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William R. Witty American Legion Post 37 agreed to accept the gift of the former Whiskey River property from Nicollet County Bank in a membership meeting on Monday. Pictured are Legion Auxiliary Unit 37 President Heather Tollefson and Post 37 Commander Dave Arpin. (Nancy Madsen/St. Peter Herald)

William R. Witty American Legion Post 37 leadership were overwhelmed by what they’re saying is the largest gift to the veterans group.

Nicollet County Bank will give them the former Whiskey River property just east of St. Peter on Hwy. 99. The property includes the 9,000-square-foot restaurant building on a 12.8-acre parcel. Since the restaurant closed in January 2017, the property has been vacant.

“It was a very humbling offer from the bank,” Post Commander Dave Arpin said on Tuesday. “I did not expect it when I met with Mr. Gault.”

Arpin first met with bank President Sam Gault on Nov. 26, Arpin said. The post commander then presented the offer to the executive board for the post, Legion Auxiliary Unit 37 and Sons of the American Legion Squadron 37.

“That’s where we discussed the gift and the options and determined to bring it to membership,” Arpin said.

The members gathered Monday night, heard the offer and nearly unanimously voted to accept the gift.

From here, the executive leadership will select a committee of members to explore options for the property. Arpin was mum on what those options might be. That committee will bring back to the membership “in the near future,” a news release said.

“For the most part, the membership was on board because it was a free gift,” Arpin said. “The property has value. No matter what option we choose, the property has value.”

He and others were effusive in their thanks to the bank for the gift.

“We are honored by and humbled at the generosity of Nicollet County Bank and its Board of Directors,” Arpin said. “This gift sets the William R. Witty American Legion up to continue its mission of supporting veterans, their families and our community.”

Heather Tollefson, auxiliary president, said in the release, “We are excited about what this means for the future of our American Legion and our community. It will be an exciting time for our Legion as we explore all of the options this gift presents us with.”

And Ron Neary, Sons of the American Legion Squadron 37 commander, added, “The Post has been a vital part of the St. Peter community for nearly 100 years and this gift allows us to be part of the community for 100 more.”

The release said there have been no discussions about moving the post’s operations across the river.

After the restaurant closed nearly two years ago, the bank put the property up for sale. The price has been reduced from $495,000 to $425,000 in recent months. The property’s estimated market value, according to Le Sueur County property records, is $460,800. The bank was on the hook for $12,224 in property taxes in 2018.

“It hit a price point when the benefit of a gift and tax deduction fits nicely for both parties, us and the Legion,” bank President Sam Gault said. The Legion “is a great organization and something I believe in and I’ve wanted to give back in some way.”

The bank will turn over the property Dec. 28. There are no strings attached to the gift, he said.

While vacating the property and letting Le Sueur County take responsibility for it would be an easy option, Gault said doing this was a “win-win situation.”

The gift was motivated partly by his respect for veterans.

“They gave us what we’ve got,” he said. “If you had a choice to live anywhere, you would choose the USA and that’s largely because of them.”

Arpin said the heat and water have been kept on and the post will keep that up until a decision on the property’s future is made.

“We wouldn’t be diligent if we didn’t maintain the building,” he said.

Arpin said there’s no deadline on the post’s decision.

“We want to make an informed decision,” he said. “We want to put best possible people on the committee.”

Reach Associate Editor Nancy Madsen at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @SPHnancy.

Nancy Madsen has written for newspapers in Watertown, N.Y., and Mankato, as well as for PolitiFact Virginia at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. Nancy is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

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