Estes Park’s American Legion Post 119 is growing and changing in positive ways, heading into its second century with prospects for a very bright future! Post 119’s first recorded meeting minutes were on May 10, 1920… and thus we are looking to May 2020 as a month of great Centennial Celebration.
This is despite the rumors you might have heard in recent weeks… rumors that the Legion sold its building, and that there surely are dire consequences from that sale. As in most rumors, there are some elements of truth in the story, but the reality is that the changes that have taken place bode very well for the future of American Legion Post 119 and its partners.
In recent years, Estes Park’s American Legion Post has suffered from some of the trends witnessed in national Veterans organizations. Contrary to what some people think, the American Legion is not a government-sponsored organization. Decreasing membership and decreasing patronage of the social club (i. e., less alcohol consumption… not really a bad thing!) have undermined traditional financial foundations for these organizations. Building maintenance has suffered, and there have been times when the future of ongoing operations looked rather bleak.
However, Estes Park’s Legionnaires are a talented, resourceful and stubborn bunch, and they were not going to give up easily. It was time to re-think business strategies to restore Post 119 to a healthy and vibrant organization. That including finding ways to restore Post 119’s building, an historical icon on the corner of Highways US 36 and CO 7 that was built to house the Bureau of Reclamation’s administrative offices for the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Project. Over the years, the Legion building has served as a community center for Estes Park, housing scouting and youth activities as well as community gatherings throughout the years.
One of the challenges for a Legion Post is that its IRS-designated tax-exempt status is as a 501(c) 19 organization. This means that while donations to the post may be tax-deductible, there are many foundations and donor-advised funds that exclusively give to 501(c) 3 organizations and so a Legion cannot request grants or support from those potential funders. This was a particular hardship for Post 119 given the extensive capital investment that was needed for building maintenance issues.
The solution to this problem? Members of Legion Post 119 created the Estes Park Post 119 Charitable Foundation and obtained 501(c) 3 status for that Foundation. Directors for that foundation include members from the Legion Post 119 and Auxiliary Unit 119. Membership is open for the Friends of the Foundation from the community who wish to confirm their patriotic support for veterans and the Legion, but do not have the family military history to qualify for Legion membership.
So yes, the Legion Post 119 membership voted and sold their building to the Foundation for the sum of $1, with the accompanying deed restriction that if the Foundation ever decided to sell the building, the Legion Post 119 would have first rights to repurchase the building for $1. Now the Foundation is able to apply for grants to support capital needs for the building, and therefore is able to open an improved and still improving facility to the entire Estes Park community.
To underscore the transformation that is taking place, a rebranding initiative has designated “Circle 119” as the new moniker to encompass the historic building, the Post 119 Legion family, the Charitable Foundation, the social club and events programming, and the community organizations that operate within this building. The concept borrows from an early Arapahoe name for the Estes Valley: The Circle. This symbolizes the unity of purpose that will be experienced through this grand partnership.
So what are we doing for this building? Thanks to the generous support of several members and friends of Legion Post 119, there already is great progress to enjoy! The Great Hall has been renovated, floors throughout the building have been restored to their vintage hardwood glory, and beetle-kill pine wainscoting has been installed through much of the building. An ambitious kitchen project is underway, and the result will be a fabulous commercial-grade kitchen for internal events and for catering and food truck rental arrangements. Exterior siding, ADA-compliant restrooms and a new parking lot are in the planning stages with hopes for project kick-offs in the not-too-distant future.
The key to this continued progress is expanded support from our community and funders. A great opportunity to boost that support is currently available through a matching grant opportunity. A generous supporter from our community has offered to match up to $25,000 in donations of $100 or greater to the Post 119 Charitable Foundation. About half of that $25,000 was collected though the Christmas Show and year-end giving, and so the other half remains to be secured. This is a chance for Estes citizens and supporters to contribute to this important community asset, and have their contribution doubled!
As an added incentive, all donors who give $500 or more will be recognized with a brass plaque in the Circle 119 Winners Circle. The Winners Circle was designed and built by local master woodworker Leo Weber, and is mounted in a prominent site within the Circle 119 building. Woods used in the creation of the Winners Circle include birch, birds-eye maple, walnut, and oak. A beautiful commemoration for Circle 119 supporters.
This story is a good one! Estes Park’s American Legion Post 119 is building toward a sustainable future… with help from a Circle of friends. Something to be proud of, Estes Park!