Radford’s American Legion has been trying to garner support to renovate its aging building to no avail, but one newer member is hoping to change that.
Onassis Burress has lived in Radford for only a few years but has already ingrained himself in the community, not only with his Main Street business as a financial advisor, but also as the president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and as the public relations officer for the local Legion chapter.
“Coming from bigger areas, I’ve enjoyed being in a smaller community that offers more ways to try and serve the community and have an immediate impact,” he said.
Before Burress became involved with the Legion, the members — a vast majority of whom are veterans ranging from World War II to the Vietnam War — were using an online GoFundMe page to try and raise the money needed for the 90-year-old building’s litany of repairs.
“I just don’t think it was the best way to go about it and it didn’t receive much traction,” Burress said.
The Air Force veteran is now trying to implement more effective techniques to raise funds and is trying to secure outside help from Home Depot to cover the cost of supplies for the repairs.
“We are in the process of working with them [Home Depot] and they have been very receptive to helping out with the project. We just have to work through some insurance issues before we can get that going,” he said.
Burress said that getting insurance on the building is one issue currently being worked on, as is restoring the building’s nonprofit status.
Previously, repairs were thought to carry a cost of as much as $250,000 or more, but Burress believes it will be closer to half that with help from Home Depot and much of the work being done by volunteers.
He said the first task would be to repair the roof and gutter system as well as the soffit to prevent any further water damage to the interior of the building.
Water damage inside the building is significant, with cracks and other visible damage on the upstairs floor of the building where meetings were held before being moved to a nicer location. The carpets need to be replaced and there is likely mold damage in the basement area from water damage.
Burress and other members believe the project is important to the city not only because it has been the home of the Legion since 1928, but because it has served a variety of purposes since being built.
Vice Commander Dana Jackson, a Vietnam War veteran, has been a member of the Radford branch since 1979 and knows quite a bit about the building’s history.
“It has served a variety of roles for the city. It has been a temporary courthouse after the other one burned down,” he said. “It’s also been a temporary library, and where the Radford Arsenal first had its administration building in the 1940s.”
Jackson said that he hopes the building will one day become a historical site and have a marker explaining its importance to post World War I veterans for whom the building was built, as well as its various uses since then.
Burress said that he hopes the upper floors could be used for meetings again as well as sort of a museum showcasing many of the relics in the building such as old pictures and markers honoring Radford’s past veterans. He also would like to see it rented out for events and the downstairs portion of the building the possible host for startups in the area.
He said he is in the midst of getting the word out about ways to donate to the effort and hopes to have a direct link where those who want to help can donate directly to a bank account set up for the Legion.
“There are a lot of possibilities with this building and I think people are really going to support the effort once we get things going,” Burress said. “It’s a piece of Radford that shouldn’t be left to waste.”