With preparation underway for the retirement of thousands of flags in the rear parking lot of the D. Paulson Foster American Legion Post 82 in Carnegie on Oct. 6, at 10 a.m., officers gathered inside and noted just how clean the space now looks.
Starting Aug. 1, the first time since the legion opened its doors at the building nearly 60 years ago, there’s no smoking allowed inside. The foggy haze is gone.
Officers for the legion say it’s the first of about a dozen private clubs in Carnegie to go smoke free.
“We made a lot of people happy,” said Craig Doyle, 72, of Carnegie, a Navy and Army National Guard veteran, who serves as the legion’s historian. “The feedback’s been good.”
Smokers — that includes those vaping — now are invited to go to an outdoor porch if they want to light up.
“We’re not at all chasing smokers away,” Doyle said. “We’ve got a beautiful deck out there with tables and chairs, a big screen for the football game or soap opera, whatever they want to watch.”
There were several factors that led to the legion going non-smoking. Officers were aware of a bill in state committee which, if passed, would require all establishments to have a designated place for smokers. Also considered were complaints from nonsmokers and trying to preserve everyone’s health.
“You know, second hand smoke isn’t good for your health,” said John Kushner, 76, of Robinson, a Marine Corps veteran and finance officer at the legion.
“It probably sounds crazy, but I think we’re probably saving some people a little bit of health,” Doyle added.
The smoke inside the legion, which includes a bar to seat 30 on one side, space for meetings on the other and a pool table and wall of honor in a third area, was so thick it stayed in people’s clothes. Some went home and took a shower right away. Others said their wives refused to socialize at the legion because of the stench.
Angie Clay, 43, of Carnegie, an Army veteran, said often she could still smell the cigarette smoke in her hair the next morning after she spent time legion.
Members even wore “Legion coats” because they didn’t want to get the heavy smell of smoke on their good church clothes, she said.
“You smelled like an ashtray,” Kushner said.
Bill Gall, 72, of Carnegie, an Air Force veteran and sergeant commander at the legion, said officers “got disgusted” and wanted to make a change.
Going nonsmoking now, before Pennsylvania passes such a law, puts the Carnegie legion ahead of the game.
“Once that law is passed, it’s going to be everywhere,” said Commander Joe Iacono, 70, of Collier, a Marine Corps veteran. “We’re going to be a position where we’re already doing what is necessary.”
Between 25 and 35 percent of those at the legion smoke, officers estimated.
There was a small group that stopped frequenting when the switch was made, but nearly half have returned, officers said.
This isn’t the first change to the legion’s smoking rules. About 10 years ago, the post banned cigars.
“That was the same thing. We lost a couple of members, but it caught on. It was no big deal,” said Clay, who serves as adjutant for the legion.
With the latest switch, 20 new members have joined the legion. About half are veterans. That’s huge for the 100-year-old post, officers said, because that’s what they’re there for.
In all, there are about 500 members of the Carnegie legion.
“It’s about helping veterans,” Iacono said. “We do a number of charitable functions throughout the year.”
The legion works with veteran rehabilitation, children and the community, he said. It recently restored the WWI Memorial on Beechwood Avenue. A few weeks ago, they hosted veterans from the VA, where they gave them food, played bingo with them and handed each an American Legion hat.
They participate in the Memorial Day parade and host a Kids Christmas party. Events like that always were nonsmoking. That was never a problem, Clay said.
Many members frequent the legion, which has been at its’ Jane Street location since 1959 — its only closure being for eight years in the 1990s. They come to socialize and hang out with their “family.” It’s a place where everyone knows everyone.
“This is the best organization in town,” added Effie Mae Snyder, 72, who was in the Women’s Army Corps.
The community is invited to come to the flag retirement ceremony and participate.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributor.