By Keith Meisel
From above the entranceway to the new home of the Jackson and Johnson Memorial American Legion Post 263, framed photographs of Army Pvt. Charles Jackson and Sgt. William Johnson looked down on a steady stream of guests, officials and post members late Saturday morning.
"They would have been amazed," said William Foreman, the second man to command the post and the only surviving member of the 18 who founded the Catonsville post in 1952.
Heavy rain had canceled the April 11 parade on Winters Lane that was to be part of the official grand opening for the building, which has been open since Oct. 21.
But the speeches and ceremony to officially mark the opening of the post's new home at 151 Winters Lane went on.
"They would have been really happy that something like this was happening," said Foreman, a Marine who served in World War II and said he knew both Jackson and Johnson before they were killed in action during the conflict.
The post's new home is a gleaming two-story building that includes offices upstairs and a large hall, improved rest-room facilities for men and women, a kitchen downstairs and a bigger bar.
"This is great," said Consuela Rheubottom, past president of the post's auxiliary for seven years. "We can do a lot more functions, we can do more for the community with the bigger facility.
"The old building was falling down around us," said Rheubottom, whose two aunts and stepmother also served as auxiliary presidents.
The larger quarters will make it easier for the post to assist those in the need, agreed Commander Ronald Alston, the 20th in a line of Post 263 commanders that began with Upshur Webb.
"We help other veterans who need help, disabled veterans, people in need. We give scholarships to the kids and food to the hungry on each holiday," Alston said, listing post-sponsored events such as a July Fourth cookout and school supply giveaways on Labor Day.
An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, Alston said he had been a member of Post 297 in Baltimore before joining the Catonsville post in 1998 after moving to the area.
The post's membership has grown from 109 when he took command in 2005 to 195, he said, as veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined those who served in during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"My son served in Iraq," said Linda White, president of the auxiliary. "I wanted to give back."
The facility, which cost $795,000, according to Alston, hosts post meetings on the first and third Thursdays, an auxiliary meeting on the first Monday and a meeting of the Sons of the American Legion on the first Saturday.
The new building and its kitchen will allow the post to raise money for community projects by renting out the hall for parties, weddings and other events, he said.
"We do good work," said Kenny King, the post's financial officer.
"There's also the social component," said the longtime Catonsville resident. "We pride ourselves that people can relax when they come through that door.
"But we're not just a bar," said the former military policeman. "We believe in helping. We believe in community action."
Outside King's office upstairs, sports trophies filled a corner, awaiting permanent locations.
Al Jenkins, a 79-year-old who proudly said he was still playing softball two years ago, eagerly showed off the awards for the post teams' achievements.
"Once we get situated, we'll find a place to put them," said the post's First Vice Commander.
Softball had been the original reason for his joining the post 21 years ago, Jenkins said.
"Patterson Park. Carroll Park. Clifton Park. Druid Hill Park," he said, listing places where he had pitched and hit.
He said he had not been put off by the Legion's former home, a residence torn down to make way for the new facility. But he likes the new facility and said he comes to the post about five times a week.
His wife says he's married to the post, he said.
"But what can I say? As long as I can help somebody," he said.
"I was born and raised in Catonsville. My father was in the Army," said Charles Randall, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. "I've never been in the service. But I wanted to serve.
"We had a lot of fun in that old building," he said.
Foreman credited John Stewart and Andrew Hodsden of Legion Post 19 in Baltimore for the guidance and assistance to get the Catonsville post up and running more than 50 years ago.
He recalled that William Holley had solved the problem of where meet in the early days by interceding with Morningstar Baptist Church, where he was a member. Since then, the group has met in two other locations before finding its new home.
"This is a nice building. It shows the progress that can be made," Foreman said.
"But the idea of the American Legion is to assist returning veterans, widows and orphans and perform community service," he said.
"You miss the point if you see the building as the American Legion. That's not what it's all about," he said. "It's about service, community service. And the good thing about this building is that it's for community use also."
For information about the post, go to www.angelfire.com/md/post263.