LAUREL — Veterans of the American Legion Post 123 in Laurel were forced to vacate their headquarters after flooding in 2011 damaged their building at Riverside Park.
More than a decade later, efforts are being taken to restore the building and start a new chapter in its rich history. The building was developed in the 1930s by Works Progress Administration, then used in the 1940s as a POW camp holding both German and Italian soldiers. Most soldiers were held for one to three weeks, and they worked in the sugar beet fields during the summer months.
Fast forward almost 80 years, and the building is now empty. The flooding did massive damage and forced the American Legion out. The city of Laurel decided to renovate the buildings to help improve the park, and American Legion members are spearheading the effort to restore it.
"This building was the American Legion Hall for us in Laurel. We kept all our records here, we had dinners here. It was ours since 1947, so, it was our home," said April Jones, American Legion Member since 2005
Work is now underway to get the members of the American Legion back inside their new and improved building.
"Everyone is anxious to get back into this building and hang our pictures back up and call this home again. It's been a long time," said Richard Klose, American Legion finance officer.
Klose said he hopes to have the building ready to reopen by Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2022.
The new building will serve more than just American Legion members when renovations are complete.
"We get requests when we do military honors for burials at the national cemetery here in Laurel. From time to time, people want a place to have a reception afterwards, and this will be great for that because it breaks my 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 needs to happen and we'll make sure it's available," added Klose.
The renovations serve to aid the entire community, and the American Legion has plans to allow the building to be a spot for events unrelated to the military or veterans.
"This can be for anyone within the community to come in and have a family reception, birthday party or even a family reunion. This will be a building that they can come to and have a function that’s not like anything else in town. It’s in Riverside Park, it's part of Laurel, it’s part of our community," added Jones.
If you have have any interest in volunteering with renovations or donating, call Klose at 406-671-1814 or Jones at 406-697-5863.