Restoring a worthy tribute

 By Kay Braddock

       “It’s operation: Photo project,” American Legion Auxiliary member Irene Gumm said, teasingly referring to the renovation she and fellow member Deanna Bockness have spearheaded inside American Legion Post #32.

The focal point of the interior restoration, which began Aug. of last year, has been the “Wall of Honor” and for the two it has become something of a labor of love.
“Our whole remodeling was based on this,” Bockness said as she pointed to a box of black and white military photos. 
“It was a vision,” Gumm added.
The project took root when one evening last winter the pair began scrutinizing the Legion’s military photo display, which showcased those from Prairie County who had served in the armed forces.
Held in an old large frame, with many of the photos hidden behind poker machines, the two agreed Prairie County’s veterans deserved better.
And so the work began. As with any project, one thing led to another. Fresh coats of paint were added, track lighting installed, poker machines moved and antique metal military-themed posters restored. Much of the physical labor was contracted the two readily acknowledge, but shared they chose the colors and layout of the room, which houses a bar, dining area, poker machines and pool table.
The once tan walls are now replaced with gold, red and military blue – colors resembling those inside the American Legion emblem. 
Not even the bathrooms escaped their fashion flair. With a fresh coat of paint added, the walls now adorn antique looking metal military posters, portraying young scantily dressed women of the WWII era.
But the real highlight of the project isn’t the new paint, restored posters or even the newly added embossed wallpaper bordering the back wall of the bar. Instead it’s what will be held in the six metal black powder-coated frames hanging on the north wall. About three-by-five feet in size, each frame will hold 80 four-by-five inch photos of Prairie County’s service men and women. With already at least 720 photos gathered, three more frames will likely be added to the wall soon.
For now the frames remain bare. And this again is where more work will ensue  – requiring photos to be gathered, labeled and carefully installed inside the frames. 
“This is a big project,” Bockness shared. The two hope to recruit the help of other Auxiliary members to help place the pictures.
Gumm noted the “artistry of Prairie County” has already been used on the restoration project. Kelby and Karri Kalfell installed the black “Wall of Honor” lettering, two metal silhouette signs made by Dan Lassle now hang on the south wall behind the bar and Walt Koehler’s woodworking abilities will be used to frame the metal mats.
The work is far from over, and with more photos continuing to be added to the collection, (a Mar. 1 deadline has been announced to get photos to the Auxiliary), plenty of details lie ahead.
Encouragement to continue on with the project is coming from unlikely sources, Bockness and Gumm shared.
Although the project initially met with some skepticism from regular Legion patrons, Gumm shared that those who were once critical of the changes are now seeing their vision.
“It’s like (they’re saying) ‘Oh, now, we see what you girls are doing.’ ”

Published Feb. 17, 2010

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