American Legion Post 249 Commander Bob Gonzales is on a mission.
Gonzales and the post members are seeking to upgrade their 88-year-old home to better serve veterans and the community.
They’ve already pumped $17,000 into the post to put in an ADA compliant handicap ramp and door from the side parking lot. Now they’re preparing to tackle the remodeling and expansion of the post building by some 30 feet. It’s an endeavor that is expected to cost nearly $400,000.
The expansion is designed to expand programs as well as correct deficiencies.
Narrow stairways lead to bathrooms — one for men and the other for women — on either side of the stage at the Legion Hall in downtown Manteca at 220 East Yosemite Avenue.
The bathrooms cannot accommodate wheelchairs
In addition the kitchen is beneath the stage making it equally difficult to access.
The hall built in 1929 as a gathering spot for veterans who have served America has the capacity to seat 110 — one 20th of Manteca’s population at the time. The expansion will significantly increase capacity.
The hall, however, over the years has been more than simply a place for veterans to gather to support each other and to seek assistance.
For decades, it was also “the” community gathering spot in Manteca.
Manteca residents would flock to the Legion Hall for various community gatherings.
“It was the only place in Manteca where groups could meet,” noted Grace Huston who grew up in Manteca and now serves as president of the American Legion Post 249 Auxiliary
She recalled growing up as a child when the Legion Hall hosted the community Christmas party and kids looked forward to seeing Santa and getting gifts of oranges and candy.
Even with its limitations, the hall still serves as a community gathering space for Manteca. It is also routinely booked for wedding receptions and other events to help breathe life into the 100 and 200 blocks of East Yosemite Avenue on the weekends.
“We make people renting the hall well aware of the bathrooms,” Gonzales said.
Still there is a huge demand to rent the hall due to it being smaller and less expensive than other venue such as the nearby MRPS Hall that are often booked solid.
The remodel and expansion will met that need but it also will help expand the post’s ability to serve veterans.
Member Marco Galeazzi as well as Gonzales noted the post is a godsend for veterans who can drop by and meet with other veterans that have gone through similar experiences. Drop in hours are currently 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“It gives them the chance to bond with other veterans,” Gonzales said.
The fortunes of the post have been on the rise in recent years. The treasury has carry over funds each month. Membership is over a 100. And associated groups — the American Legion Auxiliary, Legion Riders, and Sons of the Legion — are enjoying growth.
Manteca resident C. Shay Rosas — a disabled Marine Corps veteran — has stepped up to serve as an unpaid veterans service officer to assist fellow veterans in securing help for a variety of needs. She is at the Legion Post the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in addition to set times at Manteca Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6311 and by appointment availability at the University of Pacific Veterans Center on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Legion Post 249 meets the second Tuesday with a dinner at 6 p.m. that is free to members. The program starts at 7 p.m.
Monthly dinners on the third Saturday of the month help fund expenses associated with maintaining the post home.
Some of the endeavors the post is involved with including sponsoring a Boys Scout Troop ad Girls Scout Troop, Boys State, Veterans Day ceremonies, Memorial Day ceremonies, Flags Over Manteca, Blue Star and Gold Star recognition, and funeral honor guard for veterans.
The American Legion Post 249 Auxiliary led by Huston has 76 members.
Auxiliary Public Relations Chair Sylvia Rangel notes the national Auxiliary that is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary is the largest women’s service organization in the world.
One of the Manteca members — Joan Cannon — is the current Department of California Vice President. Next year she will be department president. She will be the first state president from Manteca.
Gonzales said the Legion is always actively looking for new members.
Gonzales recalled how one day he was talking to longtime Legion member George Terry when he took off his baseball cap and handed him a membership application form.
“He (George Terry) still walks around with a membership application under his hat,” Galeazzi said.
Gonzales noted as soon as paperwork has been processed for the post’s 501(c) 3 status to allow tax deductible donations the post will launch its campaign to fund the effort to expand and remodel the post.
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