Military mom Maggi Purdum would have been proud.
The new $2.2 million Armed Forces Service Center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is a far cry from the cramped quarters she founded nearly 50 years ago. The facility on Concourse A is a haven for members of the U.S. armed forces and their families who find themselves at MSP with a bit of time on their hands.
There’s a lounge area with recliners, sofas and big-screen TVs, a dining room and kitchenette, showers, bunks, free Wi-Fi, a playroom for kids and space for nursing moms — all staffed largely by 180 dedicated volunteers.
At nearly 5,000 square feet, the new center is double the size of the previous space, which was outside security in Terminal 1.
As a band played Thursday and the ceremonial ribbon was sheared, volunteers, staffers and family members hugged one another amid fits of tears, laughter and an overriding sense of camaraderie.
After Purdum’s son Scott enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, he told his mom that servicemen and women could use better services while traveling through airports nationwide.
Maggi Purdum set her mind to the task — even after her son, just 21, died in a plane crash in March 1970. By November of that year, the first iteration of the service center opened at MSP.
“At the time, the war wasn’t very popular and a lot of service people were spit on and harassed while traveling,” said Penne Purdum, Scott’s younger sister, who attended Thursday’s event.
Maggi Purdum, who lived in Minneapolis and various suburbs, died in 2005. But the service center never closed, even after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. All told, more than a million active-duty military personnel, their families and retirees have used the center’s services.
The center later moved to the mezzanine in the Terminal 1 ticket lobby, where it remained for many years. But as the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) embarked on a $1.6 billion overhaul of the airport, the service center was slated to move — this time inside security.
Debra Cain, executive director of the service center, said that being inside security may make servicemen and women “feel a little more safe.” She said they’ve seen increased traffic since its soft opening last fall: “Everyone cannot believe how busy we are.”
Cain pointed to a book signed by patrons, many of whom sounded ecstatic over the amenities and warm welcomes. “Wow!” wrote one. “It’s just like a fancy concierge service!” Another wrote: “Thank you for your kindness.”
The MAC, which owns and operates the airport, paid for the build-out of the space; the state is expected to kick in another $70,000. The state provided $100,000 to the center itself, which also received $150,000 in donations.
The center, a nonprofit organization, receives contributions from veterans groups, plus personal and corporate donations to cover operating costs.
Jeanne Morford, a retired schoolteacher, volunteered for one of the first shifts after the center opened in 1970 and has been a fixture there ever since. “When we started, we didn’t know how long it would stay open,” she said Thursday. “People are really wowed when they come in, and they’re so appreciative.”
As the celebration ebbed Thursday and the Buffalo wings and tiny burgers donated from nearby Blue Door Pub dwindled, a young man tentatively approached the center’s doorway. “Are you open?” he asked a volunteer.
“We most certainly are,” she replied. “Let’s get you signed in.”