The brightly colored walls set the mood during lunch hour at the G.I. Forum. People are chatting and laughing, enjoying their lunch, and trying to escape the heat from the outside. Servers mil around the restaurant, taking orders and refill drinks. Jokes and stories are shared between groups of customers sitting at the pristine new bar. In the back corner, Joe Cabral, Philip Lordemann, and Mick Moore laugh and retell the story of, “the miracle that happened in 32 days,” the story of how a few very helpful volunteers and workers helped give the G.I. Forum a complete makeover.
The building, originally built in 1957, hadn’t had a remodel in over a decade. The remodel in 2006 was an important one, doubling in size and capacity. However, after so many years, the building was starting to show wear and tear. This year the walls were repainted, the flooring redone, and new furniture was brought in. The new bar is complete with a new walk-in cooler with taps in the wall. The restaurant, famous for being a family-oriented climate, has undergone a full remodel to increase not only functionality but overall appeal. The vibrant hues on the walls and chairs create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Thanks to Lordemann, Moore, Cabral, Joe Dandeff, Rick Baez Jr., Marilyn Tourtellot, and countless other people, the remodel began to take shape. Tourtellot, an interior designer, had a vision for the building and kept true to her original vision throughout the remodel. “A lot of people helped. We can’t even name them all. It would be as long as a football roster,” Cabral says.
On any given afternoon, the G.I. Forum that sits on the intersection between 20th street and N street is bustling with guests of all different types. Visitors range in age from children to their grandparents. All kinds of cultures are present yet one thing seems to unite every single person. Their one connection: the G.I. Forum and everything it stands for. “The friendships that have grown at the G.I. Forum are insurmountable,” Cabral says.
Although the Forum is known for its restaurant, it has become more than that to its patrons and the communities that they belong to. Not only is it a support system for veterans in countless ways, one being the dinner for veterans hosted every last Tuesday of the month, but it has become influential in the community by giving out scholarships to young students and being a place for people to come together and connect. These features make it one of the few active South Omaha landmarks.
The G.I. Forum is also unique in the sense that anyone can be a member. “It used to be pretty much all veterans. There are a lot of people out there that love veterans and are willing to help them. Why wouldn’t we want them to be members of our club?” Commander Lordemann says. “We have opened that up and we welcome everybody. We have a very diverse clientele.”
The G.I Forum also prides itself in being extremely family-oriented. “After church on Sunday’s I always ask my grandkids where they want to go to eat, they always say the G.I Forum; they love it,” Moore says. The restaurant offers affordable food for a family budget, and a close-knit community for children, parents, and grandparents alike. “I started coming down here about thirty years ago, mostly for the friendships,” Moore remembers. “I grew up in South Omaha and it’s kind of a gathering spot. You can come down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever, but you’re always going to see someone you know down here. It’s just a comfortable place.”
The remodel is just the beginning of new projects that will be happening in the near future. “A project that we are working on is to reorganize the museum. That will be completely about veterans,” Cabral says.
The G.I. Forum opens its doors for everyone and everything: hosting community benefits, assisting the South High Marching Band, and even allows event rental of the pavilion for small family events. “We’re a veterans family organization with community betterment,” Lordemann says.
To its core, the G.I Forum is a place to celebrate veterans, the ones who valiantly put themselves on the line for the citizens of the United States on a daily basis. “I believe in this place. Number one, I’m not a veteran, but I believe in this place because veterans have always helped us and I respect them. My son is a veteran, he was in the Coast Guard,”Cabral says. Cabral’s first connection to the Forum was through Paul Aranza, a man who really contributed to the growth and flourishing of the club. For this reason, the building itself has been named in Lanza’s honor.
Most members share the same sentiments, that’s why volunteers contribute again and again. People will always be willing to give to a place that gives back to a community in a simple way: giving people a place to come together.