116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: Foxhole 'Charlie” Bar & Grill is closed until further notice due to storm damage. This story was reported before Monday's derecho storm.
CEDAR RAPIDS - When Max Betenbender, a Vietnam veteran and business owner from Coggon, died in September, his friend Chuck Elias was determined to find a way to honor him.
Betenbender served in the Army from 1965 to 1967 and owned Betenbender Manufacturing. One of his passions was collecting and showing military vehicles, which he would drive in area parades. After he died, his wife, Donna, worked with the Freedom Foundation to establish an exhibition hall, and donated the vehicles for display.
'His main thing was to have people enjoy his military vehicles,” said Elias, director of the Freedom Foundation. 'As he got sicker, we talked, and he said, ‘My dream was to have a museum. I want everybody to enjoy everything.'”
The Foxhole 'Charlie” Bar & Grill and Max Betenbender Military Exhibition Hall opened July 20, with all profits going to the Freedom Foundation.
The restaurant, which serves food like burgers and breakfast, is open for dine-in, with socially distanced seating. At the back is the exhibition hall, a mini-museum dedicated to military artifacts, including the vehicles and a small library.
'The things here aren't shiny and new, these are things that were actually used,” Elias said.
The exhibition space includes a Hall of Honor room dedicated to photos of veterans.
'We would really like to let the public know they can bring in photos of family and friends. We want to honor them and fill up all the pillars,” Elias said. 'They can also email us photos and we can print them and frame them.”
The Freedom Foundation closed its offices March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but has stayed busy. It has since reopened its food pantry and has continued to offer veterans services over the phone. The organization provides financial assistance and connects veterans to services. In 2019, the Freedom Foundation distributed more than 40,000 pounds of food, served nearly 3,000 meals through a Thursday Weekly Lunch Program, and helped hundreds more with housing assistance, among other things.
Elias said not having the Thursday luncheons has been challenging for the veterans. It is less about the food, he said, than about the lost camaraderie.
'People just miss seeing at each other,” he said. 'A lot of them are high risk, so they haven't been out. We're sad, we miss everybody.”
Still, he said, he understands how serious the virus is - some of the veterans he's worked with have died of the virus.
Megan Froelich-Brown and her husband, Dan 'Fox” Brown, said they know firsthand the good the foundation does. He was on hospice care with cancer, and the Foundation helped secure a leave of absence for Megan so she could care for him. The Foundation also got them a car and money for gas to get to the hospital and back, and provided other help.
'The Freedom Foundation changed the course of our lives,” Froelich-Brown said. 'It's the privilege of my life to be able to give back to them.”
Brown is doing better now, enough that he was at the restaurant last week to admire his handiwork. The couple helped decorate the hall, with Brown refurbishing a wood propeller from his hospital bed.
'I spent 10 months in bed, and to be able to walk around and do things again, it's just good to come down here,” he said.
Froelich-Brown painted portraits of veterans over the bar in the restaurant.
'We called all our veteran friends and asked what they wanted to donate,” Froelich-Brown said. 'These stories can't be forgotten. It's so important, the veterans and the sacrifices they made.”
Brown served in Vietnam in 1962, and was in the Marines for six years.
'Back then, when you got out, you didn't dare tell people were in the military,” he said. 'It's like you come down here to the Freedom Foundation, and it's like, I'm with my people. It's hard to explain to someone who wasn't in the military.”
Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
What: Foxhole 'Charlie” Bar & Grill and Max Betenbender Military Exhibition Hall
Where: 621 Center Point Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Kitchen open 8 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.