Hellertown American Legion is Open for Business
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the Edward H. Ackerman American Legion Post 397 in Hellertown reopened for business in February after a closure of nearly five years.
There were tears in the eyes of several longtime members Feb. 2, as a community within a community gathered to celebrate the reopening of Hellertown's Edward H. Ackerman American Legion Post 397 with a flag-raising ceremony.
Closed for nearly five years, the landmark 1926 building at Main and Chestnut streets is again welcoming members to its bar, which is known as the Tap Room.
Inside the Tap Room are an oval bar, tables and a striking wall portrait depicting the Battle of Iwo Jima.
But more importantly, for Legion Post 397 Commander John Higginbotham, are the people who are coming back to enjoy the atmosphere and fellowship with one another.
A year ago "nothing was working--nothing at all," Higginbotham said during an interview in February.
He explained that the building's furnace was out of steam, and many of its interior fixtures had been stripped or stolen.
Fortunately, Higginbotham said, vintage replacement furnishings were available from the American Legion post in Egpyt, Pa., which recently constructed a new building and offered the Hellertown post some of the contents of its old one.
With the Tap Room now open for business and an adjacent room available for private gatherings, the plan is to raise the money needed to continue the restoration of the 28,000 square-foot building in phases, Higginbotham said.
That's important, he noted, because members want the Legion to again be a resource for veterans from throughout the region.
"The veterans of the (Lehigh) Valley don't really have anywhere to turn to find out about benefits," he said.
Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and overall "the suicide rate for veterans has increased dramatically within the last five years," Higginbotham said.
But with the continued efforts of the volunteers who are working to restore Post 397, men and women struggling to reintegrate into civilian life will perhaps find a sanctuary in Hellertown.
Reflecting on that possibility, Higginbotham said he owes a debt of gratitude to everyone who has participated in bringing the building back from the edge of oblivion.
"Thank God for the volunteers," he said.
Among the groups that have played key roles in bringing the Legion back to life are the post's Ladies Auxiliary, the Joint Veterans Council of the Forks of the Delaware, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and local businesses and individuals who have made donations.
Donations made to the not-for-profit American Legion are tax-deductible.
Higginbotham, who on March 13 presented a program about the history of Legion Post 397 to the Lower Saucon Township Historical Society, said the restoration effort to date has been a labor of love.
"We all feel the same about the Legion," he said. "In Hellertown, the people wanted it. The veterans wanted it. And we're all proud to be a part of it."
Since the February flag-raising was hastily assembled, another larger ceremony commemorating the reopening is planned for April, when Post 397 will celebrate the anniversary of its founding nearly a century ago.
Legion meetings are held the third Monday of each month at 7pm. The Ladies Auxiliary also meets on the third Monday of the month at 1:30pm.