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 Knightstown American Legion Ready to Raise Flag at New Facility

October 17, 2007 - Knightstown American Legion Post 152 will usher in a fresh era Saturday when it holds an official grand opening for its new post on Main Street in Knightstown this Saturday. The 5,000-square-foot building offers Legionnaires new digs and closes out a the final chapter in the history of its longtime home at 22 S. Franklin Street.

Although the new legion has been open for weeks, grand opening ceremonies were delayed so workers could put finishing touches on the new building, located at 224 E. Main Street. The building once housed Michael Bonne’s coppersmith shop.

Three years in the making, the new legion was purchased by Post 152 in April 2004. About a year later, the post hired Newkirk Construction of Knightstown to overhaul both the interior and exterior. First, the company replaced the building’s flat roof with a more attractive gabled roof. Remodeling followed, although months later. Relying heavily on the Newkirk family, as well as countless volunteer hours contributed by legionnaires, most of the project was completed in mid-July, with finishing touches still being added as a recently as last week.

“I hate to think what this would’ve cost us had we hired out everything that needed to be done from start to finish,” said Jerry Jordan, Post 152’s board of trustees chairman. “If we hadn’t leaned on volunteers, it wouldn’t have been feasible. Even though (Newkirk Construction) was our contractor, they spent countless hours down here doing volunteer work. It’s really about what our membership did to help this project – that and the support of this community – that made this work. This would’ve never happened without the support of this community.”

Former Post Commander Darrell Haines, who now serves as adjutant to the board of trustees, echoed Jordan’s sentiments about community support. “(The community) has just been great,” Haines said. “They’ve supported every fundraising breakfast we had.”

While legion members enjoy the new building’s modern and comparatively luxurious amenities, many agree that the prime benefit of the new post is its ground-floor access. The former legion on south Franklin Street required members to navigate stairways. The legion’s popular canteen was at the bottom of a steep concrete steps leading to the basement bar and restaurant. The large meeting hall, on the other hand, was at the top of a short flight of steps, which were less formidable in pitch, but unprotected from the elements.

While most legion members and their families didn’t worry much about the stairways, older, less agile, members certainly did. In fact, some considered the steep steps downright prohibitive.

“I like it,” said 62-year member Bill Barker, referring to the new building and its easy access. “It’s handicapped accessible, which is why we got the building to start with. A lot of our people can’t go downstairs or upstairs. It’s a safety factor for all of our people. A lot of the handicapped people couldn’t do (the stairs) at the other post.”

A 20-year Army veteran, Barker has held numerous inter-post offices, including commander, first vice commander, chaplain and finance officer. He said he’s happy with the way the new post turned out. “I like the interior, the décor. It’s very nice. And the outside looks a helluva lot better than it did before.”

Bill Brown, another longtime Post 152 member who flew P-47 Thunderbolts during World War II as part of the Army Air Corps, said the new post is a welcome addition to legion’s long Knightstown history. “It’s real nice,” Brown said. “I think it’s better for everyone.”

The American Legion is a members-only, not-for-profit establishment. For years, the local post, which annually donates $12,000 to $15,000 to local youth programs and scholarships, allowed only members and their guests through its doors. Now, however, the general public may enter the legion. The design of the new building features a public, family dining room – and a smoke-free one at that. While alcohol is served in the family dining area, smoking is prohibited. Smoking, however, is permitted in the legion’s bar area, situated in the middle and rear of the building.

The word canteen, while accurate, doesn’t quite cut it as a description for the new bar. Custom-designed by Jimmy Newkirk, the angled-horseshoe structure is made of dark-stained woods and the bar surface is shiny, urethane-coated hardwood, not unlike the floor of Knightstown’s Hoosier Gym. At the bar’s apex is a large black legion logo embedded in the glossy finish. Above is a massive, ornate bulkhead with a long shelf near the ceiling which features a collection of commemorative legion national convention bottles collected and donated by the late Bill Brewer of Knightstown.

Hardwood floors and dark wood wainscoting constitute the balance of the space. Six flat-screen TVs broadcast sports and news from virtually every corner, giving the area a distinct sports bar feel. Entertainment is also a feature of the canteen area. The club has two modern dart machines, pool table and a brand new digital jukebox. The rear of the place can be closed off – thanks to a floor-to-ceiling accordion-like divider – so meetings and other gatherings can take place in a quieter environment. But, while virtually everything in the legion is new, it’s the sheer space legionnaires are excited about.

Legionnaires hope to use the building’s large new kitchen facilities to generate additional food business. The new legion’s kitchen is easily four times the size of its predecessor. Couple that with the post’s purchase of a giant outdoor cooker/smoker, and Knightstown has what could be a long-awaited “destination” restaurant featuring specialty foods. The kitchen is backed up by a large storage room and an ample walk-in freezer, disassembled at the Franklin Street post and reassembled in the new one.

 

The American Legion organization itself was founded in Paris in 1919 by the American Expeditionary Force. Later that year, Congress agreed to charter the group and the rest of the year saw a flurry of activity, including the adoption of the legion’s preamble and constitution. Posts started sprouting up across the nation and in 1931 over a million Americans called themselves legionnaires.

In October 1919, Knightstown, home to a growing population of soldiers returning from World War I, decided to organize its own post. The infant organization was granted a temporary charter that same month. Ten months later, in July 1920, the Knightstown legion was given its permanent charter. Post 152 was first located at the corner of Main and Franklin Streets in a massive two-story house. In 1959, the legion house was lifted off its foundation and rotated 90 degrees so that its main entrance faced east, instead of north.

Later, in 1967, the house was razed to make room for a gas station and the most recent Franklin Street building was erected. The troublesome up and down stairs weren’t a problem then, as many veterans were still young enough to navigate the steps. However, as the years wore on and veterans aged, fewer and fewer of the former soldiers wanted to chance the venture, particularly during winter.

So when Michael Bonne moved his operation out of the east Main Street location, Post 152 leadership took notice. At first, they thought it wasn’t financially feasible for the organization to take on such a project. But, they came to realize the renovation and subsequent move was more of an opportunity, rather than an unnecessary risk.

They took the plunge.

Almost immediately after the legion took ownership, volunteers went to work gutting the structure and prepping it for the coming renovation. A lull in activity followed as legion officers worked to finance their plans, which called for an extensive overhaul, as well as thousands of dollars in new equipment, tables, chairs, booths, TVs and more.

With the mortgage in place, Jim Newkirk of Knightstown’s Newkirk Construction quietly went to work with his team of craftsmen, which included his son, Jimmy Newkirk.

 

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