STEWARDSON — The Stewardson American Legion Wilbur Braughton Post 611 received a land donation from the First National Bank of Waterloo in Stewardson to be used as the future site of the new American Legion building.
The donation was made official Saturday as Post Commander Joe Vonderheide and bank Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Harres signed the deed for the land located just to the north of the bank building, near the bank's drive-up window on Main Street.
Vonderheide described the signing as historic for Post 611.
"It's a very historic day. I was looking at our charter, and we started back in 1920, so we're 99 years old, going on 100. It's our generation now that's going to take it to the next 100 years," Vonderheide said. "Our building is across the street next to the post office, and it's done its job but now it's time that we get something newer, something better."
Vonderheide said the new building will accommodate a growing membership, as he said Post 611 is the top post in the county, district and possibly in the state. He said the Stewardson American Legion post is the only one in its area that is growing instead of declining in membership.
Vonderheide said Post 611 began fundraising for a new building in November 2018 and has raised just over $13,000 to put towards its $100,000 goal. The new building will have a new parking lot and an area for a piece of military equipment. Vonderheide said he is looking at getting a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter to put in the front of the building.
To raise the additional funds needed to construct the new American Legion Post 611 building, Vonderheide said the post will put on a charity auction sometime in the spring of 2020, which will feature autographed memorabilia from the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Indy 500 drivers as well as cast members of the original Dukes of Hazard television show.
The post will also host a gun raffle starting Monday, in which the post will raffle off two 1911 Springfield Armory pistols, followed by a meat bundle raffle and a money raffle near Christmastime. An account will be set up at the First National Bank of Waterloo for the community to donate to the construction of the new building.
Vonderheide said a community member reached out to him and suggested selling 2 ft. by 4 ft. planks of wood to be used in the building's construction. Those who purchase a piece would be able to sign it and therefore, be a permanent part of the building; he added that if someone were to donate the entire amount need for the construction, the building would be named after that individual.
Vonderheide said that it is thanks to the First National Bank of Waterloo in Stewardson that a new building will now be a reality for the post.
"I'm speechless that this is even taking place. From my heart, Wilbur (Braughton's), everybody, we really appreciate what (the bank) did," Vonderheide said.
While a groundbreaking date has not been set, Vonderheide said he is already planning a building dedication and parade for the opening of the new building.
Though Vonderheide is spearheading the fundraising efforts, he said it is the entire legion membership and the bank that keeps the fundraising at the forefront in the community. First National Bank of Waterloo Assistant Vice President and Center Manager Jessica Howe said Vonderheide approached the bank about the lot, and the bank was more than willing to donate to the legion.
"With the location right here in town, just off Main St., close to the veterans' memorial, it was just kind of the perfect location," Howe said. "I took (Vonderheide's) idea. I presented it to the board, the bank president and the CFO, and they decided that was the right thing to do with the property instead of just letting it sit here empty. Now, we'll have a nice new command post to look at out of our back windows."
Howe estimated the bank has owned the empty lot since the 1980s. Vonderheide said the lot is currently used as an Air Evac landing site, and helicopters will be able to land on the property until the building is erected; the landing site may be moved to a local ball diamond in the future.
Vonderheide said he hopes Post 611 can use the building as an emergency cold- and hot-weather shelter and a location to rent for wedding receptions should the local community center be booked. He said the new building will allow the post to bring back the community auction and host new specialty auctions.
Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.