|New home of the American Legion Post #409 in Weston. Raymond Bechstein (left) chats in the new legion hall. (Photos: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)
WESTON - Freed from a dingy, cramped site which held only 40 people, members of Weston American Legion Post 409 and its auxiliary have spread their wings in a bright, spacious building they are proud to share with the community.
The post, which has 57 members, and its auxiliary, with more than 60 women, recently held an open house to show local residents all the renovations done to the former Sky Bank building on the corner of Main and Mill streets.
Valued at $100,000, the building was purchased from Huntington Bank in July, 2008 for $50,000. Huntington donated half the cost of the building to the post which had been saving money toward a new site.
Auxiliary Treasurer Danelle Langley said the post is continuing to offer dinners to the community, using any profits to pay for renovations.
Remodeling projects have included removing bank teller counters, installing a new wooden floor and using the open space to hold 80 to 100 people for dinners, meetings and other events; adding a large kitchen; changing the drive-through space into a tiled stove area; and adding a former bowling alley as a wide countertop for serving food.
Not only did the post more than double the size of its meeting space, but the kitchen is two to three times larger than its former one.
The bank's large safe may eventually be used as a display area with glass cases, and two small rooms currently used for storage will become offices for the post and auxiliary. A handicapped-accessible restroom is being added.
According to Langley, all the renovation has been done by members themselves, including Commander Jim Grames, Robert Dickey, Nick and Mona Johnson and Ray Bechstein. The latter, who serves as first vice commander, added Robert Neiman, Nathan Grames and Dan Weaver to the list of renovators.
Langley said Jim Grames drove to Indiana to pick up the bowling alley countertop, which was purchased on-line, because it was cheaper than buying a new one. It is so wide, the cupboards underneath it can hold the roasters used to serve food.
Other items were purchased from eBay, at auctions and even a Subway restaurant for the three-sink unit used for dishes.
"It's nice to be able to hold county meetings and do a Veterans' Day dinner and not be crammed in a little place," said Langley. "It's all on one floor."
Post meetings are the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. The auxiliary changed its meeting to the first Tuesday of the month to coincide with the post's. Auxiliary members gather in the bank's former front office for their meetings.
According to Bechstein, the move has enabled the post to increase its membership. He said it gained four new members already, with prospects for more.
"It's a much more desirable place for members to come to," he said. "We've done so much work in here. It makes a nice post here."
He is pleased it has been used as a polling site on election day for both village and township residents and expects that to continue.
The site can also be rented for meetings, dinners and other gatherings.
Bechstein said the post's charter was signed by many World War I veterans, so he estimated the tiny former building might have been built in the early 1900s.
"I've been a member 50 years, and it was there many years before that," he said.