Back in business

For decades, American Legion Burton Potter Post 185 in Greenport, N.Y., had served as a gathering place for the community. Home to a public skating rink, the post provided a healthy activity for generations of residents of the Long Island North Fork community.

Because of its size, the post’s home also served as a meeting place for other civic organizations, hosted weddings, parties and wrestling events, featured a full movie screen and even doubled as a concert hall that featured such entertainers as Charlie Daniels and Wilson Pickett.

But more than seven years ago, after falling into disrepair – and later getting hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – the building shut down. But thanks to the dedication of a Legionnaire, and the support of both his fellow members and the community, Post 185 is back in business.

Approximately 300 people attended the building’s reopening at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The sound of skates whirring across the George D. Costello Memorial Skating Rink was the sound of perseverance and mission accomplished to those involved with the project.

“It was a big relief to get to that point,” said Post 185 Hall Manager Mindy Ryan. “It’s a new beginning. It was very emotional – not just for me, but for all the people who have put so much into this place.”

The renovation effort started with Post 185 member George Costello, a Vietnam War Marine veteran. Post 185 Commander Craig Richter said Costello approached he and other post members in 2011 about renovating and reopening the building.

“George saw the need for us to renovate this building and had the compassion to do it,” Richter said. “George was a good force and a good leader in helping us get this project underway. It’s a shame he didn’t get to see its completion.”

Costello and Richter grew up near each other in Greenport. Richter said Post 185’s building had long been an important part of the community.

“This was a gathering place for people of all ages,” Richter said. “The fire department used this building on a regular basis for dinner/dances. The youth skated here at least two nights a week and on the weekends also. We used to have CYO basketball inside. This building was used on a regular basis. It was probably, at that time, the largest indoor venue on the North Fork. It is quite important to the village of Greenport.

“The Legion has always been a gathering place, especially for the youth. And the youth are very important to The American Legion. That’s why it needed to come back."

After years of what Post 185 Treasurer Rob Staron called “deferred maintenance,” the building was in need of major renovations. Costello saw that need and got the ball rolling, but then passed away unexpectedly in 2012.

There was no chance his fellow Legionnaires were going to let the project die with him. “It was because of this reason it had to be done,” Staron said. “George started it, but it had to be finished.”

Thanks to private donations, fundraisers and contributions from local businesses, more than $850,000 was raised to complete the renovation. “It was a complete community-based project,” Staron said. “Although (Post 185 takes) great pride in it, the community should take great pride in it also.”

Ryan, who became the building’s manager in October, moved to Greenport in 1983 and watched her daughter skate at Post 185. She sees a lot of potential for the building.

“I’m just so excited about it,” she said. “(It’s) a community center. The local people that live here year-round need a place. The kids need something to do. The roller skating will be great for them. People are talking to me about having a graduation party here. Weddings, concerts … the possibilities are endless as to what can be done here.”

Staron said that seeing the building reopen to the public on New Year’s Eve “was wonderful, a great feeling, knowing that the community had its recreational spot back. (George Costello) would have been looking down on us, and if we could hear him he’d have said, ‘Great job. Why did it take so long?’ Because George was a go-getter. He would have had it done quicker. He was more of a pusher than any of us.”

Ryan never met Costello but is good friends with his brother, John. It was through that connection that Ryan was contacted about the building manager position.

“I was told George was a very hard worker, very driven,” Ryan said. “That carries on to me. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I feel him. He’s watching. It’s inspiring to kind of be working under someone like him, even though he’s passed away.”