Legion Takes Steps to Ensure Future of Building
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) On June 18, 1919, local veterans came together for the first meeting of what would become known as the American Legion.
A hundred years and several wars later, local legion members are taking steps to ensure the longevity of what is now called the Veterans Memorial Hall as other American Legion buildings across the nation close their doors.
A crucial step toward that end means modernizing the Maple Ave. building to make it a desirable venue for weddings, anniversaries, and other community gatherings, and thereby ensure its future.
“The only way to survive right now in this world is, you’ve got to modernize,” said Mike Feirer, Past Commander, adjutant, and 45-year legion member. “You’ve got to change your thinking. You have to play to the crowds, the people that are going to come out….If we were just to operate on normal legion functions, we would never make it.”
Last year, Post 54 debuted a new patio featuring two fire pits, a pizza oven, and outdoor seating as a way to create an attractive space for the legion while honoring veterans of the Vietnam War. On Tuesday and Thursdays evenings, the space is open to the public to enjoy live music and a meal.
“It’s unique to the community,” Feirer said.
Previously, updates hadn’t occurred since the building expanded in the 1980s. Recent updates include a newly painted interior, a quality sound system that extends to the patio, a comfortable lounge area, LED lighting, and new doors. Future improvements include a family bathroom, storage space and laundry room, handicap accessible main entrance, and new floors.
As an extra project, member Paul Rogers commissioned two oversize chairs painted red and green for a Badgers and Green Bay Packers theme after seeing similar chairs in Florida. These are on display for fun photo opportunities in front of the hall.
A valuable income source for the improvements comes from the popular Honor Walk banner program, started last year in downtown Marshfield. The project, spearheaded by legion members, raises $10,000 per year for the legion. Sponsorships have already sold out for 2020 and are being taken for 2021.
Additional fundraising and personal donations from legion members also help cover costs. “They could give you money when they pass away, but they would rather enjoy it while they’re living,” said Feirer.
So far the improvements have been well-received by the public who enjoy evenings out on the patio and other events at the legion, and for those looking for an ideal wedding venue. Wedding bookings have picked up, and 200-225 people can make use of the hall and the patio space for a family-style dinner.
“I’d like to have people to come down and see what we offer because they may be surprised,” said Feirer. “I would put our menus up against anybody. We’ve always had a good reputation for a sit-down.”
Today the membership of American Legion Post 54 sits at about 450, about half of what it was several decades ago. The decline is inevitable as veterans, particularly those from the World Wars, pass away.
As membership shrinks, so does the need for a hall of the current size. As other similar halls shut down, the idea is that with improvements, Marshfield’s building can avoid the same fate.
“Once we get this done, we could be one of the prime legion posts in the state — one of the bigger ones too,” said Feirer. “Now we’ve got the building, we have to maintain it and use it.”
Another way is to share the hall with other organizations such as the Sons of the American Legion, whose membership has surged to over 90 members, and the American Legion Auxiliary. It’s also possible that other local veterans groups could make use of the building.
“We’re welcoming them all,” he said.
Post 54 will celebrate its 100th anniversary throughout the year with more events planned later this summer. During Hub City Days, the legion will partner with Main Street Marshfield to host a spaghetti street dinner downtown.
On August 18, the legion will celebrate receiving its original charter August 24, 1919 and recognize its oldest member, Lawrence Pankratz, who will turn 100 that month. The event begins at 1:30 p.m. at the hall with a small luncheon to follow at 2:30 p.m.
As the post recognizes its century-long place in the community and continues to put in the groundwork to remain viable, legion members are optimistic about their place.
“I think the organization will survive,” said Feirer.
To learn more about upcoming events at the American Legion, visit www.marshfieldpost54wi.org or its Facebook page.