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Building a better VFW

A new meeting hall and museum in downtown Mitchell is taking shape. In November, Mitchell-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2750 embarked on a colossal fundraising effort to restore its post home. After six months of work from members and other...

Lyle Sunderland, left, Jr. Vice President for the VFW in Mitchell and Post Commander Martin Christensen talk about the plans for the museum they hope to start on the second floor of the new VFW building last week in Mitchell.(Matt Gade/Republic)
Lyle Sunderland, left, Jr. Vice President for the VFW in Mitchell and Post Commander Martin Christensen talk about the plans for the museum they hope to start on the second floor of the new VFW building last week in Mitchell.(Matt Gade/Republic)

A new meeting hall and museum in downtown Mitchell is taking shape.

In November, Mitchell-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2750 embarked on a colossal fundraising effort to restore its post home. After six months of work from members and others in the community, the restoration of the VFW building on Mitchell's Main Street is well underway.

Last week, Post Commander Martin Christensen and Junior Vice President Lyle Sunderland said the project is moving forward swimmingly after receiving support from several construction businesses in town and others who donated to the cause. Although the VFW initially estimated the project would cost approximately $253,000, the post was able to shave off more than $50,000 by doing some work themselves and getting assistance from the community.

After losing the post home at the corner of First Avenue and Main Street during the demolition of the Longhorn Bar - which shared a wall with the post - the VFW was forced to move down the road to the former Prairie Breeze Gallery. But the move left the post without a meeting space for three years.

In an effort to restore the building, the post dove into a large-scale fundraising effort to turn a second floor riddled with debris and bat guano into a brand new event hall featuring a South Dakota military history museum. The second floor has since been bat-proofed and refurbished.

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Although the group has raised more than $8,000 to help its cause, the VFW still has about $100,000 to $150,000 left to raise.

From new framing and flooring to a recently carved fire egress door and new sprinkler system, the VFW is on its way toward establishing a new meeting hall that would allow the entire group of military service veterans meet as a whole.

Currently, the group is forced to traverse a narrow stairwell down to cramped quarters for regular meetings, but several of the veterans can't make the steep downward climb.

"Our handicap members can't make it down here for a meeting, and that's a darn shame," Sunderland said.

Although Sunderland declined to list the various people who helped get the project off the ground, he was appreciative of their contributions to help with the framing, electrical and ventilation costs.

"It's absolutely super," Sunderland said. "It gives us a little bit of a thank you for our service."

All that's left to finish the new second floor of the VFW is to cap off the sprinkler system, finalize insulation and complete the overall finishing of the walls and floor. Once that's completed, the VFW plans to top off its new meeting hall with its signature feature: a South Dakota military history museum.

The VFW has started asking for contributions to the planned museum, including photographs and other military paraphernalia to fill the new addition to the building in honor of the state's veterans. Whether it's an item of field gear from World War I, the Vietnam War or Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sunderland said the VFW will serve as a place to preserve items that may otherwise get lost in an attic.

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"This will be a place where they can be preserved for the future, and it's really an added service for the veterans of the community," Sunderland said of the museum he's hoping to begin stocking with photographs and field gear this fall.

Christensen, a local doctor, said he's already received photos from some of his patients' family members in uniform, and the VFW is looking for more contributions. He said the VFW also wants to provide pamphlets at the Corn Palace and other places around town to attract visitors to the new museum.

"That'll assimilate some local enthusiasm for people to come see things with their mom and dad, and their aunts and uncles," Christensen said about featuring items from locals in the meeting hall.

Although the plan is to include a museum in the upstairs space, it will also be available for catered events or for VFW members to congregate with their families. But Christensen and Sunderland are also hoping to attract non-members to the museum space when it's not being used.

There will likely be a donation box for visitors to contribute to the cause once the museum is opened, but Sunderland said any fee would likely be minimal for visitors.

"I don't see us charging a nickel for it," Sunderland said.

With the first phase of the project completed and more than $100,000 needed to finish off the renovation, Christensen and Sunderland said the VFW is still looking for contributions. While people can contribute by writing a check, Christensen also reiterated the bar is open for business to the public.

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Related Topics: VFW
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