THOMASVILLE — The T.L. Spence Jr. Veteran Museum project recently received nonprofit status as part of the effort to begin raising money for the new veterans museum construction.
Located between the Old Magnolia Cemetery and the Old Cemetery, the property was originally the T.L. Spence Jr. American Legion Post No. 31. After more than 30 veterans came together to delay the property from being sold, the property now has plans to transform into a veterans museum.
“The building and property are historic,” said Randy Young, historian of the project. “They were dedicated after World War I to honor a local war hero that had died at the end of World War I and for many years, the American Legion functioned there. But in the last 10 to 15 years, the number of people in the legion had dwindled.
“At one point the building had been put up for sale by parties in the American Legion and I think myself and some other concerned citizens were worried that a business could locate in there or who knows what. That just didn’t need to happen, so that’s why this is important to use that property as a historic location. It also creates hopefully something that will draw people to our town and honor our local veterans.”
Young said receiving nonprofit status was crucial to the project and was a turning point in the process of establishing the muse
“That’s huge, because that allows us to be able to solicit donations that are tax deductible and our community is so historic minded and so patriotic that we feel that this will be something that’s super natural for our citizens to not only want to support but be a part of,” he said. “It’s going to be a chance for them to honor the veterans in their own families because our focus and the interest is going to be veterans and their stories from right here in Thomas County.”
Don Sims, board member for the project and American Legion member, said that gaining nonprofit status also sends a message of how important the project really is.
“I think that the nonprofit status gives us a validation of the worthiness of a project to be vetted by the government to tell us that it is a good project,” he said, “and certainly it is beneficial to people from the corps stand point to be able to give them a donation to a project that then has them attached geographically which in this fatal time is important,” he said.
The museum costs will be expensive, but Young said it will all be worth it once the project is complete.
“We have estimated it’ll probably be near $1 million probably before it’s over. That’s pretty much what we’re looking at as far as our target,” he said. “COVID has kind of taken everything and realigned the timelines, so we’re just now really discussing target dates, but it’s my hope that the effort to start raising funds will be definitely be up and brewing by fall, But this is going to take some time. This is going to be a very expensive, professionally-done facility. We want it to be something the community is proud of.”
The museum will not only be a place to remember fallen veterans, but also will include an American military library with computer database access and an events hall where local veterans can host a variety of occasions.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Stann McLeod, president of the project and Air Force veteran, said the library will help educate the community of veteran history not just locally but nationally.
“There will also be a library component of this museum to where students can come in and find links to local, state and national veterans to any association to Thomasville, so they can learn about the veterans and what veterans have contributed to our community and entire nation,” McLeod said. “I want to make sure that it includes things about local veterans, including Lt. Henry Flipper, and we sure can’t overlook that of what his contribution was as the first African American to train at West Point.”
The next step in the project will be to start raising funds for the museum. McLeod said that he doesn’t expect to run into problems with raising money, especially with the nonprofit status.
“Our goal is as soon as possible,” he said. “We have garnered a lot of support from our civic organizations, our veterans, our community leaders already and we’re ready to start now because we feel that we can raise the funds that will be needed because we are a non-profit, so we feel we can raise the funds without a lot of difficulty. We just want to unite the community in a common cause and that is preserving that sacred ground that’s between our two cemeteries.”
With the project moving forward, McLeod said he is excited to give back to the community by spreading veteran history and saluting all the local veterans.
“Being a veteran, part of my passion is to teach students the importance of service before self,” he said. “I don’t want our next generation to go without that understanding of what service and how that our freedoms and liberties are based on men and women who were willing to write that blank check to their country to go and serve however they’re asked to serve. There’s a lot of sentiment there.
“Being retired and being a little older in age, I can’t do a lot of things I used to, but I can give back by securing the local history. I just want to make sure that we leave for this next generation some history so they can never forget the price that was paid for.”
Even though Thomasville has a lot of history to offer, Sims said some residents aren’t aware of it, but that the museum will help restore knowledge in the community.
“I am a former college history teacher, among other things that I’ve done, and it’s really apparent that without the focus on what the military has accomplished in the history of this country, a lot of people just really don’t know or are not as conscious about what has happened here before them and what sacrifices people have made,” he said. “In fact, that’s going to be a major focus for us, but importantly it will be a gathering place for veterans and veteran’s families so they can support each other and give each other a thank you for what they’ve done.”
There is no set date for construction to begin once all the funds are raised for the project, but McLeod is thankful to have the opportunity to have a huge impact on the community.
“There’s just such rich history. Our community is so blessed to have the history based in our location and past history,” he said. “Good, bad and different, we now have the opportunity to unite our community under a common good and common cause and that is just honoring service. That’s what this is all about. It’s not just a museum — it’s honoring service and sacrifice.”