American Legion restores historic building at Riverside Park in Laurel

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LAUREL — Veterans of American Legion Post 123 in Laurel were forced out of their headquarters after flooding in 2011 damaged their building in Riverside Park.

More than a decade later, efforts are underway to restore the building and open a new chapter in its rich history. The building was developed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, then used in the 1940s as a POW camp containing German and Italian soldiers. Most soldiers were held for one to three weeks and worked in the sugar beet fields during the summer months.

Fast forward nearly 80 years, and the building now stands empty. The flood did massive damage and forced the American Legion to leave. The city of Laurel decided to renovate the buildings to help improve the park, and members of the American Legion are leading efforts to restore it.

“This building was the American Legion hall for us in Laurel. We kept all of our records here, we dined here. It had been ours since 1947, so it was our home,” said member April Jones. of the American Legion since 2005.

Work is underway to bring American Legion members back inside their new and improved building.

“Everyone can’t wait to get back to this building, hang up our pictures and call this home again. It’s been a long time,” said Richard Klose, chief financial officer for the American Legion.

Klose said he hopes the building will be ready to reopen by Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2022.

The new building will serve more than American Legion members once the renovations are complete.

“We get requests when we do military honors for burials at the National Cemetery here in Laurel. Every once in a while people want a place to hold a reception afterwards, and that will be great for that because it breaks my heart. heart when people ask if we have a place for a reception and we had to say no. Now I don’t have to, just let me know when it’s due and we’ll make sure it’s available added Klose.

The renovations serve to help the wider community, and the American Legion plans to allow the building to be a venue for events unrelated to the military or veterans.

“It can be for anyone within the community to come and have a family reception, a birthday party or even a family reunion. It will be a building that they can come to and have a function that doesn’t like nothing else in town. It’s in Riverside Park, it’s part of Laurel, it’s part of our community,” Jones added.

If you would like to volunteer for renovations or make a donation, call Klose at 406-671-1814 or Jones at 406-697-5863.

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