Grant Update: Close Calls & Second Chances

Close calls and second chances – Mike Hemphill has experienced both during his lifetime.

For example, while he was training to serve his country in the Vietnam War, the war … ended. Mike missed seeing active duty in the Vietnam War by 21 days – close call.

When his post-military life eventually brought him to become the President of the Henryville Community Association and the Post Commander for the local American Legion post, it was only because of a second opportunity that was afforded to him thanks to a newly passed law.

So when his organization applied for a Community Assist Grant to build a memorial for Henryville veterans, but was ultimately turned down, Mike didn’t let the bad news deter his ambitions. Instead, he reacted like most people with a military background would.

“I was going to get the job done one way or another,” Hemphill recalls.

But if life has taught Mike anything about close calls and second chances, it’s that they appear only when they’re least expected.

A Military Bond

If you ask Mike Hemphill about his feelings toward missing the Vietnam War by 21 days, he’s direct with his response.

“I was ready,” Hemphill says.

But when the war officially ended on April 30, 1975, Mike found himself dressed for a party that was no longer happening. Like other soldiers, he returned home, got a job, and lived a normal life. He met his wife, Nancy, and the pair were married in 1991.

But despite being out of the military for more than a decade, Mike craved the comradery that came with being a part of a unit. The only option for him, though, came from the local American Legion post, which had roughly 40 members. And because Mike never officially saw active duty, he was turned away, as the organization only allowed members with wartime duty to join.

“It was a lot like not being able to join the VFW (Veterans of a Foreign War). I can’t join the VFW because I wasn’t a veteran of a foreign war,” Mike says. “People like me had no group – we couldn’t join any other group. Eventually they must have looked at it and decided to change it so that veterans like me could be involved in their organization.”

With organizational numbers dwindling nationwide, Mike was given a “second chance” to join the American Legion thanks to the newly passed LEGION Act, which was signed into law in 2019 and announced it would accept any honorably discharged veteran to join veteran organizations.

Wasting no time, Mike was eventually named the Post Commander of the American Legion post, a role he had been serving for the past three years. His first act as Post Commander was to change an outdated flagpole and replace it with a new one.

Little did Mike know at the time that this small project would blossom into something that would touch the entire community of Henryville.

Building a Monument of Reflection & Hope

“It was a flagpole. It had a concrete base with some flowers, but that’s it.”

When Mike Hemphill described the original monument found outside the Henryville Community Association building on North Ferguson Street in Henryville, his description was lackluster. While he appreciated the monument, he felt that those veterans deserved more.

Henryville had not had its own veteran’s memorial since 1913 when the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Monument was erected in the Mt. Zion Cemetery, which was the main entrance into the city at the time. But when construction of Interstate 65 began, the old monument was forgotten.

When the time came to replace the original flagpole memorial, Mike knew he wanted to do something special with the design. Working in tandem, the Henryville Community Association and the local American Legion post mocked up a design, priced out materials, and began the fundraising process.

To help raise money, Mike’s wife, Nancy, suggested applying for a grant through the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana. After perusing the various grant programs, Nancy decided to apply for a Community Assist Grant, which funds projects that benefit residents of Clark and Floyd counties in amounts up to $5,000.

“Nancy had written some grants for other organizations, so when we were talking about how we were going to fund that, the Community Foundation’s name came up,” Mike says. “She took it upon herself to send them a grant request for $2,400.”

Unfortunately for Mike and Nancy, the Community Foundation turned down the grant request. While the application went through the review process and the project was deemed appropriate, there are always more opportunities than there are funds available each quarter. Due to the large number of submitted applications, CFSI’s limited grants funding went to other worthy area projects.

“We were raising money already through fundraisers, so we were going to get the job done one way or another,” Mike says. “When we got the notice that we had been turned down, we were sad. But instead of doing the project in six months, we were just going to finish it in a year. We were determined that we were going to do it.”

