Chatfield groups celebrating American Legion centennial

By: 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

The American Legion, an organization chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans’ organization, is celebrating its centennial this year and Chatfield is joining in the celebration.

“Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States,” cited Chatfield resident Beverly Simpson, member of the American Legion Bailey-Kinnear Post #197 auxiliary, which along with the local post, is observing this anniversary. 

Membership in the organization stands at nearly 2 million today with more than 13,000 posts worldwide, including in each of the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines. Over the 100 years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth, noted Simpson. 

Minnesota had an important role in the early years. On Nov. 10, 1919, the first Legion convention convened in Minneapolis, and the Constitution and preamble were adopted. 

Locally, the Legion and auxiliary’s histories date to the very beginning of the national organization. According to “Our First 100 Years of Chatfield” booklet published in 1953, the Harold Bailey Post #197 American Legion was organized on Nov. 10, 1919, with Robert Carson being the first commander.  Its name was derived from the first Chatfield resident who made the supreme sacrifice in France during World War I.  In 1994, the name was changed to ‘Bailey-Kinnear Post’ because Robert Kinnear was the first veteran of World War II in Chatfield to lose his life. 

The American Legion Auxiliary, also founded in 1919, was formed to allow women to assist in the mission of serving veterans’ post-war needs, according to Simpson, and it now has nearly 1 million members.  While originally organized to assist the American Legion, the auxiliary has achieved its own unique identity while working side by side with the veterans who belong to the American Legion. 

“Like the Legion, the auxiliary’s interests have broadened to encompass the entire community,” she said. “The auxiliary administers hundreds of volunteer programs, gives tens of thousands of hours to its communities and to veterans who belong to the American Legion.  Along with the American Legion, it stands behind America and her ideals.” 

The American Legion Auxiliary’s mission is “to support the American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military and their families, both at home and abroad.  For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.” 

Local auxiliary history

The Chatfield American Legion Auxiliary Unit of the Harold Bailey Post #197 was organized Feb. 22, 1921. According to a listing of past Auxiliary presidents, Mrs. Anna McDonald served as the Chatfield post’s first president, taking office in 1921.  Mrs. Margaret Bailey took over in 1922.

Simpson, an Iowa transplant to Minnesota approximately 10 years ago, recognized many familiar names in her research, especially those of former auxiliary presidents who were living when she arrived in Chatfield and many who still live here.

More recent auxiliary presidents include Anna Manahan (president in 1942), Mrs. Richard Holets, Jr., who was president from 1951 to 1952, Mrs. William Kremer who was president from 1959 to 1960, Mrs. Arnold Erickson, who served in 1964, 1988 to 1989 and 2004 to 2015, Mrs. Russell Zincke who served from 1968-1969, Mrs. Cy Morley who served from 1974 to 1975, Mrs. Frank Kinney who served from 1980 to 1981, Mrs. Florence Morsching, 1993 to 1994, Mrs. Robert Sorenson who served from 1997 to 2004, Mrs. Ron Hill who was president from 2010 to 2011, Mrs. Arthur Kalenski whose term was 2015 to 2017, and Mrs. Myron Maker, who took office in 2017 and still serves today. 

At the Veterans’ Day dinner held on Nov. 11, 2002, it was noted that special guests were American Legion Auxiliary members who had been with the auxiliary for 50 or more years, including Dorothy Chase who’d been in for 53 years, Maude ‘Mitzi’ Holetz who had 55 years, Virginia Kremer who had 53 years, Peggy Kruempel with 53 years, Elaine Lee with 52 years, Mabel Lloyd with 60 years, and Marion Turner with 56 years.  On Nov. 11, 2019, Virginia Kremer is celebrating her 70th year as an American Legion Auxiliary member. 

Auxiliary still busy    

The Legion Auxiliary’s projects are many, according to Simpson, including spring and fall “no-bake sales.”  Each member contributes to this sale to fund needs other than for what the poppy distribution funds can be used. 

Also, there is a Girls’ State committee taking care of interviewing and registering potential high school junior girls interested in learning more about government and political processes.  Candidates chosen attend a weeklong camp at Bethel College in June with the auxiliary providing the registration fee. 

Also, a senior scholarship committee selects a candidate from multiple high school senior girl applicants to receive a Legion-supported scholarship to be used for college education.  One of the members presents the award at the senior awards banquet in May.

A committee was established in spring 2019 to rejuvenate the memorial wreaths presented at the Memorial Day service at Potter Auditorium. Flags, poppies and bows adorn the wreaths that honor veterans who served in the many wars. 

In May, auxiliary committee members decorate the Chatfield News window to honor veterans of the various wars. In mid-May the auxiliary celebrates Poppy Days by distributing poppies to the community at various businesses in the Chatfield community – annually, on a Friday and Saturday in May — when the auxiliary asks Chatfield citizens to remember the sacrifice that has been made for America by wearing a poppy. 

“This poppy is a symbol of sacrifice – a memorial to all men and women who have died serving their country,” Simpson said. “It is not only a tribute to the dead, but honors the living veterans and families.” 

