CUYAHOGA FALLS: The VFW Ralph Huff Post 1062 is slowly rising from the ashes of a devastating fire that nearly destroyed the structure more than a year ago.
Residents are being invited to stop by after the city’s Memorial Day parade for a free cookout and open house at 1581 Main St.
The festivities start around 1 p.m. and end “when we run out of food or people stop coming,” said VFW member John Ostlund.
Ostlund, a contractor and former Navy Seal, said the mission right now is to complete the rebuilding work before the post’s 90th anniversary in August.
A big challenge has been money.
“The problem is, the place was underinsured when it caught fire,” he said.
Firefighters arrived within minutes after the discovery of smoke on Feb. 27, 2012.
The fire destroyed the rear section of the building, which originally was a 100-year-old mansion donated by the Huff family in honor of World War I doughboy Ralph Huff. Smoke damaged the front section of the post.
The post had $350,000 worth of insurance, but the cost to restore the building was more than $500,000.
Ostlund took over construction last May after other contractors turned down the work because of the financial shortfall.
“I took it on because I’m a veteran and a contractor,” he said. “I can’t let this institution expire.”
Ostlund found businesses to donate windows and siding. Contractors offered to donate time and materials.
Even the architect cut his fee to design the new addition, Ostlund said.
He headed the fundraising efforts and has helped to raise $100,000 in cash and materials.
The post still needs $170,000 to finish and restock the kitchen with appliances, pots and pans, and other items lost to the fire.
The kitchen is part of a 2,500-square-foot addition that includes a server station, a hall that seats 90, bathrooms and an office. The Canteen, in the front of the building, reopened in October.
Outside there will be a pavilion and a horseshoe pit, along with space that can be rented for parties or meetings.
On Memorial Day, visitors will be able to see the work that is done and what is still left to do.
Ostlund hopes the visitors will buy raffle tickets for a chance to win a 2012 Dodge Charger, donated by Don Sitts Auto Group.
Tickets can also be purchased at the Don Sitts Riverfront Cruise-In, held Mondays beginning at 5 p.m. at Falls River Square, or online with PayPal at www.vfwpost1062.com.
The winner will be chosen July 1 at the Riverfront Cruise-In.
“Our oldest member is 94 years old,” Ostlund said. “We still have members who fought in World War II. There’s no reason this place should be allowed to disappear from the face of the earth.”
Gina Mace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.