By Jeff Keeling
As the late morning sun warmed the air, Bill Brooks put his walker aside last Wednesday and carefully climbed the steps outside the American Legion’s Kings Mountain Post 24 in Johnson City. By the next day, Brooks would be able to enter the post via a brand-new ramp that a crew from Mitch Cox Companies (MCC) provided gratis to the post.
Brooks, who trained fighter pilots while stationed on the USS Lexington off the Southeast Asian coast from 1969-73, expects to be off his walker after four to six weeks of rehab. But the post’s finance officer and several fellow post leaders said plenty of other members will benefit from the new ramp.
Many of the Legion’s 150-odd members are aging, current president Bryan Lauzon said, and the new ramp is part of an overall effort to retrofit the building on East Market Street to meet their needs. In addition to the MCC donation, the post received a financial gift from Mike Harris, who owns the nearby Dairy Queen, that allowed them to purchase a ramp for the inside of the building. The final phase will involve remodeling bathrooms and widening their doors.
“More and more of our members are seniors,” Lauzon said. “We realized that perhaps we could get more utility out of the building if we upgraded our accessibility. We have a door that people can enter through even if they can’t use stairs, but it’s in an inconvenient location.”
The outdoor ramp replaces a wooden version that didn’t meet ADA guidelines. “Something is better than nothing, but this is a professionally done ramp that will last 50 years or more,” Lauzon said.
While he waited on a cement truck’s arrival, MCC’s Gary Cash said he was honored to be among the crew building the ramp. His late father-in-law, Grady Williams, was a World War II veteran who lost an eye during his service and returned with back troubles on top of that.
“They’ve done a lot for us,” Cash said, noting that general awareness about groups like American Legion seems to have diminished over the years. “It’s public, but you don’t hear much about it. Yet it’s the reason (veterans’ service) we’re able to do what we do in this country.”
The connection with MCC came last summer as post member Perry Counts was gathering cost estimates for the outdoor ramp work. Counts, who served four years aboard the USS Lake Champlain during the Korean War, approached Cox and got an estimate he couldn’t refuse. “He offered to build a quality ramp for us at no charge,” Counts said.
While it has seen a decline in membership over the years, the American Legion post here isn’t resting on laurels from long ago. The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9 is an on-site tenant, utilizing a part of the Legion’s headquarters, and the two groups are working together in an attempt to meet veterans’ needs in an ever-changing environment for former service men and women.
As Cash and fellow MCC employees David Holder and Rick Kennedy worked on the ramp, a gleaming new accessible van – more nearly a small bus than a van, really – pulled up outside the headquarters.
“We’re supporting the DAV and working with them in a new effort to provide transportation to area veterans,” Lauzon said. “This post may not be as large as it once was, but there is still plenty we can do to serve.”