These monies collected are sent to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota State Veterans Service Building in St. Paul where they are distributed to specific funds for rehabilitation of veterans, welfare of families of veterans, rehabilitation of hospitalized military service personnel waiting for discharge, for welfare of veterans in financial and medical need, and for purchase of poppy kits and supplies. 

That’s not all that the Chatfield American Legion Auxiliary does, as Simpson pointed out that on Memorial Day, the auxiliary attends the program at Potter Auditorium in official attire of hats, scarves and navy and white.  Annually, members assist in a Red Cross bloodmobile held at one of the local churches, helping with the registration process and the canteen that serves the donor snacks.  In August, they join the Legion on their float in the Western Days parade, and in September, they offer the community a chemical-free pillow cleaning service when individuals may bring pillows to be cleaned and fluffed and have new covers applied or purchase new pillows.  On Veterans’ Day, hand-created dried or silk flower arrangements are delivered to all veterans at the Chosen Valley Care Center in honor of their service to their country, and Chosen Valley Care Center veterans also receive Christmas gifts from the auxiliary.

“Additionally, it is our honor to attend visitations and memorials services for our deceased veterans,” Simpson said. “I think it surprises people about the Legion and auxiliary that we do much even as a small post.  We reach a large group of people – veterans, families, youth and community.”  

Members work as team

Longtime member Betty Johnson, who’s given over 50 years to the auxiliary, said that being an American Legion Auxiliary member “makes me feel proud.  I especially enjoyed being in the parades and Poppy Days.” 

Erma Clark, who’s been a member for 67 years, arrived in Minnesota from North Dakota and found friends and fellow community service contributors among the auxiliary members here. 

“In particular, I remember the Poppy Days distributions,” she said. “People were very generous.  Another big project was the pillow cleaning.  Nowadays, people are allergic to feathers and they buy their pillows with fiberfill and throw them away when they are soiled.”

Simpson stated that she and her fellow Auxiliary members like sharing in efforts to make a difference for their fellow citizens. 

“Speaking for our auxiliary members, I would say that we enjoy being part of a group with a common interest and a meaningful cause,” she said. “We like working together as a team.” 

The auxiliary is always seeking new members to lend a hand. 

“As a small post from a small community, we must work hard to reach membership goals,” Simpson said. “Our membership is aging, and we are physically less able to participate as when we were younger.  The younger people who may be eligible to join are working full time, caring for their children and/or are caregivers for their parents or other loved ones, allowing them less time to volunteer in the community.  But we are nicely stretched as community members to reach out to those in need, those in the larger community who need the services provided by the funds to which we contribute at the department level.”

Service reminders visible

Patriotic reminders of veterans’ service to the community, region, state and country are readily visible here, Simpson noted, pointing out that there’s the Chatfield Historical Society Veterans’ Museum in the lower level of the Chatfield Public Library. There are several historical displays that permanently stand in the community – the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars monument in City Park, American flags at Potter Auditorium, City Park, post office, fire station, elementary and high school, and flags placed in yards all over Chatfield by Boy Scouts to honor our veterans on designated holidays – Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, Flag Day and Independence Day, among others. 

Just down the road in Preston stands the new Minnesota State Veterans’ Cemetery, dedicated the Sunday before Memorial Day 2016 as a reminder of veterans who served.  At the entrance of the Fillmore County fairgrounds is the restored World War I Memorial entrance constructed 100 years ago on August 26, 1919, to welcome home soldiers from World War I.       

Events planned for centennial

And to mark the century that’s passed since the Legion and Auxiliary’s establishment, there’s going to be cake and remembrances. On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Chatfield’s Bailey-Kinnear Post #197 American Legion will host its annual Veterans’ Day dinner in the fellowship hall at Chatfield United Methodist Church, with social hour at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.  The auxiliary will present Legion and auxiliary members with a 100th birthday’ cake. 

On Sunday, Nov. 10, the centennial will be noted with the Chatfield Historical Society Veterans’ Museum at the Chatfield Public Library opening from 1 to 2:30 p.m. for a self-guided tour for members and community to share in the history.  Everyone is welcome and the museum is handicapped-accessible. 

“One of the fun things about celebrating the centennial has been and will be reminiscing with longtime members and veterans in our community while listening to them share historical experiences of the past 100 years and also exploring some of the history that has been collected; over the past 100 years, many men and women have been involved with the Legion and Auxiliary in hours of volunteerism to support our veterans and their families,” Simpson said. 

Simpson also extended an invitation to potential Legion auxiliary members. Interested people may learn more about the local Legion auxiliary by asking a member or attending a meeting.  The local Legion meets the first Monday of each month at 1 p.m. at the St. Mary’s School, and the local auxiliary meets at Cabin Coffee at 11 a.m. on the second Thursday of each month from September through May. 

More information is also available on the American Legion Auxiliary website at www.mnala.org, the American Legion Auxiliary national website at https://www.alaforveterans.org, the Minnesota Legion website at www.mnlegion.org, or the national Legion website at www.legion.org