Grassroots efforts could save Memorial Hall

Published 10:06 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

As one of our nation’s founding fathers and the first U.S. President, George Washington made his mark on history with his actions.

A group of local veterans hope to leave their mark through their actions as well, one George Washington — you know, the $1 bill — at a time.

Second Vice Commander Tom McClain and Sergeant-At-Arms Jim Volgares, both representing the American Legion Post 433, are leading the way on a fundraiser designed to preserve a part of Ironton’s history: Memorial Hall.

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“We want to restore it back to its original glory … to be a home for all the service groups,” said Jim Volgares, a Vietnam veteran.

The concept is really pretty simple but creative at the same time: Get the nation’s 7.9 million veterans to donate just $1 toward saving the building from the wrecking ball and taking the problem off the city’s hands.

Besides giving the city’s five military organizations — the Order of the Purple Heart, the Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, two American Legion posts and VFW Post 8850 — a permanent home, Volgares said they hope to restore the 900-seat auditorium the building once housed.

Ideally, this could be something that would be rented out to the public as a way to help generate funds to operate and maintain the building, he said.

The concept of a veteran-driven initiative on a project like this isn’t a foreign concept.

In fact, Volgares and McClain are essentially drawing on the past for ideas to build for the future.

Memorial Hall would never have become a reality if it were not for a group of concerned veterans.

Near the end of the 19th century, several members of the local Grand Army of the Republic post — named in honor of Dick Lambert, the first Lawrence Countian killed in the Civil War — decided that the county needed a war memorial.

More than $20,000, which was a lot of money in those days, and five years later, the building was dedicated and opened to the community.

When asked to sum up what message he would like the community to take away from their efforts, Jim Volgares hearkened back to that day.

“I’d like to share a partial quote from Gen. Hearst on Oct. 20, 1892. ‘Boys, this is your home sweet home for the past, the present and the future,’” Volgares said.

“It is not a real hook but it really resounds (for me).”

Donations can be sent to: Veterans Memorial Hall Restoration Fund

National City Bank

110 South 4th Street

Ironton, OH 45638.

Realizing that it will take time, Volgares and McClain see this as a five-year project that will have to be handled in phases, hopefully with some funds coming from grants available to military groups.

The exciting thing about this type of thing is that it appears to be a group of citizens taking ownership for revitalizing a key part of the past at little or no cost to the city of Ironton.

Having seen no other viable solution other than to tear it down and create a minimal amount of green space, this may be a perfect fit.

Want proof that a grassroots effort can work? Look no farther than Ironton in Bloom and the Friends of Ironton, groups that have helped change the complexion of downtown Ironton and helped return a sense of pride to the city.

I see the same type of future for this project as long as it remains driven by community-minded individuals who aren’t waiting for someone else to make a difference.

Our veterans became heroes because of that “take-action” mentality and it could serve them well right here at home.