The scene at Ventnor's VFW Post 3361 after the Hurricane Sandy floodwaters receded made Senior Vice Commander Bob McNulty sick to his stomach.
Mud and debris had settled in piles throughout the facility. Appliances were upended and lying on their sides. Water had soaked the walls and shorted electric wiring 30 inches high.
The damages were estimated at $63,000, far exceeding the group's savings. At the time, a return to normalcy seemed almost impossible, but now, after more than 2,000 hours of labor by a handful of volunteers, Post 3361 is back.
Surveying the renovated facility in early May, McNulty said he could hardly believe how far they had come.
"It feels good," McNulty said. "That's putting it mildly."
On May 18, the post will celebrate its grand reopening with a ceremony at 11 a.m. featuring special guest Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and performances by Ventnor Elementary School and Michelle Dawn Mooney.
Following the ceremony, a roast pork fundraiser and open house will last until 4 p.m. Plates are $10, and takeout will be available.
The Post 3361 the public will see May 18 is a far cry from what it was. After a month of deliberating whether to cut their losses and sell the property, the volunteers set to work in December.
They removed the wall panels and set them aside to dry in the hopes of saving them. They gutted the walls and replaced wallboard and insulation. They repaired or replaced damaged appliances and wired the facility with underground feeder cable made to withstand submersion. All the while, the group kept up its monthly meetings.
The bulk of these and other renovations were done by McNulty and Quartermaster Roger Emmick, who spent almost every day for four months getting the post back into running order. Fellow Post 3361 member Tony Tibbrine also was generous with time and money.
Post 3361 also received help from outside its ranks. Atlantic City Post 215 Commander John Pettit pitched in, and Brigantine Post 6964 member and Atlantic City firefighter Brian Wiener rounded up some friends from the station to help.
Donations poured in from the local community and as far away as Michigan and Virginia. VFW post 6364, of Richmond, Va., donated about $3,000 to the cause.
Commander Mike Dunham, whose Richmond post has a steady income and a strong membership of about 350 counting its Ladies Auxiliary, said they were happy to share the wealth.
"We've been hit by hurricanes ourselves and have been lucky and not had any real damage," Dunham said. "We're sitting here going, 'These guys could really use our help.'"
All told, the renovations have cost the post about $20,000, much of that paid for through a $5,000 grant from Home Depot and the rest from community donations.
Without the generosity of the community and the support of volunteers, Emmick said, the post would not be where it is today.
"It's the only reason we're going to be open," Emmick said. "If we hadn't had those, we would not have been able to open."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Ventnor VFW Post 3361 Grand re-opening
When: 11 a.m. May 18
Where: Ventnor VFW Post 3361, 601 N. Dorset Ave.
How much: $10 for roast pork dinner.
More info: Contact Quartermaster Roger Emmick at 609-703-1975.