By: James Pruitt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
The annual bean dinner at the Fulton County Fair is in jeopardy because the men who run it are getting too old to remain in charge.
The dinner has been a staple of the fair for 25 years on the Saturday of Fair Week and serves as a fundraiser for the Fulton County United Veterans, an umbrella group for all other veteran groups in the county. The FCUV organizes and runs the dinner, but the progression of time is taking most of the volunteers out of the equation.
If some younger veterans don’t stand up and volunteer to chair the event, the dinner and the funds, will disappear.
“We are getting to the point where we are too old to do it,” Ken O’Neill said. “I am one of the youngest ones there and I am 71.
“The younger veterans don’t do anything and we can’t get them to sign up.”
The reasons are varied. Some are busy raising families and are focused on the concerns of home. Others are suffering by themselves from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
“What these guys got to realize is if they got PTSD and need help with it they should be contacting a veterans’ organization,” O’Neill said. “Because there you are dealing with people who have already been through it.”
O’Neill served in Vietnam from 1965-71. He was an MP for three years and then in special forces.
He is the second vice commander of the Catholic War Veterans, and a commander for the FCUV. Now he looking for younger vets to get involved.
“Recruitment is one of my responsibilities,” O’Neill said. “But it seems the young people are not interesting in joining veterans’ groups.”
Many younger veterans when thinking of the American Legion or VFW conjure up images of old men sitting in a bar drinking cheap beer. O’Neill said the clubs aren’t that way any longer.
The FCUV doesn’t have its own hall, instead meeting in the various halls of the Legion and VFW in the county. The mission now is helping veterans get the help they need and to provide a support network.
“If you are going to sit there and drink beer, you are going to end up in jail,” O’Neill said. “There are too many cops out there.”
The FCUV doesn’t collect dues and any member of an existing organization is automatically a member of the FCUV. The bean dinner is the main activity.
The dinner is free for veterans, with a raffle and 50/50 drawing raising most of the money. The meal is the lure to get people in the door.
O’Neill has been chairman of the dinner, but his body can’t take the punishment running the event mete outs. Last year he was throwing around bags of beans and gas cylinders just weeks after having back surgery. His back is just getting to the point where its feeling OK, he said.
There is an 87-year-old man who cooks the ham hocks and it is time for him to step aside as well, O’Neill said.
The lack of newer, younger members is affecting the existing Legion and VFW posts where some are close to shutting down, O’Neill said.
While the FCUV is looking for someone to run the event, the older members are still willing to help out and pass their knowledge to the next generation, O’Neill said. In two letters to the members of the veterans’ groups, O’Neill made pleas for someone or a group to step forward.
No one has to worry about being left on their own.
“We will have somebody working with you,” O’Neill said.
Time is short. If no one steps up by the June 23 meeting at the Wauseon VFW 7424, the dinner will be cancelled. The raffle will go on, but that will curtail attendance, O’Neill said.
“If we don’t get somebody we will be unable to do it,” O’Neill said.
For more information, contact your local veterans group.
James Pruitt may be reached at