The Mitchell Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter has come a long way in the past six years. And there’s more progress in the works.

Today, Corn Palace City VFW Post 2750 will recognize its recent upgrades to its 215 N. Main St. location, and will commemorate the start of a long-anticipated elevator project. A short dedication ceremony is being held at 5 p.m. today at the VFW’s back entrance and parking lot.

For those involved, the project is maybe as important as ever. The building is now the home of the city’s six primary veterans-service organizations: the VFW chapter and its auxiliary, American Legion Post 18 and its auxiliary, and the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and its auxiliary.

“It’s priceless,” said VFW Post 2750 Past Commander Martin Christensen, who has been leading many of the fundraising efforts. “A lot of organizations are changing and the generations are changing. This will hopefully be a place for fellowship and for people to get together and have a good time, and be around other veterans. Whether they were in a combat zone or in the service, it’s still a place where people can show their pride in our country.”

Mitchell-related military items — including records from the VFW Auxiliary — will be part of the space for military displays in the renovated VFW building. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell-related military items — including records from the VFW Auxiliary — will be part of the space for military displays in the renovated VFW building. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The main reason an elevator is going in is because of substantial renovations that have been completed to the second floor of the building, which dates back to 1892. Upstairs, a new meeting room with a kitchenette and bathrooms has been constructed, and the space is being fitted with cabinets for a local military museum to be completed.

“We see things being sold at garage sales, and those historical things, they’re just passing by,” Christensen said. “Having them in a museum-like space and allowing veterans to have a chance to tell their story, where you can retell what actually happened and show the equipment, everything from a P-38 can opener to the guns that were used, that’s what will be special.”

Uniforms from armed conflicts ranging from the Spanish-American War to Operation Iraqi Freedom have been gathered and donated, along with photos of local service members, including those with three generations of military service. Christensen said the space will be available for groups to rent and be used for entertainment or educational purposes.

“This will be, hopefully, will be an attraction and something downtown that people can visit,” Christensen said. “We’re going to have pictures of veterans that are local, and even from around the state, and we’re hoping that it’s something that is a draw for people.”

Historic military uniforms — including this one from the late 1800s — have been collected and will be part of the space for Mitchell military artifacts to be displayed in the renovated VFW building. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Historic military uniforms — including this one from the late 1800s — have been collected and will be part of the space for Mitchell military artifacts to be displayed in the renovated VFW building. (Matt Gade / Republic)

But without an elevator, the upstairs is mostly inaccessible. Currently, a 26-step staircase is the only way up. A new elevator will be constructed outside the current frame of the building, and a second-floor door is already in place to allow people to enter from the elevator shaft. Christensen said most of the work will start on that later this year, with a goal of having the elevator complete by March 2020. Eventually, the plan calls for a proper back patio space for the VFW’s bar patrons, as well.

The VFW is also attempting to have its construction align with the reconstruction of the alley between Main and Rowley streets between Second and Third avenues and repaving the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Second and Rowley. That work is expected to begin in September.

The VFW moved to its current location in 2013, when its previous building at 105 N. Main St. was damaged during the demolition of the old Longhorn Bar. That is now the site of Mitchell’s Veterans Park, which was completed in 2018.

The meeting room and museum upgrades were completed under budget at a cost of $175,000. Originally, the estimate was $250,000, and the VFW was able to come in under budget because of donated labor and materials for the project.

“For our community, it’s an important project and that’s why it’s been great to see the support we’ve received to this point,” he said.

A total of $110,000 has been raised for the elevator project, and the VFW is leading the charge to continue raising funds for the estimated $240,000 cost.

The program today includes music by the Mitchell Municipal Band, and special speakers from the VFW, American Legion and DAV, along with city and community groups.