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Flowery Branch-based veterans group searching for a home
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Johnny Varner, junior vice commander of the 9th District American Legion Post 328, speaks with a reporter in a conference room at the Goodwill of North Georgia: Oakwood Store, Career Center and Donation Center, the facility where they usually meet in Gainesville, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. The 9th District American Legion Post 328 currently does not have a facility to call their own. They are working to raise funds for a new building so they can have a place to gather and hold meetings. - photo by David Barnes

More than eight years after its birth, Flowery Branch-based American Legion L.C. Pace-Eugene Brown Post 328 is still trying to find a home.

Lamar Millsap, the group’s economics committee chairman and sergeant at arms, summed it up this way: “We need land and money.”

The 100-member post gets by alternating monthly meetings between Goodwill of North Georgia in Oakwood and the Spout Springs Library in Flowery Branch.

But the group needs more than a gathering spot, members said.

For one thing, Commander James Robertson said, it needs a place to keep records.

But also, “we don’t have a post home to do the full-blown programming that we could do,” said Johnny Varner, past commander and post adjutant.

Among other ventures, the post sponsors an oratorical contest and participates in the American Legion’s Boys State program, a comprehensive weeklong leadership course in state and local government for rising male high school seniors.

“There are a lot of programs that, if we had our own place, we could expand upon,” Robertson said.

Also, with adequate space, “we could branch out and have other events that would generate funds for the building itself,” Millsap said.

“And we’d really like to play a civic role,” Varner said. “The Flowery Branch (area) doesn’t really have a civic center.”

He added, with a chuckle, that he gets “many calls for bingo.”

A new home could also provide a social spot for the veterans group, as well as a home for a future auxiliary group — or spouses of veterans. The group also is trying to start a veterans motorcyclists group, Varner said.

The search for a home started in 2009, when Post 328 was formed by the merger of two historically black American Legion posts: one in Buford and the other in Gainesville.

Each of the former posts had homes, but issues there were pushing the two groups together — the Buford home’s acquisition by the Buford school system and the Gainesville home needing costly repairs.

Officials “saw Flowery Branch as a middle ground for both posts,” Varner said.

The Gainesville post property was sold to a church, with proceeds going to a fund for a new home.

And Post 328 holds other fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament and a recently held Christmas party where raffle tickets were sold, with money going to the building fund.

Post officials didn’t cite specific dollars needed for the effort, but they said they’re looking for up to 2 acres for the new home.

Part of the problem has been rising land values in the Flowery Branch area.

“They’ve increased since we started looking,” Robertson said.

One option off the table is leasing, something the state organization frowns on, Varner said.

“They don’t see that as smart money,” he said. “It’s (viewed as) more of an extension of debt over a period of time with no end to it.”

Varner said the post has been approved to move out of Flowery Branch, “but we want to be in that service area. Between Oakwood and Flowery Branch, there are just so many veterans.”

Plus, the post wants to be close to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic off Thurmon Tanner Parkway in Oakwood.

Post 328 members have logged more than 700 volunteers serving refreshments to veterans every Monday, members said.

“We’ve been looking at other areas to go — maybe something in Oakwood or Braselton,” Varner said. “It’s hard to put a finger on what we can do.”

But he is hopeful.

“If this all bubbles up a bit, we’d probably develop an advisory committee of the people … who are interested,” Varner said, “We can all sit down and have dialogue about the conditions and the parameters we need to operate in.”

How to help

For more information about American Legion Post 328, how to donate to the post’s building fund or join an advisory committee, contact Adjutant Johnny Varner at 404-536-3831.

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