On Saturday at Clermont Health & Rehabilitation Center, members of the American Legion, the Boy Scouts and the Fraternal Order of Eagles gathered with residents for an early Veterans Day celebration. Scouts from Troop 551 provided the color guard and legionnaires manned the grill. The event was officially a joint effort by the Sons of the American Legion (Post 55) and the local Eagles.

"We've been doing this for 16 years now," said Legion Auxiliary/Eagle Auxiliary member Cindy Moore. "It started out with volunteers from the Elks, the Eagles and the Legion. All the organizations do veterans and kids." Gesturing to the residents on the entrance patio, Moore added, "we continue to do it because they love it."

As part of the celebration, the Legion recognizes combat-wounded veterans among the residents. This year the lone Purple Heart recipient was Jeffery Sandy, an army veteran of the Vietnam War. Sandy is a man of few words but was beaming as he received a Purple Heart pin and cap from Legion member Jim Malarik.

This Veterans Day celebration was also a birthday celebration, one day early.

Clermont's American Legion Post 55 turned 80 years old on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, the post might have had a big celebration at their hall on Desoto Street, but times are not normal for the Post. Their hall was gutted by fire on Jan. 18, 2015, and has since been demolished.

The age of the burned building meant that many features did not meet current code, and the insurance settlement fell well short of their needs. Post commander Don Grieb said most of the design and code issues had been resolved, but they are still about $200,000 short of the necessary amount. Securing a loan is certainly an option, but there is a problem.

The property on which the burned out building stood is in the name of South Lake Legion and Auxiliary Inc. The adjacent property, which was the parking area for the hall, is in the name of the Post 55 American Legion/Auxiliary Inc. The two properties were acquired in 1957 and 1959, respectively. The joint corporation is not an active corporation under either name. The Legion, by itself, has been incorporated, and the corporation is active. The same is true of the Auxiliary.

According to an article in the July 13, 1944, edition of the Clermont Press, the decision to form a joint corporation between the Legion and the Auxiliary was made for the purpose of pooling resources to provide a proper social hall for returning veterans, and for the community. Grieb has found a few references to the joint corporation in some old Legion scrapbooks, but he has found no corporate minutes and no corporate papers. In addition there is no indication that the corporation was ever registered with the state of Florida or that the corporate papers were recorded with the Lake County Clerk of Court. In fact, there is every reason to believe that whatever official records the Legion had burned up with the hall.

"I'd like to put a sign out that says 'opening soon," Grieb says, "but I don't know when it will be. We need more money. Every penny counts."