Twenty-five years ago this week, Westerville's VFW Post 7883 held its inaugural meeting. By the end of that year, the post had 91 members.

Twenty-five years ago this week, Westerville's VFW Post 7883 held its inaugural meeting. By the end of that year, the post had 91 members.

The membership ranks have ebbed and flowed over the years, but many of the current 140 members gathered Saturday to celebrate the post's silver anniversary.

Dave Cooper, a trustee, former commander and a charter member, said Post 7883 was started by Westerville veterans looking to start a chapter within the city, rather than joining Columbus VFW posts.

"In 1985, there were a handful of veterans who got together in Westerville, and they contacted the state department in Ohio about forming a post in Westerville since there had not been one," Cooper said. "There had been plenty of posts in Columbus, but not one in Westerville."

Walt Malys, another post trustee, said Westerville's VFW eschews the watering-hole stereotype often assigned to VFW groups and instead focuses on the community.

"Over the years, a lot of people never expected our post to survive because we didn't have a canteen," Malys said. "When you think of a VFW, you think of guys sitting around a canteen swapping war stories. That's not the case with us."

Malys said the group prides itself on educating people about the country's military history.

Veterans who volunteer through the VFW hold programs for local schools, giving talks about their service or just holding question-and-answer questions with students about what they've done.

The group also holds an annual flag-retirement ceremony, holds Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies in nursing homes, sponsors students seeking scholarships, sends care packages and letters to veterans serving abroad and honors local teachers for their work educating children about military history and veterans. Post 7883 has won state and national awards for its community work.

"Our post is dedicated to serving the community of Westerville," Malys said. "We're not one of the biggest posts around, but we surely do a lot of things for our community."

The local group also prides itself on its diversity. Members include men and women, ranging in age from early 20s to 90s.

"We have veterans in our post from World War II, from Korea, from Vietnam, from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq," Cooper said. "It's quite a cross-section of men and women of all ages."

The group also has seen a good deal of growth within the last few years, Cooper said, as more veterans become eligible for membership after serving in combat.

"Our membership has started to grow again, and we're up over 140 members, which is the highest we've ever been," he said.

"We've had some really tremendous men and women who have joined the post, and we've had a new commander every year for the last three years," Cooper said.

"There's quite a growth in VFW membership because of Af-ghanistan and Iraq, and we're doing everything we can to encourage them when they come home."

Cooper said growth has helped the Westerville VFW to expand its community service, especially as it supports those currently on active duty, including some of the post's own members.

"We've been able to help young men and women coming home or who are deployed with utility bills, mortgage payments, whatever they need," Cooper said. "Our motto is: 'We honor the dead by helping the living.' We do a lot of things to help not only veterans of foreign wars, but also those who are on active duty."