2011 Civic People of the Year: American Legion Post restoration volunteers

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Greenport residents Butch Corwin, Craig Richter and George Costello.

Orange-wheeled roller skates piled onto a buckled wood floor could soon be dusted off and rented once again thanks to a community effort to restore the shuttered Greenport American Legion Hall on Third Street in Greenport.

For taking on the project of bringing the nearly 13,000-square-foot, all-but-defunct building back to life, the volunteers behind the restoration of the Burton Potter Post 185 building are The Suffolk Times Civic People of the Year.

George Costello, a Vietnam veteran and Greenport American Legion member leading the restoration effort, said the community’s support as been tremendous since his group began the project in November 2010.

Over the past year, the Legion has held membership drives, applied for grants and organized benefits to support restoration of the building, which has been closed for about five years.

The Legion has raised $117,000 through fundraisers, including dinners held at Skipper’s, Soundview Restaurant and Hanff’s Boat Yard. Greenport and Oysterponds schools have also put on shows to benefit the project.

In addition, the Legion has created a “Wall of Honor,” a plaque that will be mounted in the lobby and list donors who have given $100 or more. It already has nearly 120 names and the Legion is planning a second “Wall of Honor” plaque to list additional donors.

Mr. Costello said he’s received letters from local residents describing how much the building means to them. Many have shared memories of meeting a future spouse there or taking grandchildren roller skating. It’s those stories that keep the volunteers focused on making sure the hall reopens, he said.

“Some people have sent five, ten, twenty dollars and said ‘We don’t have a lot of money, but we want to help,’” Mr. Costello said. “The generosity almost brings you to tears.”

The Legion Hall was built in 1950 and then rebuilt in 1953 after it burned down. The building can hold 1,200 people and has a concession area and stage. Many musicians have held concerts there, including Wilson Pickett, Charlie Daniels and Hot Tuna.

Craig Richter, a Navy veteran and Legion member, said he believes the reopening is important to the community because it will provide an affordable venue for weddings and other celebrations.

“Our community needs this,” he said. “George has led the charge and both of us are committed to see this through.”

Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce said the village is supportive of the Legion’s efforts and plans to create a long-term recreation program at the hall once it’s up and running. The village and the Legion are also in the process of applying for a federal grant to help fund the restoration.

“They have done an amazing amount of work,” Mr. Nyce said. “Having a building that size is a huge asset to the community. It’s a place where the whole village can get together.”

Now that repairs on the long-leaky roof are mostly done, the Legion plans to finish beautifying the front of the building this spring by painting the exterior and installing new windows. Other projects include upgrading the bathrooms, re-tiling the kitchen and installing new heating and air conditioning systems. The Legion hopes to reopen the hall in September.

“I’m looking forward to seeing hundreds of little kids roller skating, just as I did,” Mr. Costello said. “The rest of us dum-dums will probably have to hold onto the rail, but it will still be a blast.”

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