Bob Ferrebee grew up in Berryville, Va., then served in the Army during the Vietnam War and taught high school math. Now retired, one of his hobbies is history, from the personal – Ferrebee has family photos going back several generations – to that of Lloyd Williams American Legion Post 41 in Berryville, where he's adjutant and historian.
Thanks to his father, a World War II veteran, Ferrebee's knowledge of Post 41 is extensive. The post was founded in 1919, shortly after the Legion itself, and received its permanent charter in 1934. The first post meeting included support for a building "dedicated to the community," he says. Members agreed on a 20-year commitment to provide a home for clubs, nonprofits and other groups, completed in 1938. As a boy, Ferrebee was a frequent visitor at the building and its backyard swimming pool.
"Growing up here, that was the social hub," he says.
In the mid-'80s, with a declining membership and dwindling resources, something had to change for Post 41. One member, an insurance agent, approached the Dollar General Corp., and since 1989 Post 41 has met in the basement of the building it constructed, renting out the top part to the discount store. Roughly $40,000 in yearly income pays for all the post's programs.
"I think we came out of it stronger," says Ferrebee, pointing to recent membership growth; the post has hit all-time highs for the past 11 years. Eighty percent of its members are active in post programs, and some 40 percent attend meetings. The post gives away about $20,000 a year, and to Ferrebee, that only helps Post 41's visibility. "The best way to get members is to get out in the community and show them that you're doing something," he says.
For nearly a decade, Ferrebee has been compiling Post 41's history. Among his discoveries were notebooks with meeting minutes going back to 1945, the post's original charter and a stack of purchase invoices. He's worked hard to complete a list of past post commanders, and researched the history of the post's namesake, World War I Marine Corps hero Capt. Lloyd Williams, famous for telling a French colonel at Belleau Wood, "Retreat, hell! We just got here."
Last fall, while visiting the Legion's national website, Ferrebee saw an announcement about the organization's Centennial Celebration and followed it to the new Web platform designed for posts to upload their histories.
"I thought, ‘You know, this is a worthwhile project,'" Ferrebee says. He found the site's structure and companion workbook helpful, particularly the idea of establishing a timeline. "I took all the bits and pieces I had and sat down and started putting a timeline out there with significant events and the history of the post."
Ferrebee quickly adds that Post 41's page "is still very much a work in progress. I don't think you ever complete a history." Even so, he's happy to encourage and offer advice to Legionnaires eager to build a page for their own post.
Start with some basic research, keeping in mind that "you can't put together a history in two weeks," he says. Look at documents and other information already on hand.
Other helpful sources may include senior post members, local newspapers and the Internet.
Start now, because "2018 is going to be here before you know it," he adds. And remember that compiling a post history is not a one-person job. Ferrebee says he's relied on fellow post members and others in Berryville as he's gathered bits and pieces.
While Post 41 hasn't created a centennial committee just yet – "I guess I am the centennial committee right now," Ferrebee says – he considers posts' participation in this Legion milestone "very worthwhile – it helps you understand where your organization's came from and where it's going. It also makes you very proud."
Ferrebee also says he's looking forward to seeing The American Legion's history, as told through the individual stories of posts nationwide, published for veterans and their communities.
In fact, Legionnaires and communities should relish the opportunity to get involved in the Legion's 100th anniversary, he says. "I think it makes people appreciate and take pride in their organization. People see an active and vital post, and they want to be part of that."
Laura Edwards is associate editor of The American Legion Magazine.