The Robbinsdale City Council on July 2 approved a proclamation to make Saturday, July 20, “Westphal American Legion #251 Day.” The proclamation will coincide with what Post 251 Commander Tom Juergen called the “final hurrah” for the 100-year organization in its home on 3600 France Ave. N. in Robbinsdale.
The closing party will begin at 2 p.m. in the post parking lot. Members and guests alike are welcome; there will be free food and live entertainment. At 7:05 p.m. a 3-shot volley salute will be fired, and the flag will be retired and presented to Juergen as he locks the doors for the last time.
Attendees will receive wristbands and there will be beer on sale.
The council also agreed to waive fees associated with the entertainment, liquor, food and security licenses.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had an applicant that’s done more for the community for 100 years than the legion, and I think its extremely appropriate that we waive those fees,” said Councilmember George Selman. “I suspect they’ve paid lots of fees over the years for all their activities and events.”
Councilmember Pat Backen thanked Juergen and member Luke Gustafson, who was also at the meeting, for keeping a clean facility over the years, and said he would miss karaoke nights.
“It’s truly sad to see you closing down without a place to go, and we absolutely have all been looking out for some place,” Backen said.
Striding with history
Post 251 was established Oct. 31, 1919, in honor of Gottlieb L. Westphal, a man killed in action Oct. 16, 1918, in France. The American Legion was a new concept, freshly chartered by Congress in September 1919.
Twelve days later, the first American Legion convention took place in Minneapolis.
It wasn’t until 1949 that Post 251 took up residence on France Avenue. The “small club” expanded over the years to include a dining area. Today, it serves the veterans in Crystal and Robbinsdale. However, many of the 550 members are not currently living within those communities.
The post has not owned the France Avenue building since it came into financial troubles in 2000. Pressured by increasing property values in the area, the owner of the building that houses the Westphal American Legion is planning an October demolition. After the building is razed, an apartment complex, called Parker Station Flats, is set to be built in its place.
In the meantime, the post officials have scrambled to find a new location, but unique needs and increasing property values have severely limited the search. Meetings will be conducted at the Crystal VFW, and the organization leaders plan to be just as active with all other philanthropic efforts.
Mayor Regan Murphy shared an example of the post’s philanthropy at the council meeting. In 1991, he played for the local baseball team that earned a berth to play in Alabama, and the post organized and paid for vans to drive the team there.
“All those guys I played baseball with on that team are some of my best friends today,” he said. “That’s the kind of impact the legion has. I just want to personally thank you for that.”
Juergen recalled the story, nodding along as it was told by Murphy.
“We will not forget Robbinsdale,” Juergen said. “We’ve donated to the schools, fire department, police department, whoever has come to us and asked. We’re going to be around, I just have to find a home.”