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ITOW social room debuts

After months of work by volunteers, the finished product – the new social room at ITOW – is a place for veterans and the community to socialize and hold events and meetings. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

After months of work by more than a dozen active volunteers, the new Veterans and Community Social Room at the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum is now open.

The room officially debuted at an open house on Saturday.

Formerly used as a kitchen by the local VFW, the room “was in a sorry state of disrepair…pretty much unusable with old equipment, greasy ceiling tiles and chipped flooring,” according to Marcia Davis, board president of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

After the local veterans and auxiliary expressed their wish to have a place to sit and play cards and visit, Karen Crabtree, the board’s vice president, and Lina Belar, the museum’s former executive director, applied for a renovation grant through the Home Depot Foundation.

They requested $5,000 to redo the room into a social area for veterans, as well as a place to conduct meetings, interviews and more.  One of the grant requirements was that the project be completed with the help of volunteers.

After word got out that the grant was approved, a team of about 13 volunteers got to work. Led by board member Mark Lehman, they gave up evenings and weekends to focus on the project, working on it for about six months.

The volunteers gutted the room, then redid everything from top to bottom – from new ceiling tiles, to a “mini kitchen” area with light and airy paint, to fresh and modern flooring. 

These volunteers included Gary Menz, Pat Lehman, Diane Tix, Terry Lehman, Jude Pare, Alan Lehman, Eric Crabtree, Stuart “Spike” Evert, Rama Calabria, Merle Kangas, George Rux and Diane Rux, as well as several others who stopped by on occasion to help out with specific tasks.

According to Davis, key parts of the project included:

-Getting rid of the old kitchen equipment. Most of it was sold, helping to support ITOW operating expenses.

-Gutting the old infrastructure. Pipes, ducts and plumbing all needed to be torn out and either recycled or taken to the dump.

-Designing the new room.  Volunteers decided to add storage for chairs and a mini office area for the White Elephant Thrift Store.

-Purchasing materials. A small team went to Home Depot to select them.

-Drywall, electrical, plumbing, ceiling and flooring installs, along with priming and painting. 

-Celebration. The board recently donated funds to hold a celebration dinner for the volunteers, the first event held in the new room.

ITOW is still looking for donations of quality furniture and artwork for the room.

For now, the room is being called the Veterans and Community Social Room, but the board is interested in giving it a catchier name. Community members are encouraged to share their ideas or even volunteer to come in and decorate to a theme.

The room is available for the community, families and businesses to rent for meetings and events.

For more information, contact Marcia Davis at or call 346-7678.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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