Jerry Rawlins has a temporary “office” set up on the parking lot of Le Pere - McCalister Legion Post 416 in Farmington.
It’s a perfect spot – just as long as the chairs stay in the shade of the dumpster. Unfortunately, this new arrangement is following the June 15 fire at the post, located at 1604 W. Columbia St.
Shortly after the fire, Rawlins – one of seven members of the executive committee for the Legion – was asked to head up the cleanup and repair efforts for the hall.
On Monday, Rawlins talked about that day from almost a month ago, the impact the fire had on the work of the post and what’s in store for the future.
Rawlins said Legion officer Sam Mercer had an appointment at the Robert Silvey Outpatient Clinic next door to the hall on West Columbia Street that morning.
“(Sam) came out of the clinic…around 11 a.m. and saw smoke coming out of the building,” Rawlins said.
Mercer was met with thick, black smoke when he opened the front door. And, on the scene that day, Mercer also noticed the absence of the familiar beeping of the alarm system.
“It was so black, [Mercer] couldn’t see [the alarm control pad],” Rawlins said.
The State Fire Marshal and fire investigator both determined the fire – electrical in nature – began in the furnace room at the back of the building before spreading to the kitchen area.
On the Monday following the fire, Rawlins said officials with the St. Francois County Health Department worked with members of the legion for two days – conducting inventory and giving guidance as to what could be save and what would no longer be usable.
“All the food, drinks had to be disposed of,” he said. “We had three dumpsters full of stuff we threw away from the kitchen.”
Rawlins said there was also a loss of photos and other memorabilia from inside the hall from smoke and water damage.
On the wall in the front entryway – outlined in black dust – are the outlines of picture frames were photos of past post commanders.
“We had pictures, a lot of pictures,” he said. “Pictures of all of our past post commanders were on the wall. We’re going to save most of them – but not all of them.”
“We saved some stuff, we threw away a lot of stuff,” Rawlins said. “There was a lot of pictures and memorabilia – a lot of things that couldn’t be cleaned or saved.”
Hanging in the entryway is a shadow box containing memorabilia relating to one of the soldiers for whom the post is named. The box survived the fire. Contained within was a part of his uniform, which Rawlins said has been removed to be cleaned in order to remove the smell of smoke.
Mercer, who serves as historian, documented the items with close to 300 pictures.
There was no outside structural damage to the facility. Rawlins said there will be upgrades made to the inside to comply with codes implemented since the building was constructed in 1996.
Legion meetings are going to be held at the Norman L. Rigdon VFW Post 5896 at 814 E. Karsch Blvd. in Farmington until the hall is repaired.
“The auxiliary meetings will meet at the Masonic Hall,” Rawlins said, noting the Boy Scout Pack 247 sponsored by the Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution do not meet in the summer – noting, at this time, no other arrangements have been made.
The Disabled American Veterans group is also meeting at the VFW during the renovation on the same date and time as they met at the legion hall.
Rawlins said the Friday night dances – which the Legion has hosted for a number of years – will begin this Friday at the VFW Post.
“We’ll be down there until we get the building back,” Rawlins said.
The Legion also makes the hall available to a number of local groups at no cost as a service to the community, including the American Red Cross to use for a blood drive location and for the VA Clinic – located right next door – to use for classes and seminars.
“Sometimes, the VA Clinic has female veterans’ seminars in it,” he said. “The state hospital has seminars a couple times a year there.”
Until 2001, the VA held its clinic in a mobile unit next to the post. The clinic moved from the trailer to 715 Maple Valley Drive in Farmington, where it remained for six years. In March 2006, the state turned over to the American Legion Post 416 land next to the post. The American Legion then funded construction of a 3,416 square-foot building for the clinic, named the Robert Silvey Outpatient Clinic.
“We built that clinic. We’re the only veterans post in the country that ever did that,” Rawlins said. The post is named after the late Robert Silvey, a member of the post who was a tireless champion in working towards veterans’ services. “We built it, we paid for it, and we’ve got it leased to the federal government – to the veterans’ affairs. And, it serves veterans in seven counties and we’re really proud of the fact.”
The post also hosts a Christmas event for children enrolled in the Head Start program.
“We have donated occasionally to different organizations for fundraisers,” he said.
Hall rentals – another source of income for the post – are on hold for obvious reasons until the repairs are made.
Rawlins said there are no planned fundraisers at this time to make up for those lost avenues.
“What we’re trying to do is get our building back in shape,” he said. “There’s so much stuff going on now, we don’t have time for anything like that.”
He also noted the cooperation between the separate veterans groups by helping out in the time of need.
“We’ve got good people in good organizations,” he said.