story & photo
by Eva Bunnell
Walking into the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall (EVMH) at 3 Westbrook Road, Essex, you are immediately struck by the open, airy, and welcoming club environment. That’s intentional. Alex Breen, EVMH club President for the last four plus years, seems to have an instinct for understanding what brings good people together to do good things and have fun in the doing of it.
The handsome and well-cared-for interior of the club belies its age. It’s been in the former schoolhouse since it was first established right after World War II in 1946.
The walls are punctuated with military insignias and photos of those who have proudly served. These photos take visual precedent over a room that includes those more typical club appointments such as a bar, tables, and a pool table. It is clear, given the priority they take in the club’s rooms, the individuals in these photos, and the sacrifices they made for our country, are never forgotten.
Look over the club’s monthly newsletter and you see listed events, such as “Thirsty Thursdays” “Karaoke,” “Football Sunday” and fundraising raffles. Camaraderie, a true sense of belonging, supporting our veterans and community, being a part of something greater than ourselves, and plain old fun; In a nutshell, that’s what being a part of the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall successfully strives to provide to the members of its club. “We are a family organization,” explains Alex. Becoming that, was “one of our biggest wins,” he says with a broad smile.
While club membership is primarily for military veterans, it is also open to those who have someone in their family who has served, or is presently serving, in our Armed Forces. Of the club’s 178 members, 80% are military veterans. Still, Alex shares that anyone can come into the club and enjoy a drink at the bar or one of its scheduled events.
The club at EVMH is the only stand-alone veteran’s organization on the East Coast. Because the club operates according to its own established by-laws, Alex feels this allows the “freedom to serve and support veterans and the surrounding communities in a real-time manner.” Without getting caught up in the delays that seeking the permission of the traditional Veterans organizations may require, “We can turn requests for support around quickly.”
Utilizing a “whatever is needed” mentality, Alex explains the club’s charitable efforts are focused primarily on “keeping it local.”
“We are fortunate to have a close relationship with Essex government officials,” explains Alex. The club also works closely with social service agencies to identify those in need of assistance.
Support can take the form of the purchase of a wheelchair for a veteran, or educational grants to high school seniors. Other forms of support include providing meeting space-at no charge- to community organizations such as the Lions Club, the Rotary and other non-profits. EVMH has also proudly chartered and hosted Essex Boy Scout Troop 12 for more than 50 years.
Together with the Town of Essex, the club helps to organize and execute the Essex Memorial Day parade in May of each year.
As EVMH President, Alex clearly enjoys working with people and seems to have an instinct for how to keep members engaged in keeping the club relevant. His two Masters degrees, one in Organizational Behavior Management and the other in Unit Resource Management, only strengthen his foundation for believing in the empowerment of people. He explains, “Empowering club committee members to bring our mission to life is how I operate. No decision is made alone. If someone comes to me or the full board of directors with an idea, whether it be for fundraising, or an idea for a new club activity, I step out of the way, and simply provide support and encouragement. That’s how we get things done.”
Clearly, it’s working. The EVMH is busy enough to be open seven days a week. Monday through Friday the club opens at 2pm. Saturdays and Sundays have 11am openings. Breen hopes the club “maintains that success.” One has little doubt the club will ever have to close its doors. You will want to join and be a part of this great organization after one visit.
For anyone who wants to learn more about the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall, check out their page on Facebook (Essex Veterans Memorial Hall, Inc.) where information on how to apply for membership, the club activities schedule, and updates on donations are posted.