SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — The effort to save Marion County American Legion Post 62 on Elm Avenue in South Pittsburg has gained more momentum than organizers and volunteers ever thought it would.
Over the last two months, the grassroots effort to revitalize the dilapidated Legion Hall has exploded, and organizers expect that energy to grow entering the upcoming July 4th weekend.
In May, retired Chief Master Sgt. Trevor Shattuck, who recently moved to South Pittsburg, asked some of his old buddies at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga., if they'd be interested in helping restore the building that had fallen into disrepair from a leaky roof, a flash flood, and years of neglect.
Shattuck thought it would be days before he heard back from them.
"It was less than an hour later," he said. "They wanted to know when they could come. They were here the next weekend. They were going to make this thing happen. They're coming every weekend now. It's great to see."
During the team's first visit to South Pittsburg last month, Master Sgt. Lex Abrams said the group met with the Legion's older veterans who couldn't do the needed renovations on their own.
"They were really excited," he said. "They were excited to see a younger generation taking pride in a building and organization like this."
The team is working currently on demolition and damage assessment, but a group of 10 or 12 more volunteers from the air base will return over the July 4th weekend to begin some major construction projects.
Like most of the Dobbins volunteers, Master Sgt. Antonio "Ace" Asevedo, has spent the last two weekends of his free time in South Pittsburg helping with the renovations.
He said as residents saw that they were actually there doing something about the problem, the volunteerism around the project has "snowballed."
"The community has really gotten behind it," he said. "People from surrounding communities are starting to put into it. A little ripple can cause a wave, and that's what's happening."
A community meeting will be held at the Legion Hall on Thursday at 6 p.m. CDT to get even more citizens involved in the renovation project.
"The more people that get involved in it, the better off we're going to be," Vice Mayor Jimmy Wigfall said.
The building's revival is "something that needed to be done," Shattuck said.
"It was talked about a lot and everybody was concerned, but nothing actually started to happen," he said. "When this team came in last weekend and started taking stuff apart, that made it real."
South Pittsburg was in danger of losing a community asset with a great deal of history, but now an effort is underway to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and to revive the Legion's dwindling membership.
Asevedo said the volunteers' efforts are about restoring the heritage and community spirit that the building was always intended to provide since its construction just after World War I.
"Most of us take pride in just being able to come up here," he said. "We feel privileged that we're able to come here and do this. It's just a way of giving back to those who came before us."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.