2017-11-10 / Front Page

Legion hall gets massive makeover

Members say $50,000 kitchen renovation vital to group’s survival
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Guy Linscott, vice commander of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, puts the finishing touches on a $50,000 overhaul to the hall’s banquet room, Nov. 3, a project the veterans organization says is vital to its continued survival. (Duke Harrington photo) Guy Linscott, vice commander of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, puts the finishing touches on a $50,000 overhaul to the hall’s banquet room, Nov. 3, a project the veterans organization says is vital to its continued survival. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Perched high atop a step ladder, a paint brush in his hand and small gobs of white paint sprinkling his head, Guy Linscott put the finishing touches on the banquet hall ceiling of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, Nov. 3, even as, mere feet away, city inspectors signed off on the work. Officially, Linscott is vice commander of the the post, but for the past month, he’s answered to the title painter-in]chief, he joked.

However, the $50,000 renovation to the Legion’s kitchen and banquet hall is no joking matter. Down to just a dozen or so active members, most of whom are in their 70s, the South Portland Legion could not have taken on the project by themselves. It took a Hero’s Project Grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and the cooperative help of staff at Lowe’s locations in Scarborough, Portland and Windham to make it happen.


Showing off part of a new $50,000 renovation to the kitchen and banquet room of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, made possible by a Heroes Project grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores, , from left, John O’Connor, pro sales rep at Lowe’s Scarborough store and Legion members Ken Marston, Paul Neal, and John Hart. (Duke Harrington photo) Showing off part of a new $50,000 renovation to the kitchen and banquet room of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, made possible by a Heroes Project grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores, , from left, John O’Connor, pro sales rep at Lowe’s Scarborough store and Legion members Ken Marston, Paul Neal, and John Hart. (Duke Harrington photo) The upgrade leveled the floor, sealed and insulated bare concrete walls, replaced ill-fitting tack work paneling on other walls, widened the kitchen and outfitted it with all new sinks, stoves, cabinets and refrigerators. For a building that dates to 1920, and reportedly saw its last significant modernization in the 1950s, the upgrade is remarkable.


The kitchen of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, seen just prior to a $50,000 renovation paid for by Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, as it had stood since the 1950s. (John Hart courtesy photo) The kitchen of Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35 in South Portland, seen just prior to a $50,000 renovation paid for by Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, as it had stood since the 1950s. (John Hart courtesy photo) “You can’t really appreciate the change unless you saw what was here before. “I mean, it was a mess,” Legion member Michael Pock said offering a tour as inspectors shook hands and headed off to other work.

However, it’s a build-it-and-they will come situation, and Linscott and Pock both agree, if the South Portland American Legion is not able to rent out its newly remade hall – fire rated by the city to seat 120 – for wedding receptions, corporate meetings and other events, the organization may have to close its doors for good.

Not so long ago, the very idea that a veterans group could just fade away was unthinkable. But then came September, and the closure of South Portland V.F.W. Post 832.

The local V.F.W. retains its charter, and still plans to lead this year’s Veterans Day festivities in partnership with the Legion, as usual, but the doors to its headquarters at 50 Peary Terrace have been closed for good and its furniture and equipment reportedly sold off. Former post commander Sam Flint did not return a call requesting comment, but scuttlebutt among city vets is that, with few younger soldiers joining up, and older ones dying off, the post could not longer sustain operations.

“The word is they were not bringing in enough to even pay their bartender, and with the bar as their only source of income, they had to close,” Pock said. “That’s concerning for us because we are probably the only vets hall in the state that doesn’t even have a bar at all.”

“We’ve never had one, going all the way back to when we were founded, in 1919,” Linscott said. “That’s the way it’s always been, and we have no plans to have one. We’ve always focused instead on the principals of the organization and why it was put together – to serve the community and our fellow veterans. But before this grant came along, we were ready to close the doors, because we just couldn’t take care of the property.”

For members of the Stewart P. Morrill Post, Legion membership is about more than commiserating with old soldiers over drinks. All veterans groups serve their community, but in South Portland, the Legion’s sole focus is on continuing the call to service that led its members to join the armed forces in the first place. There is Little League sponsorship and providing for the families of deployed service members, of course, but the South Portland Legion also serves as host to U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corp – offering the cadets a home when they were turned out of the South Portland Coast Guard base in the security lockdown that followed 9/11 and even building a mock-up of a ship’s bridge in a second-floor dormer that overlooks Portland Harbor. There are the numerous other ways Legion members continue to step up. Even as Linscott and Pock carried cans of paint out of the hall on Friday, Legion members Ken Marston and Paul Neal carried food in, for upcoming holiday basket donations for the needy.

“This renovation is so important because now we can rent out the hall,” Marston said. “That will keep us going. And not just to maintain the building. All of our projects and everything we do requires funds in some way or another.

“If we had to close up, if you had no more Legion, there goes everything,” Neal said.

And closing down has been on the table. According to Pock, the South Portland Legion fielded an offer earlier this year of $850,000 for its home and adjoining parking lot, located at 413 Broadway.

“We gave that very serious consideration,” Linscott said.

But luckily, Legion member John Hart, who serves as operations manager for the Sea Cadets, heard about Lowe’s Heroes Project grant, and, taking pictures of how the Legion hall kitchen looked at the time, approached the company, “to see if they could save the post.”

Lowe’s agreed to take on the renovation as its 2017 grant project, with stores in Scarborough, Portland and Windham, providing materials and manpower. More than two dozen Lowe’s employees have contributed time to the rebuild over the past two months, while two pro sales reps, John O’Connor from the Scarborough store and Ben Woodman, from Windham, have been on site full-time.

“Retail on the the material alone is probably $15,000, but I would say this job would have cost them $50,000 easy, if they were paying for labor and everything,” O’Connor said.

“It’s a complete remodel, all the way down to the studs,” Woodman said. “In fact, some of the walls didn’t even have studs. We had to build those, too. I’ve been with Lowe’s for 12 years and this is the biggest one of these projects I’ve ever seen.”

“These two right here have been miracle workers,” Marston said. “The building is old. It’s not square or straight, and that kitchen, they rebuilt every inch of it.”

“It’s good to help. That’s why we do it,” O’Connor said.

“I never served in the military myself, so it felt good to help, not only because of the service they provided, but because of all the community work they continue to do,” Woodman said.

While O’Connor and Woodman were happy to put in the time, much thanks should go to managers of the three Lowe’s stores involved in the project, they say, who allowed them to be off site, serving their contracting customers via the phone while wielding hammers and wrenches in South Portland.

“Not having us and the others who volunteered in the stores for this length of time, that’s not a small thing,” O’Connor said.

But now, with the work done, Legion members say all that is left is to wait for the phone to ring, and hope the availability of a new banquet hall in South Portland will fill a need in the market.

That, and they hope higher visibility will induce younger vets, historically reticent to join the ranks of Legion and V.F.W. groups, a reason to sign up.

“We’re hoping this will lead to a recruiting drive, as well,” Linscott said. “Because, let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger.”

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