Ypsilanti American Legion Post 282 gearing up to open new building, recruit former and new veterans
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
After the former American Legion Post 282 on South Huron Street burned three years ago, its membership dwindled.
The post has been holding meetings at the Ypsilanti Moose Lodge and occasionally the VFW, but with no real home of its own or Ypsilanti base from which to provide services, its members have “wandered.”
At the time of the fire, the group’s membership numbered over 500, and its list of active participants' names is down to just over 200.
But American Legion 282 meetings in recent months have been held at a new post leaders recently purchased at 100 Ecorse Road. The building, the former Bailes Pharmacy, still is mostly vacant inside and doesn’t resemble an American Legion.
But that’s about to change. Contractors are working quickly to remodel much of the 4,500-square-foot first floor in time for a “revitalization” effort the post's remaining members are undertaking, along with an open house on Sept. 23 and 24. The post's formal opening and dedication is scheduled for Nov. 11.
Al Ford, the post development chairman, said the American Legion 282 representatives have a list of 600 veterans’ names and will go to their homes throughout this weekend to let them know the Ypsilanti American Legion is back online and invite them to get involved.
“We will be out knocking on doors and inviting not only vets that wandered away, but any vet in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, because there about 3,000 veterans here,” he said. “We have a lot of room for growth, and we want to be there for the Veterans of America.”
Ford said any veteran who served during a Congressional established war period is eligible to join the American Legion and can apply by presenting their discharge papers or any other service record.
Among Congress's established war periods are:
â€¢ The Persian Gulf from Aug. 2, 1990 until present. â€¢ Panama from Dec. 20, 1989 to Jan. 31, 1990. â€¢ Grenada and Lebanon from Aug. 24, 1982 to July 31, 1984. â€¢ Vietnam from Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. â€¢ Korea from June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955. â€¢ World War II from Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946. â€¢ World War I from April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918.
Including the cost of purchasing the building, the post is investing $250,000 in the property.
The site includes a 4,500 square foot basement the post intends to utilize, and will feature a club room, meeting room, a meeting room for the ladies’ auxiliary, a meeting room for the sons of the American Legion, a kitchen, a rental hall and an internet cafÃ©, though Ford said not every room will be ready for the November 11 unveiling. The building will also be handicap accessible.
Ford said one of the goals is to make the building attractive to younger veterans who have served in the Persian Gulf and added the post will be seeking involvement from Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan students.
He said many of the younger generation need the Legion’s assistance in understanding and filing for their VA benefits, such as health care assistance or disability pensions. For those who don’t know how to navigate the bureaucracy, the process can be intimidating, Ford said.
“We have a wonderful government; they’re great and they do a lot for us, but they aren’t going to say ‘Hey, Charlie! Come on down! We got a benefit for you!’” Ford said. “You have got to go out and get it.”
Ford said American Legions are also involved in the community and sponsor numerous programs for high school students, such as a civic program that sends eleventh graders to Lansing for a week to get firsthand experience with how the government works.
The Ypsilanti Post 282 was founded in 1920 following World War I, and Ford said leaders are excited to reestablish their presence in the area. Aside from interior renovations, plans are in the works for a war memorial listing all 3,000 of Ypsilanti’s veterans names. The post also wants to move their canon to the new location, and Ford said the Legion will be a point of pride in the area.
“When it’s complete, we want it to make that corner a showplace for the city of Ypsilanti,” he said. “The building will be attractive from the outside and we are going to make it extremely nice on the inside.”