The source of this article: https://chapelboro.com/
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The Chapel Hill Post No. 6 of the American Legion got to host a special guest last week.
The post, located on North Carolina Highway 54 just west of Chapel Hill, welcomed the national organization’s leader for a visit on Thursday, February 17. National Commander Paul Dillard stopped through for a tour of the newer Post No. 6 facility before attending a conference over the weekend. The event provided many local Legionnaires and members of the veteran community a chance to visit the post too, which is continuing to settle into its new facility after moving from its 63-year-old home on Legion Road.
Lee Heavlin is the historian for the Chapel Hill post and previously served as its commander. He said when Post No. 6 initially moved from its 19th century home on Rosemary Street out to Legion Road, there was nothing but the countryside around the building. As the area continued to develop and grow, though, Legionnaires gradually found the space to be challenging.
“Before we knew it, the world grew around us and we were isolated,” Heavlin said. “Europa Hill came in, all the houses came in, the cemetery was halved…we were locked in. [When] we had a meeting, to get there, it was really hard and that affected membership.”
Negotiations with the Town of Chapel Hill ultimately led to the local government purchasing the 36-acre property for $7.9 million in 2016, while allowing the American Legion to stay at the site for three years until a new location was found.
Heavlin said earlier surveys of Post No. 6’s membership helped inform leadership where to search for that new home. With members traveling from as far as Burlington, Durham and other outlying areas, he said the American Legion prioritized access as a key factor for the post’s future growth.
“This area is surrounded by veterans who are coming back from the current conflicts,” said Heavlin. “They’re in the National Guard, Army and other services. We’ve got one direction where people can go out to 64, another direction to head up to 85. There are spokes of the wheel coming out from the current location and it still has a Chapel Hill address.”
With the money from Chapel Hill on hand, the local post landed on the new, undeveloped site off NC 54 and broke ground in early 2019. The 128 acres provided Legionnaires with the opportunity to once again create a space removed from others that could expand what the organization is able to offer to long-time and new veterans. Despite initial goals for construction to finish in 2019, the new Post No. 6 building was preparing to open with fanfare in 2020.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Events had to be scrapped and the earliest visitors were solely executive members of the American Legion for regular meetings. As the community adapted to the coronavirus, the post began to welcome more people for outdoor events or safe gatherings, like the 2021 Memorial Day ceremony that led to more than 100 people gathering on the front lawn.
More than one hundred people gathered at the new Chapel Hill American Legion post for a ceremony on Memorial Day in Chapel Hill on May 31, 2021. The post has been using events like this to connect with the broader local veterans community and offer its facility’s use. (Dakota Moyer/Chapelboro.com)
According to local Legionnaires, it’s more common to see members at the new facility now. Features like a full gym, a games room, a bar, ample dining and meeting space and outdoor areas to shoot skeet are attractions that not only encourage veterans to be active, but to also connect with others.
While Dillard was visiting Chapel Hill and seeing all of the building’s amenities, he said he believes the people of Post No. 6 are what makes it special. The national commander said he believes there is a good foundation to attract new members based on how the local Legionnaires have approached building and using the facility.
“You’ve got to learn to crawl before you can walk, and they seem to be taking it in stride and enjoying the journey,” Dillard told Chapelboro. “It looks like they’ve done it [through launching the new post,] which I think is a great team effort. It’s the young and the older veterans working together, and doing a good job of it.”
An aerial view of Post No. 6 in 2019 as construction on the building was finishing. (Photo via Chapel Hill Post No. 6)
Dillard said many American Legion posts across the country do not have buildings dedicated to their meetings or providing resources to Legionnaires. But he acknowledged Post No. 6 in Chapel Hill has several qualities that should help strengthen the sense of community among local veterans.
“To have a brick and mortar post is not necessary for this organization,” said Dillard. “You don’t have to have one, but this [post facility] is wonderful.”
Heavlin echoed those goals and said the local Legionnaires hope to continue seeing how the facility will aid long-time members while welcoming in the next generation.
“Our purpose is to give the veterans here an opportunity to make the post grow through their projects,” said the Post No. 6 historian. “We’ve got people doing exercise programs, people have businesses. Giving veterans a place to meet other veterans and learn about what’s possible for them [is important]…this is a home for them.”