As their post marks its 100th anniversary next week, Yankton VFW members are committed to remaining strong while dealing with both the pandemic and an alleged $80,000 theft by their former treasurer.
As a show of that support, Ernest Bowyer VFW Post 791 members took up an impromptu collection of $8,000 at a meeting Monday night. The money will keep the post running for now, which Commander Bill Rueppel said provides the foundation for getting back on track.
“You’ve got to stay open to be open,” he told the Press & Dakotan, noting the May 14 re-opening coincides with the centennial of the post’s charter.
During Monday’s meeting, Rueppel informed members that the post has little money and has unpaid bills. The post’s former quartermaster (treasurer), Colin Reisner, has been charged with grand theft for allegedly taking $80,000 from the VFW post’s coffer over several years.
Rueppel said members responded to the financial news with expected emotions. “There was anger and there was disbelief, especially that it was one of our own (charged with the theft),” he said.
However, Rueppel didn’t expect what occurred next.
“We had 20 to 25 members there, and we got $8,000 in donations right there, off the floor,” he said. “We had members writing checks. One person gave ten $50 bills.”
In addition, the VFW has already received $1,000 in donations from outside sources even without launching a planned fundraising effort, he said.
Rueppel told the Press & Dakotan he’s overwhelmed at the dramatic turn of events.
“This (unexpected flood of donations) is such a relief,” he said. “It’s a victory to get the doors open again for the members and the public.”
The VFW members appreciate the backing from others and are committed to remain strong as they enter their next century of existence.
“We had a catastrophic loss of funds, but we’re addressing our finances and solidifying our plans for re-opening,” he said. “It’s something where we have complete confidence in the community. We already have people donating to us (upon hearing the news).”
The $8,000 made a quick re-opening possible, Rueppel said. “Now, we have the money to cover insurance. We’re fully insured for the both the building and liability,” he said.
The May 14 centennial re-opening holds special significance for the Yankton post, according to new Quartermaster Dan Klimisch.
“We’ve been helping our community for 100 years, and we’re now in a position where we could use the support from the community so we can go for another 100 years,” he said.
“I think it’s important to the community. Not a lot of organizations serve the community for 100 years, and that’s a good thing. I think it’s something for everyone to be proud of. I think of all the veterans who have served the organization and all the community functions that we have going on. I think of the great things we’ve done, and I want it to continue.”
During Monday’s meeting, Rueppel was joined by fellow leaders Klimisch, VFW Auxiliary President Cheryl Van Dyke and South Dakota VFW Commander Cody Mangold.
That night’s donations totally changed the dynamics, Rueppel said.
However, the work remains far from completed, he said. The post owes past bills and must restock its beer and liquor inventory. In addition, members need to clean up the post so it’s ready once again to host meetings, activities and the general public.
Rueppel doesn’t see much chance of restitution or recovery of the missing money. The post has launched an appeal for contributions.
The South Dakota VFW can’t provide direct financial assistance to the Yankton post, Mangold said. However, the state command can offer other types of support, he said.
VFW Post 791 officials learned of the current financial situation during a recent chain of events.
At meetings with First National Bank and First Dakota National Bank officials, Post 791 officials learned of the missing money from the account and that little remained in the treasury.
Rueppel contacted authorities April 14 about the situation, according to court records.
A Yankton police officer met with Reisner, who was quartermaster at the time and had held the position for five years.
During his conversation with the police officer, Reisner admitted he had taken $80,000 and spent it on video lottery, according to court records. He described how he took steps to cover the missing funds, receive money for his personal use and delay paying bills for the post.
“We found out that bills hadn’t gotten paid,” Rueppel said. “We’re past due with a lot of people.”
While one alleged theft involved $80,000, Reisner later told authorities the total amount was likely closer to $200,000 over the years, according to court records.
Reisner’s next court appearance is set for May 12 in Yankton County. He faces a charge of grand theft of $5,000-100,000. The Class 4 felony carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $30,000 fine.
For now, the VFW and Auxiliary leaders said they didn’t want to speak much about the ongoing court case. Instead, they wanted to focus on their commitment to keep their organizations running strong and their outreach to the community for donations and other support.
The VFW provides the honor guard at military funerals, Memorial Day service and Veterans Day programs, Klimisch said. The post also provides services such as patriotic talks to students, he added.
As for the VFW Auxiliary, Van Dyke noted the unit’s support for patriotic programs and activities. She supported efforts to keep Post 791 alive and active.
“We’ve got to move forward,” she said.
Klimisch likened the current appeal for assistance to the type of support that military provides for each other, regardless of branch.
“The VFW, and veterans in general, have always come together when adversity strikes to accomplish our goals under harsh circumstances,” he said.
Klimisch described the VFW post as a bond among generations.
“This post was started by World War I veterans and taken care of by World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans,” he said. “Now, a new group has the responsibility and it’s on our shoulders. I don’t want to let all those people down (from past wars).”
The most important thing now is to keep the post open and active, Rueppel said.
“This is all about taking baby steps,” he said.
Checks can be made out to VFW Post 791, and donations can be mailed to VFW Post 791, 209 Cedar Street, Yankton SD 57078.
For more information and updates, visit online for VFW Post 791.
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