The Ressurection of Green River
By Ken Olsen
START SOMETHING AND BECOME ACTIVE IN YOUR COMMUNITY TODAY!
Tom Whitmore Post 28 in Green River, Wyo., never had a building to call home, and its ceremonial rifles and scrambled archives had been donated to a museum 45 years ago. But a crew of young veterans had a vision to rebuild it as a non-smoking facility with a family section twice the size of the bar area and a community center open to public use.
Two years later, they've converted a rundown bingo hall into a vibrant American Legion post that buzzes with patrons on a weekday night, some of whom shoot the breeze or watch the ball game, while a couple of kids play pool upstairs and another works on math homework downstairs.
“Right up to the soft opening, we got a lot of criticism,” said Marshall Burt, a post-9/11 Marine combat veteran who helped in Post 28's transformation. “They told us we weren’t going to be able to make it because people like to have a drink and a smoke. I’m hoping to say we proved them wrong.”
In less than 18 months, Post 28 went from 18 to 183 Legion members, purchased and renovated a defunct VFW-turned-bingo-hall, started a Legion Auxiliary unit, a Sons of the American Legion squadron, and what is now the third largest American Legion Riders chapter in Wyoming. They are sponsoring a baseball team, working with a local Boy Scout troop, starting a Junior Shooting Sports group and supporting the high school rodeo program – a hallmark of the Department of Wyoming American Legion. Equally impressive are Post 28's memebrship numbers: 45 percent of them are post-9/11 veterans.
“We average one new Legion family member a day, whether it’s Legion, Sons or Auxiliary,” said Post Commander Tony Niemiec, who returned to his hometown of Green River after retiring from the Marine Corps. The post was originally chartered Dec. 23, 1919, and renamed for Civil War veteran Tom Whitmore in 1924. Much of Post 28’s subsequent history is lost. There is evidence a Legion Auxiliary was started in 1926 and the post once had a female drum and bugle corps. Rumor has it that Legion meetings were held at a building across from the Union Pacific railroad depot. But Post 28 never had a home of its own.
Until a year ago.
Post 28 began holding regular meetings in the Sweetwater County Library in late 2013. The members launched a rifle raffle that raised more than $30,000. With that money, a $5,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation, $1,000 from Wal-Mart and non-interest bearing bond sales to members and families, they came up with a down payment for a one-story white building at 38 N. Center St. in Green River.
Post 28 closed on the purchase of the building on June 2, 2014, and demolition started the next day. “We put elbows to it,” said Burt, who went directly to the rundown building after work each evening and often stayed past midnight. “We wanted a place for veterans to call home and it didn’t exist in this town.” Families are actively engaged. “This is something we can do together,” said Auxiliary President Tammy Harris, whose husband, Shane, is a Marine veteran and stalwart Post 28 volunteer. And the renovated building is a nice boost for a part of Green River that has struggled for years. “It’s probably the most active place in the community on a social level, ” said Auxiliary member Kaye Tyler, an artist who painted “Welcome Home” in red, white and blue letters in the post entryway and put together the color scheme for the interior of the post.
As the post grows, members focus on doing more for the community. Post 28 has already distributed more than $3,000 in financial assistance to everyone from a stranded trucker to a veteran’s family who was $250 short of replacing a broken hot water heater. It also offers two college scholarships to high school seniors who have a family member associated with the Legion.
But the best part is hearing the reaction of people who discover Post 28 for the first time.
“People come in here every day and say, ‘I belong here,’” post member Tony Niemiec said. “That’s the greatest accomplishment.”