Raffle, donations to raise money for damaged Legion Hall

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

It all started with flames in an attic.

A July fire at the iconic American Legion Post 55 building in McDonough has for now cost the civic organization use of its building. A raffle of a gun collection donated by a McDonough man, along with direct donations and an Internet funding project, are so far only about a third of the way toward meeting the nonprofit’s most immediate needs.

WWII veteran Art Regenold Jr., front, poses on the turret of a 16-inch German railway gun in this archival photo from 1944. The photo, along with dozens of others, is displayed in an artifact volume at the Heritage Park Veterans Museum. Special photo

An attic fire on the evening of July 30 ruined parts of the Legion Hall’s ceiling and flooring and rendered its already-tenuous heating and air condition system inoperable. Insurance has paid for renovations to the roof, ceiling and flooring, and that work is complete, but the HVAC system was not covered and must be replaced before the building can reopen for events, said Legion Post 55 Commander Rick Berry.

“That’s what we’re trying to raise money for, is to maintain the rest of the building so we can get it open again and earn rent on it again,” Berry said, explaining that the civic organization’s funds are typically stretched thin, and the repairs are well beyond the means of Post 55, particularly since for months it cannot be rented to groups – the Legion’s primary source of revenue.

Estimates to repair the HVAC system are around $10,000, Berry said. Current collections total around $3,500. “We desperately need help if we’re going to get this building back to hosting events. Buying several raffle tickets, or at least one $10 ticket, would get us closer to reopening.”

The historic building has been the venue of choice for years for high school dances, wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties and many other events, he said. “As a young man I learned to dance in that building. A lot of people in this county have so many memories invested in this old gem. That’s why there’s been the private donation response we’ve seen so far. But we’re still so far away from the goal. We need more help.”

To help, McDonough resident Art Regenold III wants to donate a family heirloom. A gun collection with two replica Kentucky black powder guns once owned by his father, a WWII veteran, will be raffled off at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the Legion Hall at 67 Veterans Drive in McDonough.

From left, Art Regenold III of McDonough holds a replica Kentucky black powder pistol left to him by his late father, WWII veteran Art Regenold Jr., while American Legion Post Commander Rick Berry, middle, holds a replica Kentucky black powder muzzleloader rifle. Regenold donated both weapons and other related items as a collection to be raffled off December 1 at the Legion Hall. The guns are on display at the Heritage Park Veterans Museum, whose curator, Jim Joyce, holds a stack of $10 raffle tickets. Photo by James Saxton

Funds are coming from other sources, too. Direct contributions to the nonprofit of about $1,500 so far have also been collected, Berry said. And a so-called “crowdfunding” website, which allows people to raise money for individuals and groups, has been used to establish a fund to aid the Legion Hall repairs.

On the day after the fire, Regenold’s neighbor and former McDonough councilman Mike Elrod of McDonough began the fund on GoFundMe.com that so far has raised $1,855 “by 15 people in two months,” Elrod said on the site.

The gun collection includes a Thompson/Center Hawken replica .50 caliber black powder muzzleloader rifle, a Connecticut Valley replica .45 caliber Kentucky black powder pistol, cases for both, two books, a powder horn, mini balls and some related tools in a frontier-style pouch.

“Both the black powder rifle and pistol being raffled are absolutely gorgeous weapons,” said Jim Joyce, the facility coordinator and curator of the Heritage Park Veterans Museum at 101 Lake Dow Road in McDonough, where the weapons are being displayed.

“These are not just display weapons. These weapons can be fired. They are replicas of percussion type rifles made in pre-Civil War America. They’re definitely worth a few $10 raffle tickets,” said Joyce, who admitted he’d bought some of the 350 printed tickets himself.

A few artifacts from the WWII military service of Art Regenold Jr. are displayed in a handsome volume near the weapons, including photos of wartime engineering work and a souvenir map of the travels of his unit, the 289th Engineer Combat Battalion. The map, signed by Art Regenold Jr. himself along with others in the unit, was found online by the nephew of Art III. The volume of artifacts will be donated to the winner of the raffle drawing as well, he said.

Because Regenold’s father was a WWII veteran, a primary reason Regenold said he chose the nonprofit organization is the American Legion’s longtime assistance to veterans.

“The guns are going to a good cause, and I’m glad we’re able to help out a little bit,” Regenold said. “I’m not particularly a gun person, and I was looking for something to do with these. While they had some sentimental value for me, some of my father’s other items I valued more. So I thought I’d see if the Legion would be interested in taking them as a donation. Mike (Elrod) is my neighbor and I’ve met Rick (Berry) off and on over the years. Rick graciously accepted them, and the raffle was proposed not long after that.”

“I was astounded, humbled and so appreciative of this gift,” said Berry, also a retired U.S. Army command sergeant major. “We are all so thankful to Art. This really means a lot.”

Regenold said that giving it gives him joy, because the real contribution his dad, and others like him, gave to the nation is priceless.

“He didn’t like to talk much about combat or tell war stories,” he said, adding that his father did describe his unit as always ready to assist, just behind the infantry and tank units of the 7th Army.

“He said that when those big tanks were trying to turn a corner in some of those little German towns,” Regenold said, “if the tank couldn’t make the turn because the intersection was too tight, their engineering unit was responsible for doing what was needed,” including shearing off the corner of a building.

The 289th also had such duties as construction, demolition, sanitation, map production, minefield clearing, unit intelligence and serving as infantry when needed. Without such combat engineers, he said, artillery movements would have been sometimes impossible.

“Veterans Day is coming up, of course,” Regenold said. “And then Nov. 17 will mark the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing. Every time I think about the freedoms we all enjoy, I think about my father, and all those men and women who faced down the biggest evil this world has ever seen. I think about the courage and ingenuity of (the combat engineers) and some of the victories they made possible.

“Those were special people, you know. They truly were the greatest generation. I hope whoever wins the raffle will enjoy the stories that go with these weapons.”