National Legion Riders chairman: Be the One while on the Legacy Run

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The American Legion Legacy Run is in its final year of fundraising for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. But the ride’s chief road captain, National American Legion Riders Chairman Mark Clark, wants participants to not only stress how the ride provides scholarships for the children of fallen servicemembers and disabled veterans.

During the kick-off event in Kokomo, Ind., where American Legion Post 6 served as the registration site and will see the ride off Sunday morning, Clark also asked the Riders to share the message of the Legion’s Be the One suicide-prevention initiative.

“We can save a life if we take the time to do so,” Clark told the hundreds of American Legion Riders sitting in Havens Auditorium on the Indiana University-Kokomo campus. “(Be the One) is more than a slogan. It’s a commitment that our organization has made. Now’s the time for us to act, because each one of us can be the one. We’re counting on each of you to do your part.

“When you get a chance to interact with folks at the hotels or along the route – people are always fascinated by what we do and what we’re riding for. As we talk about the Legacy Fund and those type of things, make them aware of our Be the One initiative. They can want to be a part of it. They can help us advance that initiative. So please do that.”

Clark also talked about next year’s shift to the ride raising money for the Veterans & Children Foundation, which funds both the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program and training for the organization’s accredited service officers.

He referenced the completion of the Riders’ “first assigned mission and the acceptance of our new mission: to ride for the future. To build the funds for that very important foundation that helps children and families with children every single day. So, this is not the last Legacy Run. It’s always going to be the Legacy Run. The run is about the legacy we leave. The legacy of service to our fellow veterans and their families.”

Thanks from a Scholarship Recipient. On hand Saturday night was Deanna Woodburn, a two-time Legacy Fund recipient who also rode the ride with her father, Department of Indiana Adjutant Chad Woodburn, in 2019. She was the third generation of the Woodburn family to take part in the Legacy Run.

Woodburn graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Science degree in event management and now works at Walt Disney World.

“I could not have been more grateful,” said Deanna, a member of Auxiliary Unit 635 in Normal, Ill., of receiving the scholarship. “I wanted to thank you all from the bottom of my heart, because the scholarship helped me graduate, and I’m living my dream living in Florida working for the mouse.”

Michael Westergren, chairman of the Legion’s National Committee on Youth Education, told the Riders that last year the Legion was able to award 321 American Legion Legacy Fund Scholarships – the most ever awarded.

“If we hit that goal of $1.5 million, guess what? There’s going to be more (scholarships awarded),” he said. “Every child that is eligible for the scholarship – because it’s needs-based – gets a portion of the money. So, if we have 500 qualified applicants, 500 kids get scholarships next year. And it’s because of you. What you do here has an enormous effect … and it trickles down to every one of the posts, every one of the squadrons and every one of the units.”

Praise for the Riders’ Legacy. American Legion Family leadership was on hand to praise the Legion Riders and their efforts. American Legion National Commander Vincent J. Troiola, American Legion Auxiliary National President Vicki Koutz and Sons of The American Legion Commander Chris Carlton all were on hand, as was National Vice Commander Patricia Harris; Troiola, Harris and Carlton are heading out with the ride on Sunday.

During his remarks, Troiola made it a point to share how Legion Riders have been there throughout his travels during his tenure, greeting him as he arrived in their departments and at their posts. Then he thanked them for their efforts in raising money for the Legacy Fund.

“Over the years, we – really you, some who have been here since the beginning and other Riders from the past – have raised more than $17 million for the children of our fallen and disabled veterans,” Troiola said. “Our fallen heroes left a legacy, but you are leaving one as well. As a result of the hard work and contributions that have come into this annual event over the years, hundreds of young men and women have used their educational opportunities to become doctors, lawyers, military leaders, business professionals and public servants who will benefit this country for generations to come.

“Higher education is now attainable for future Legacy scholars, and the fund is much closer to being able to sustain itself. That’s a pretty impressive legacy if you ask me.”

A Record Start to the Run. Donations were aplenty during the night, when more than $228,000 was presented to the national commander – $10,000 came from Kenneth N Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis, while $211,000 came from The American Legion Department of Maryland after a record-breaking Gold Star Legacy Run. Eight such rides have raised $611,000 for the Legacy Fund.

“It’s just grown and grown,” said Sons of The American Legion Past National Commander Joe Gladden, who serves as co-chair of the Gold Star Legacy Run. “This year we set a goal of $100,000. But as always in Maryland, we don’t believe in just hitting a goal. We believe in trying to break that goal. It was an incredible year.”

The Legacy Run will head into Day 1 having already raised $391,424 – the best opening it’s ever had.