TERRE HAUTE —
It was a bleak Christmas three years ago when the doors closed and the lights went out for the last time at the oldest American Legion Post in the state.
Legion Post 2, which was then on Indiana 59 near Brazil’s Forest Park, retained its charter, however, and managed to survive. Its dedicated members met regularly at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1127 in Brazil.
But, for three long years, the Legion was a post only “on paper,” said Randy Kaelber, post commander.
On Monday, Veterans Day, all that changed.
Indiana’s oldest American Legion Post, formed in 1919, has a new home less than a block north of U.S. 40 on Depot Street. A long-time “biker” bar, is newly refinished, cleaned and remodeled.
It opened for business as Post 2 on Veterans Day.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Kaelber. For a full year, members of the post volunteered their time and labor to completely gut the building, power wash it and start their new digs from scratch, he said. The new bar shines, a new picture window looks out on Depot Street and an outside seating area awaits tables and chairs.
“It’s a place to call home,” said Garry Miller, a member of the Sons of the American Legion, who was sitting at the new bar on Monday talking with Polly Sullivan, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, which boasts 158 members. There are about 340 regular veteran members and about 100 Sons of the Legion, Kaelber said.
To celebrate their new home, and a year of hard work, the legionnaires celebrated Monday with an open house. Volunteers manned the bar and took care of the customers, many of whom were sporting American Legion clothing. Snacks and soft drinks were also available.
Three years ago, tough economic times forced the closing of the old legion post. Members at the time told the Tribune-Star that regulations banning private poker machines took a big toll on the post’s business.
Even between buildings, Post 2 managed to continue its long tradition of giving donations to the Indiana Veterans Home and also hosted its annual Easter Egg Hunt in Forest Park, members noted.
The old legion had up to 10 employees when it closed. The new, smaller, legion has none. All the work is being done by legion volunteers, Kaelber said. The hours of the new post will depend on crowd sizes, he said.
As for Monday, the crowd was big and in a cheerful mood. It was clear that everyone was happy to have a new post to call home.
“It feels wonderful,” said Tony Smiley, finance officer for the post who was volunteering as a bartender during the open house. A 33-year Air Force veteran, Smiley joined the military during the Vietnam War. He noted that the legion, in addition to being the oldest post in the state, also owns the state’s oldest liquor license.
There is still a little work to do on the new post. The outside seating area is not yet completed. And the floors will be painted gray, members said. But the difference between the building now and what they found a year ago is dramatic.
“It’s a work in progress,” Smiley said from behind the bar. “It’s not done. But it’s home.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.