Last call at Amherst’s VFW Post 754 as once-thriving bar closes 

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  • Bob Zakaitis Sr. of Amherst recalls the 1990s as the heyday of the Earl J. Sanders VFW Post 754 in Amherst on the bar’s last night of operation Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 754 is named for Earl J. Sanders, who died in the WWI Battle of the Argonne Forest on Sept. 19, 1918. According to the article, Sanders was born in Holyoke, moved to Amherst at age 15 and joined the U.S. Army in February 1918 at the age of 24. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A Table of Honor honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action is set downstairs Friday at the Earl J. Sanders VFW Post 754. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bob Zakaitis Sr., left, of Amherst hands a thank you card from the bar’s regulars to Kevin Dyba, quartermaster of the Earl J. Sanders VFW Post 754 in Amherst, on Friday, the bar’s last night of operation. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 754 is named for Earl J. Sanders, who died in the Battle of the Argonne Forest on Sept. 19, 1918. This photo is included in a framed biography on the wall of the VFW that notes Sanders was born in Holyoke, moved to Amherst at age 15 and joined the U.S. Army in February 1918 at the age of 24. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The original May 26, 1921 charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Post 754 in Amherst, named for WWI soldier Earl J. Sanders.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/29/2020 8:16:52 AM

AMHERST — During the height of its popularity more than 30 years ago, a Friday at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 754 would be filled with workers at lunchtime enjoying fish and chips, families in the evening partaking in a similar meal and any number of adults enjoying drinks at the bar.

But on the last day of regular bar service at the Main Street institution on Friday afternoon, just a handful of regulars engaged in conversation over pints of beer, reminiscing about the heyday of the VFW.

“This breaks my heart today,” said Brenda Anderson, an Amherst native and Belchertown resident. “It’s really a shame to lose something like this. Men lived and died for these sorts of places.”

Anderson was joined by several other “townies,” as they call themselves, including Bob Zakaitis, a lifelong Amherst resident and retired Department of Public Works employee.

“We meet every day, God willing,” Zakaitis said.

As a licensed club, the VFW has been able to preserve traditions that other bars can’t, such as allowing clientele to smoke.

Kevin Dyba, the quartermaster for the VFW who was pouring drinks, said the demise of the bar was inevitable as there has been a steep decline in members and friends of members dropping by.  “The bar just isn’t thriving like it used to,” Dyba said.

Although circumstances had been grim before, the VFW had managed to keep the bar intact, most recently since August by having bartenders work on a volunteer basis. But the post simply could no longer scrape together enough money keep up with expenses, Dyba said​​​​​, particularly insurance.

The building was constructed in the early 1960s, mainly by veterans of World War II. The lower level features the bar, a pool table and numerous tables for diners, while the upper level is an open banquet hall that generations of residents have rented for events such as wedding and funeral receptions.

One of those who recalls the building being constructed is Donald Crutch, who as a teenager worked alongside veterans who had become builders, plumbers and electricians.

“It’s kind of a shame to see it go,” Crutch said. “It was quite an establishment in the day, but the bar scene is much different than what it was 40 years ago.”

The Amherst VFW chapter was established May 26, 1921 by veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I. It was named after Earl J. Sanders, a U.S. Army private and Amherst resident who died in 1918 fighting on the German lines.

Since the 1960s, the VFW has sponsored numerous youth and adult sports teams, evidenced by the trophies and plaques that still fill the building, and had a pitch league, a bowling league and a billiards league, as well.

“My fondest memory will be what they did for the youth of Amherst,” Crutch said.

The longtime patrons credit past commander Elliott Thornton, and his wife, Mary, for making the site so popular. Mary Thornton would cook many of the meals in the kitchen. That kitchen was shuttered within the past few years, forcing patrons to order out.

It’s uncertain where the longtime customers will go to socialize. Though the American Legion on Amity Street is one option, parking is more difficult there, Dyba said. Many had also been fond of Rafter’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, but that has closed.

Dyba said no decisions have been made by the VFW on the future of the building, which is assessed for $833,800 by the town.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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