By: Steve B. Brooks
It wasn’t too long ago that the downstairs members’ area of Holbrook Post 114 in Massachusetts had standing water. The area wasn’t good for “anything but storage,” Post 114 Senior Vice Commander Paul Anastasio said. As a result, the post wasn’t very active. Membership was at 100 percent, but little else was being done at the post.
Anastasio and other members decided to reverse that trend. A renovation effort has turned what was once a large upstairs function room to a classy dining area, complete with flat-screen TVs, a Touch Tunes juke box and patriotic decorations. A beautiful canvas print of Michael R. Kennedy, a post member and Boston firefighter killed in the line of duty in 2014, hangs on one wall, just above the post’s POW-MIA table.
The front room of the post was renovated to become a smaller function area that now is rented out by community members for birthday parties and other celebrations/events. The post itself was made handicap-accessible for the first time.
The post restaurant serves a variety of appetizers, pizzas and sandwiches, along with swankier items like steak tips and Key West orange chicken. The post hosts trivia nights on Tuesdays, bike and car nights on Wednesdays and live entertainment on Fridays.
“This post has really come back in the past year,” said Past National Commander Jake Comer, a member of the Department of Massachusetts in nearby Quincy. “It had been a great, great post, and then it sort of just died. These guys have done a fantastic job of turning things around.”
John Kearney, who has served as post commander multiple times, said things had gotten pretty bad for Post 114. “We had a declining membership because people get passing away,” he said. “We had a water problem downstairs, and the function hall wasn’t bringing in the money.”
Kearney led a fundraising effort to help with much-needed renovations. “We didn’t get the money we were looking for, but it worked in another way by attracting Paul and all these other guys that heard the SOS and joined the cause. That’s what saved the place.”
Post Commander Matt Nelson, a 34-year-old Boston firefighter and Marine Corps veteran, is a childhood friend of Anastasio. Young said the renovation was a collaborative effort in every sense of the word. Members donated “a lot of money, a lot of time,” he said. “People are down for the cause – especially veterans. They just have an endless supply of patriotism. They fought tooth and nail to get this done. “
The post also benefited from some skilled veterans in its ranks. “A lot of members are in trade unions,” Anastasio said. “We called just about every favor that was ever owed.”
The post also got a lot of help from the American Infidels a combat veteran motorcycle club that supports both the military and veterans. The group provided a lot of labor to help finish the project. Without them, Nelson said, “it would not have happened at all.”
The post debuted the new look the night before last Thanksgiving. Those who showed up then, and those who have visited Post 114 since, are shocked. “Everyone who comes here (for the first time) since the place opened is amazed,” Junior Vice Commander Andy Best said. “They can’t believe it’s the same place.”
Legionnaires outside of the post have noticed the difference. “It was the first post in my district to hit 100 percent (membership), and now they’re up over 120, 130 percent,” District 6 Commander Fred White said. “Whenever someone comes here (to the restaurant), the hostess always asks if they’re a veteran. She tries to sign them up. They’re really pushing membership.”
White praised Post 114’s younger membership for saving the post. Anastasio, 37, said part of the reason for the renovation was to attract additional younger veterans. “That was part of the marketing plan,” Anastasio said. “We had to make it appealing to get the next generations of veterans in here.”
But the changes haven’t just been cosmetic. The post had been hosting Halloween and Christmas parties, but now it also has a kids’ night once a month that features karaoke. The post also sponsors two American Legion Baseball teams – one a regular team and the other a junior team – and sponsored three participants in the Massachusetts State Police Junior Trooper Program. And the post also hosts a PTSD clinic once a month.
And in January, Post 114 member Bill Farrell started a comedy night that takes place on Saturday each month. The audience regularly tops 100 people; in late May, the lineup included regional acts Harrison Stebbins, Jody Sloan and Jim Bowes.
“I knew that Paul and the guys here had been working on getting this open and bringing the post back to life,” said Farrell, who served in the Marines and now does stand-up comedy and promotions. “What’s better than laughter? There’s healing in laughter. A lot of younger vets are now coming back and having issues. If you can come for a night and laugh … you can feel a sense of relief.”
Nelson said that work remains to be done on the post, but the future looks bright. “There are a lot of functions going on (at the post),” he said. “There are different organizations that are using it as a meeting place. If we can get some steam behind it, I think it could really be the heartbeat of that area – not just the town, but the South Shore in general.”
For Kearney, the sense of pride he feels in seeing Post 114’s transformation is nearly matched by a sense of relief. “It’s an absolute miracle,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to get done. It was sort of a ‘Hail Mary’ pass. The thing I did not want to be was the commander that closed the place.”