By Sabrina Hornung
Lehr Mayor and Council Members Donate City Salaries To Save Legion Hall
Every rural community has at least one social space that holds multiple generations of memories and has remained a social pillar in the community. The Legion Hall in Lehr, North Dakota, to be more specific, Klaus Becker Post 285.
Lehr is located in the south-central part of the state, and according to the last census, has a population of 64. The town also prides itself on being the smallest town to occupy two counties, Logan and McIntosh.
The Legion Hall has hosted class reunions, ball games, Elk suppers, roller skating events, wedding dances, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“All kinds of things,” said Mayor Chauncey Brown. “And unfortunately, of course, like many of the small towns, with a declining population, a lot of these structures no longer got used as frequently as they did. Interest in keeping them up, faded or waned. So this being I think, probably one of the last older event places or structures in town, I wanted to try and improve it as best we could.
“You know, I saw that building before I moved here. I thought it was very sad. It was hidden by trees, super tall pine trees. I thought it would be a nice thing to try and keep this building operational, and also try and improve its character so that when people who have moved away come back to town they say, ‘Oh, look what they've done. I remember when we did this, I remember when we did that.’ For many years, it was a very popular place. And it was when we used it,” said the mayor, “but again like I said over the years, there just wasn't the demand for it anymore. And I thought rather than seeing it continue to deteriorate, I wanted to, again, make it better and make it something we could all be proud of.”
Interestingly enough, Brown isn’t a Lehr native, he’s originally from near the Twin Cities. His love for the outdoors brought him to Lehr, which many consider a hunter’s paradise.
Mayor Brown has spearheaded an effort to renovate the old Legion Hall and he along with three other council people have offered their city salaries toward the project.
“I don't ask that any of the council members participate in that manner. I assumed the position of Mayor when my predecessor decided to quit. I was the council president. So automatically that put me in the spot. I did run in 2018 and was elected officially. At that point in time. I guess I told the council, I said either, I'm willing to have my salary put aside to say, for a new lawnmower that the city needed at the time. Or I thought it would be nice to try and log in and put forth an effort to set aside money for fixing up the building. And three of the four council members jumped at that opportunity. And so we agreed, the three council members and I myself had our salaries go directly to a different separate checking account specifically for the refurbishing of the building.” said Mayor Brown.
According to the Lehr Centennial book, the original American Legion post in Lehr was organized on January 26, of 1922. According to legion.org, “The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service members, and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States.” Construction of the present-day hall was started in the spring of 1948 and served a new generation of veterans and their community.
“Basically, the Legion and its members started to decline for years, '' said Mayor Brown ''There weren't any new enrollees. And therefore there wasn't the push on their behalf, to try and find other alternatives or uses, there just wasn't the desire and drive amongst the population. So when the numbers of the Legion posts declined so dramatically, I think there were only two members left, and when one of them passed, the other one wanted to make certain that the building went to the city and not to somebody else who was going to use it for some other purpose other than hopefully a gathering and meeting place. So the city purchased it from the last residing Legion member of the building, and thus began my drive and desire to try and make it better.”
Marcy Nagel, proprietor of the Watering Hole Bar in Lehr has hosted gun raffles and even rallied members of the community by putting together a community cookbook that is still available at the bar.
“A lot of people who do have family members outside the area will buy cookbooks and send them as Christmas gifts or birthday gifts. But there really has not been a bigger push to try and raise enormous amounts of money. I want to say we're somewhere around $9,000, I think. But we've already spent 15 plus thousand in trying to fix things up and we still have more work to do. So I'm hoping this summer, we'll be able to get the landscaping aspect taken care of, and then we'll continue on from there,” he said.
Both Nagel and Mayor Brown were instrumental in raising money for a flagpole at the Lehr Cemetery last fall. Over $5,400 was raised. The price tag may sound steep but this isn’t just any old flagpole. The new pole is equipped with a solar-powered light to ensure the flag is illuminated once the sun sets, so there are no worries about someone being present to take the flag down each night.
Mayor Brown estimates that they need to raise between $20- $25,000 to renovate the hall. The building looks unassuming from the outside but the interior is full of midcentury charm with all too danceable wooden floors. The lighting has been replaced with LED lights but the original fixtures remain intact. Future goals include an update of the men’s and women’s restrooms.
“We had a wonderful fundraiser a couple of years ago. I was so nervous-- I thought either nobody's going to come and we're going to have too much food left over or too many people are going to come in we're going to run out of food. And thankfully the latter of the two happened. We ran out of food!” Laughed Mayor Brown. “And it was wonderful. I had never seen so many people in that building before. Since then, we've had a big class reunion a couple years ago which was wonderful. We've had a couple of wedding receptions. So it makes me feel very good that my time and efforts have not been for naught.”
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