Michael Henderson with the Kelowna Naval Veterans Association carries a white cross at he 2017 Remembrance Day ceremonies in Peachland. (Image: Carmen Weld/Black Press)

Kelowna veteran’s association struggles with dwindling membership

Like many veteran’s associations, the aging population leaves the Kelowna Naval Veterans Association desperate for new members.

This Nov. 11 will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War; 100 years since tens of thousands of Canadians died on the battlefield.

It also marks another remembrance day where the onlookers and supporters far outnumber the veterans in attendance. Each and every year we lose more veterans to age and each and every year the organizations that support them lose numbers. They lose members, support and hope.

The plight of many veteran’s organizations and legions is being felt more than ever before as their membership numbers dwindle.

Once such organization is the Kelowna Naval Veterans Association. Once boasting more than 160 members, their numbers have dwindled to just 37, and they’re now desperate for fresh blood to carry on the legacy.

Once full of Second World War veterans, the group has a handful still alive from the world wars.

Former president and director for national for the Kelowna Naval Vets Association, Michael Henderson, says their group ranges in age from 30 to 94, but getting new bodies in the door is an ongoing struggle.

“We have a really hard time recruiting younger members. We have a lot of people asking questions, but we cannot get them out,” said Henderson.

“They’ve just served perhaps and they need time off from the forces. Legions, the army and navy club we are all struggling.”

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Related: Kelowna veterans’ affairs office to re-open in November

He says the veterans association provides them a safe space, camaraderie and lifelong friendships.

“This is all about fellowship. We tell lies and stories and we talk about what we’ve all done, where we served. The fellowship and talking about the navy,” said Henderson. “We are all good friends, we help each other.”

He believes some of the new Canadian veterans are not joining these organizations when they are younger as they often need a break from service.

“They’ve served, they need time,” said Henderson. “Just like me. I didn’t do anything for 30 years after I got out. Once you’re in it, you don’t want anything to do with it for awhile. Then they come back later on, like I did.”

To ensure longevity, the Kelowna Naval Veterans Association is welcoming anyone with a grandparent/parent who served in the navy, or anyone who was a genuine love of the sea and an interest in the armed forces.

“At one time you had to be ex-navy, but we have opened our doors,” said Henderson, “You have to an interest in the ocean or a parent/grandparent who was in the service.”

If you want more information on the Kelowna Naval Association you can contact Michael Henderson at weeangus@telus.net.

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