the man said, a hell of a mess. 

The club’s accounts were drained in the immediate aftermath in an effort to stabilize the situation. 

The commander suggested closing the doors and eventually stepped away. 

“There were times when we just wanted to give up,” Morgan said. 

“The insurance issue killed us. It killed us,” England added. “I would sit here and wonder where in the world we’d even get the money to pay the utilities.”  

Then word got out to the community. 

“I’ll tell you there were checks that started coming in from everybody and it kept us going,” England said.  

By June 2023, England had been elected Post 9916 Commander and the comeback was in progress. 

It wasn’t a war, but it was going to take an army. 

BJ Trickett, owner of Precision One Builders, was among the first to enlist. 

The son of a Gulf War veteran, Trickett started showing up after hours and working well into the evening for no charge. When he could, he brought his crew, and the club would scrape up enough money to pay his guys for the day. 

It’s estimated that the amount of donated time and material, coupled with funds provided by club members, exceeds $100,000. 

“The people. They’re good people,” Trickett said when asked why he took on the project. “When it happened, they had no insurance and no other place to turn, so we got to work.” 

To try to list every business and organization that stepped forward to help the VFW would be a disservice. 

England says area banks and funeral homes were among the first to help, along with a list of law enforcement and veterans’ groups. 

Large regional and national chains donated materials. 

Morgan said Duane and Dawn Tatar with WV Jewelry & Loan essentially opened their shop to the effort.   

“Duane was down here that night and actually got the water shut off in the building for us,” he said, “If they get something in the pawn shop they think we can use, they say ‘just take it.’” 

The city of Westover and the town of Granville both contributed to the effort financially.

Progress on the building advanced slowly through 2023. All the while, the VFW kept showing up to provide services at veteran funerals and act as an honor guard for local events. 

The club never closed its second-floor space for the local organizations that count on the building as a place to meet and hold special events. 

“It’s really a neat story to me that the community came in to help,” 30-year Air Force Veteran Tom Yanni said. “I think the reason is people realize the things we do for the community. The funeral coverage, for instance, these are things that mean a lot to people.” 

Between the support of the community and the care, time and expertise provided by veteran members like Yanni, Morgan, Wilbur and John England and others, the building’s first floor reopened on Feb. 9. 

A toast was in order. 

“It’s been a long road, let’s put it that way,” England said. “There’s still some work to do, but to see the place now, you’d never know the state it was in. And I’ll tell you what, most of it is because of the people of this community. It’s been a total team effort.”