The Ultimate Second Chance

While Mike and the rest of his team began brainstorming how to complete the memorial without the funding of a Community Assist Grant, the grant process wheels were still churning at the Community Foundation behind the scenes.

While not every grant application received is funded by CFSI, it doesn’t completely eliminate the hope of a project being funded. Along with each fund statement mailed quarterly, donor advised fundholders receive a list of Unfunded Grants, which spotlights the projects that met our qualifications but lacked funding.

Ultimately, the goal of the Unfunded Grants flyer is to prompt action of any donor advised fundholder who feels a personal connection to the project. While nothing is ever expected of the donors financially, it offers them a glimpse into the grantmaking process and an opportunity to personally fund a project. Since 2017, approximately 25 unfunded projects have been picked up by CFSI donor advised fundholders.

In the case of the Henryville Veterans Memorial monument, it wasn’t picked up by a single fundholder. It was funded by two.

One of those gifts came from an endowed donor advised fund: The Reinhardt Family Fund. A CFSI Board Member since 2022, David and his wife Donna confessed they didn’t really know anyone personally in Henryville. But David remembers seeing a particular Unfunded Grant project that struck a chord with him.

“I’m not really sure what it was about this project because we have no particular ties to the Henryville area,” David says. “Like a lot of people from the area, we remember the community suffered through a terrible tornado about 10 years ago. We just wanted to do a little bit to help a community that has been through so much, yet continues to thrive.”

With the help of another anonymous donor, the Henryville Community Association organization walked away with two separate $2,400 grants, totaling $4,800.

“We were surprised – it was like, wow!” Mike recalls. “Honestly, we thought the grant process was over. We thought that was it, and we would need to wait until the next grant cycle. Then, Nancy received that notification and was thrilled! That was fantastic. We didn’t know the Community Foundation would do something like that.”

The veterans’ monument prominently features a flagpole proudly displaying the Red, White, and Blue on top of a three concrete-step platform. The middle step holds an intricate battle cross, a touching tribute to fallen soldiers. Each branch of the military is represented with engraved stones on the bottom step, along with a dedication plaque from 2022.

“We wanted to make sure every veteran could see themselves in this memorial,” Mike says. “The military branch blocks were donated to us from the Concrete Lady and we have every branch of the military – except for Space Force. But that’s coming!

“The community just loves the memorial, though,” Mike continues. “We’ve gotten comments on our Facebook group page about how it looks so great and they’re glad to see it return to our community.”

Community Celebrating Community

In a way, the Henryville Community Association was able to have its cake and eat it too.

Not only did the Henryville Community Association have enough funding to complete their monument “the right way”, but they were also able to update their headquarters, including painting the building’s interior, hanging new shutters, and installing a new dehumidifier for the basement. By updating the facility, Mike says that rental requests have gone up, bringing in even more funding opportunities for the organization.

“The first thing on our mind was to complete the memorial because it was something our town hadn’t had since 1913,” Mike says. “But when we learned the monument was being covered, we turned our attention to this building, which was crumbling and falling apart. It needed some TLC. We’ve put a lot of work into restoring it some and I think the community sees that. So, what the Community Foundation has done is just help us do what we do, which is helping our community.”

Over the past year, the organization has played a key role in hosting events for the city. Because of its convenient location along Ferguson Street – the main road in Henryville – the nonprofit has supported numerous community happenings, including a car show, chili cook-off, and Henryville Community Day.

“Everyone in the area has just really bought into this place,” Mike says. “I think the community is proud of this space once more.”

Ultimately, Mike knows that without the generosity of the two donors, the organization would not have been able to have the success they are currently experiencing. And if he ever comes to face-to-face with the two donors down the road, he knows exactly what he would say to them:

“Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And not just the Henryville Community Association or the American Legion Post – thank you from the entire community itself.”

This year, the Henryville Community Association will hold its annual Memorial Day Service at their new Veterans Memorial. The service will take place on Monday, May 29 at 10 a.m. The address is: 305 N. Ferguson St., Henryville, IN 47126

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