The American Legion Auxiliary is celebrating 100 years of service in 2020. It was founded in 1919 during the first National Convention of the American Legion.
It purpose since the start has been to contribute to the aims and purposes of American Legion as well as to honor veterans, serve the military and their families, mentor youth and promote patriotism.
One way of promoting patriotism is by reminding the public what the holiday, that doubles as the unofficial start of summer, is all about.
“Memorial Day is not just another day off of work,” Barron County ALA president Mary Townsend said. “It is the day we remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country.”
In the past century, the ALA has grown to be the largest patriotic service organization in the nation. In an average year, ALA members volunteer 5 million hours serving veterans, volunteer 1.9 million hours serving the military and contribute $22 million to support youth, scholarship and communities.
The ALA Department of Wisconsin consists of 12 districts. As part of the 10th District, Barron County has eight functioning Auxiliary units. They are located in Barron, Cameron, Chetek, Cumberland, Haugen, Prairie Farm, Rice Lake and Turtle Lake.
Statewide membership is 17,969 as of March 2020.
“The Safer at Home mandate has affected the American Legion and Auxiliary,” Townsend said. “Meetings and fundraiser events are not being held due to limited the amount of people to gather. Granted, for some members who have health issues, it would be better for them to shelter at home. However, many veterans have a need for comradeship of fellow vets.”
With no parades and no graveside ceremonies, how does the public honor the fallen?
One way is to support American Legion Auxiliary units through its annual Poppy Drive.
“This year the annual Poppy Drive may have to be scheduled for later because of practicing good social distancing,” Townsend said. “Auxiliary units use these Poppy funds to help local veterans in need, veterans’ hospitals, veterans homes, homeless veterans programs, Veterans Creative Arts Festival, etc.
“Many of our local posts/units rely on local festivals as fundraiser events. These funds are used for everything from operational expenses to scholarships, to youth baseball.
Some of the biggest challenges these units face is recruiting new members to pick up from where its aging members have left off.
“We need to be more active with recruiting new members,” said Townsend. “We also need to communicate what the eligibility requirements are.
“Recently the Legion Act was passed. This allows all honorably discharged veterans to join the American Legion no matter the time period they served. The Legion Act will open up the membership not only for the American Legion but also for the Auxiliary. Now that a spouse can join the Auxiliary, this will also allow men to join the Auxiliary through the service of a female Legion veteran.
“I have been a member of the ALA now for many years,” Townsend said. “I enjoy being part of a movement that honors our veterans and the military. My sponsor for membership is my husband Jerry, who served 12 years in the U.S. Navy. I have served proudly on the local, county and district levels and will continue to do so.”
Any who qualify and are interested in Auxiliary membership are encouraged to contact Townsend at email@example.com.
She said the American Legion can also use new recruits. If interested, contact Cal Briggs, Barron County Legion Commander, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of highlights in the American Legion Auxiliary’s first century include the following:
• In 1919, Mrs. Lowell F.. Hobart Sr. of Ohio was voted as the first national president.
• In 1923, the poppy became the official memorial flower of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.
• In 1934, the Auxiliary established junior memberships.
• In 1955, Auxiliary membership hit a high of 998,103.
• In 1969, the Auxiliary Emergency Fund was created through an estate donated by Helen Colby Smalls of Burlington.
• In 1955, membership eligibility was extended to include grandmothers.
• In 2001, the Auxiliary became a host sponsor of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
• In 2017-2018, Diane Duscheck was the first Wisconsinite to serve as national president.
• In 2019, in a membership rule change, the word “wife” was taken out and replaced with the word “spouse