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Technically, there was a winner and a loser in the membership challenge between the departments of Missouri and Kansas Sept. 19-21. But in the eyes of everyone involved, there were only winners: Kansas, Missouri and The American Legion.
For three days, Legion family members from both states made phone calls and went door to door, working alongside Legion national staff to transfer headquarters post members into local posts, renew former members and sign up new ones. The results: dozens of new members brought into the organization, while another 442 were transferred into local posts.
The idea for the challenge came during discussions between National Membership staff and immediate Past Department of Kansas Commander Paul Sanford regarding revitalization efforts in Kansas. That led to talk about a possible revitalization effort in the Kansas City, Mo., area; the idea was floated about running simultaneous efforts in both states. Missouri department officials were brought in, and the challenge was on.
"It took about three to four months to put it all together," said Sanford, who now serves as Kansas' Centennial Membership Committee chairman. "I went to the Missouri state convention, and the whole time I was there, there was a lot of back and forth going on. I think this is one of the most fun things we've done between the two states.
"It's a fun rivalry, but it is a rivalry. And I truly feel that there are no losers in this event. Both departments are gaining from it. Every one of us benefits."
Dennis Woeltje, Missouri's membership chairman, agreed, and hopes that similar competitions develop throughout the country. "Membership is important, and this really makes it fun," he said. "The hope is that this escalates to the point where other states are doing it. There are some really good state rivalries out there, and this is a fun way to use those rivalries. And it helps the posts, the districts, the departments and the entire American Legion."
The revitalization efforts were based out of Earl Collier Post 153 in Olathe, Kan., and Tirey J. Ford Post 21 in Independence, Mo. Legion family members from both departments divided up the expired and DMS members lists and made phone calls for more than six hours a day to names on the list. Teams of department Legionnaires and national staff divided up similar lists and traveled throughout neighborhoods throughout both areas, selling the importance of being a part of a local Legion post.
"We've got people from the Auxiliary, the Legion Riders, dual members and the Sons all are putting in effort to make sure this is a success," Woeltje said of Missouri's efforts. "We've got our entire Legion family working on this."
In Kansas, Legionnaires from as far away as Dodge City – a 330-mile trek – showed up to help. "There is, shall we say, a bit of state pride at stake," Department of Kansas Commander Gaylord Sanneman said. "But it's more than that. It's getting a Legionnaire into a local post where they can see what their dues are doing. You put them in that local post and now they can help financially support those programs. That's a big selling point."
A department service officer spent time at each post on Sept. 21, helping several veterans with Department of Veterans Affairs claims. "A lot of veterans still are really not sure of their benefits," said Ron McBee, assistant department service officer for Missouri. "It's nice to be able to get out in the field like this and help educate some of them about what they can get."
A pizza party took place at Post 407 in Lenexa, Kan., to bring the competition to a close. There, Legion family members from both departments engaged in good-natured ribbing and began issuing new membership challenges.
"This is something I can keep working on after we're done so we can continue it," said Kerry Boardman, Missouri's Fifth District commander and a member of Post 21. "We need to take what we've learned here and keep it going."
In the end, Kansas edged Missouri in the competition by transferring a higher percentage of members into local posts; letters had been sent out to those members prior to the revitalization effort, and the percentage was based on the number of letters mailed. But both sides won.
"The effort by both departments resulted in a win-win," Department of Missouri Adjutant Lowry A. Finley-Jackson said. "We were able to transfer a lot of members into posts, and now those Legionnaires can help out in their local communities. I don't see any losers here."