MANTECA – The briefcase sits on a ledge near the front window of the Village Sandwich Shoppe, open and overflowing with folders and paperwork.
Carlon Perry may be retired, but his level of commitment to his other interests would have you fooled.
His briefcase collects everything – everything but dust.
The former Manteca mayor volunteers for five hours a day at this quaint downtown eatery, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., helping with the counter and deliveries. But that doesn’t explain the briefcase or the folders sprawled out across the high-top table nearest the door.
This corner of the Village Sandwich Shoppe, with a view of Yosemite Avenue, has become Perry’s de facto office for all matters involving Jimmy Conners Post 6311, Manteca’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon guests will visit not for a sandwich or salad, soup or hot dog, but to discuss military matters with their Commander. On Thursday, Chaplain Larry Lambert stopped by to drop off a book and tell Perry where he’d be on Memorial Day.
Soon, the Commander and his briefcase will have a permanent home, where they won’t have to contend with the lunch crowd.
In April, the City Council agreed to build the VFW a brand new 3,000-square-foot facility on the southeast corner Moffat Boulevard and Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue, utilizing bonus bucks.
Jimmy Conners Post 6311 has never had a building of its own. For years, the VFW shared space with the American Legion at its location on East Yosemite Avenue.
The lease agreement could keep the members of Jimmy Conners Post 6311 comfortable for decades to come. The agreement is for $1 a year for 20 years with two 10-year extensions.
“That will open doors, so to speak, for us to provide services that are needed by members and the surrounding area,” Perry said. “Had that not happened I’m not sure our post would continue to grow. … I’m not sure we could become more of an asset to our community.”
It’s been a banner a year for the post.
Once a fledgling chapter and candidate for closure by District 13 officials, Post 6311 has risen to the top of its division nationally. As of a May 9 release, Post 6311 was the third-largest Division 8 chapter in the nation with 110 members, trailing only chapters in Hawaii (137) and Texas (119).
The post’s adjusted numbers put them ahead of Texas.
Perry credits the hard work of the membership, who took the Commander’s challenge to heart. When he was elected, Perry charged each existing member with recruiting at least one new member. They also started hosting potlucks before the meeting to encourage bonding.
“We’d pick up one new member and they’d start attending meetings and say, ‘Wow, these are kind of fun,” Perry said.
In the last three years, the post has more than doubled in size.
In 2012, before Perry was elected as Commander, the post had a membership of 59 and meetings featured as few as five veterans. Today, Jimmy Conners Post 6311 boasts 128 members, by Perry’s count, and monthly meetings are attended by 30 to 50 members.
Perry wants to continue to grow membership. So much so, in fact, that when the post cuts the ribbon on its new home it will do so in front of the region and state’s top government officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and the VFW’s national commander.
The only way to lure such high-ranking dignitaries to Manteca, Perry said, is to make it hard for them to say no.
“My new goal is to be No. 1 in the nation,” Perry said. “In November, when we open the new building, I’d like to say we’re the No. 1 post in the nation. We want the national commander to be here in November, and there’s no better way to (invite) him than as the No. 1 post.”
The post will continue its recruiting efforts this weekend during the Memorial Day weekend celebration at Woodward Park.
Perry said Post 6311 will have a booth at Not Forgotten and will field questions about membership and other veteran-related matters.
“Long after I’m gone, I expect this to be a seven-day operation, working on behalf of the veterans,” Perry said. “That’s my vision for it.”
Like the roster, Perry’s level of commitment has grown in the last year. In January, he announced he would not seek re-election. His constituents told him otherwise.
“When we got the building, it became a realization: The said we needed continuity putting this thing together and that I should stay one more year.”
He was re-elected on May 12, and the briefcase – like his makeshift corner office at the Village Sandwich Shoppe – has been open ever since.