Paul Norton gets both a rush and a bit of therapy from working with plants, trees and flowers. So he was right at home Friday during The American Legion family’s annual service project during the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev.
But it wasn’t just therapy for Norton, a member of The Historic Fort Benjamin Harrison Post 510 in Indianapolis. It was also a chance to make an impact on the town hosting the Legion family for the next seven days.
“The American Legion likes to leave a good, lasting impression in the community,” Norton said. “We’ve been doing (service projects) for several years. So when we leave, we’re going to leave it a little bit better and nicer, and we’re going to help the local community have something to remember us by.”
Norton and more than 20 other Legion family members spent Friday morning spreading road base along one of the main trails, as well as clearing sagebrush away from the trail, at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno. Reno had a record-breaking winter, and many of the park’s trails were washed out.
Washoe County Park Ranger John Keesee said volunteer efforts like the one carried out by the Legion family make a big impact on the county’s parks. “It’s really huge to have volunteer groups come in and give us a hand, especially after this last winter,” he said. “The other day we had a volunteer group of 10 guys who came up and did some trail restoration. Those 10 people worked for two hours, so that’s 20 hours. Right now we’re sort of short-staffed, so they just saved me a half a week worth of work. It’s huge.”
American Auxiliary Past National President Sharon Conatser, who took part in the project for the fourth time in five years, said such projects show the scope of what the Legion family does. “It’s important (for) the community that we have our national convention in to realize who The American Legion family is and the good work that we do,” she said. “Not only do we work for our veterans, we work for the community.”
Conatser also said it was nice to see the Legion family working so closely together. She stressed the Legion family last year as the Auxiliary’s national president.
“I’ve lived (the Legion family) all my life,” she said. “It’s really important to me for us to be a family because that is what our younger people want today. They want things they can do as a family. By showing that we are an American Legion family, we feel that will be a draw (for prospective members).”
Department of Illinois Executive Secretary Christy Rich, a member of Auxiliary Unit 56 in Bloomington, Ill., helped remove some of the sagebrush and relished the opportunity to contribute. “I just love volunteering,” she said. “I love to do anything to help out.”
Norton, who retired from the Air Force after 38 years, said he struggled a bit after leaving the military. To help himself, he became certified through Purdue University’s master gardener program.
Now an advanced master gardener, Norton said projects like the one at Bartley Park are therapeutic. “One of the things I’ve seen with (those) working with me here today – when we leave today, a lot of us are going to be pretty pumped up,” he said. “It’s going to be an adrenaline thing. They get the same euphoria that I get when they’re doing this. They believe that they’ve done something greater than themselves.”