The culmination of 5,000 volunteer hours, a local group of Marines is celebrating near-completion of a clubhouse, that has taken two years to renovate.
The structure, which has been through a number of reincarnations, started as the Price Consolidated School built in 1915. Moved in 1959, it now sits on the north side of Highway 10 west of Mandan.
The building most recently served as the Mandan VFW hall into the ’80s but fell into disrepair until the Dakota Leathernecks Detachment No. 1419, a local Marine Corps League organization, decided to refurbish it.
In tearing into the walls, it seemed the building was held together by lath and plaster, according to Ray Morrell, commandant of the Dakota Leathernecks, adding that the Marines did a lot of wood patching. They had to lift the floors and the ceiling. Windows were replaced, the original flooring was restored and the walls of the building were painted in colors representing Marine uniforms.
“It’s really nice to see it wind down and be able to utilize it for what we’ve been dreaming of," said Dakota Leathernecks founding member Ken Pilon.
There’s still work left to do.
A handrail is needed for the entry ramp, concrete floors in the basement require some repairs, and appliances are lacking. Morrell estimates completion will require another $20,000.
In November, the group hosted a posthumous silver star presentation for Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline Jr., who was killed in action in 2003.
Morrell said the presentation represented the pinnacle of the Dakota Leathernecks’ mission and the event served as motivation to get the clubhouse finished.
The space features a main hall with a kitchen and bar. The space will be available for rent. Downstairs will be the Marines' personal recreation space.
“It’s come a long way,” said Bismarck resident Jeff Olson, the Dakota Leathernecks’ newest member, as he hung trim.
Olson said he has been out of the service for 10 years but Dakota Leathernecks allows him to stay connected with that special brotherhood. Having a space to meet and share stories is therapeutic for many, Pilon added.
“We’ve been very blessed with support in the community,” Morrell said.
The Leathernecks got the idea for a clubhouse after one member visited a Kansas charter's clubhouse. The building's facade was made to look like Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, where the Marine Corps enlisted its first men in 1775.
Building owner Fred Berger donated use of the Mandan building to the Leathernecks. Berger also paid for a new steel roof for the building.
The group will hold meetings and gatherings with families and invite the community at least once a month. Upcoming events include a salute to Gulf War veterans Feb. 24 and an MRE cook-off March 17.
Dakota Leathernecks have 89 members since being chartered four years ago with 32 members. Detachments have been formed in Minot and Fargo. More are in the process of forming in Watford City and Dickinson. A statewide organization also has been formed and the Mandan-based charter will host the state convention in May.