When Rena Nessler was commander of the Department of New York’s 7th District, a fellow Legionnaire approached her during a membership drive. “It is so nice to see the Auxiliary here helping The American Legion,” he said to Nessler, who was wearing her Legion cap at the time.
Such misunderstandings are less frequent today than when Nessler joined the Legion nearly four decades ago. “People are so proud to have a woman in command,” she says. “It’s not only the women, it’s the men.” Nessler is New York’s first female department commander – and its first Native American commander.
Among her influences are National Commander Denise H. Rohan and Nessler’s sister, Marlys Lemnah, Vermont’s first female department commander. “Seeing them in leadership roles, and doing the work of The American Legion, the American Legion Family, gives me inspiration,” she says.
Meanwhile, Nessler is leading and inspiring others in her own right. She encourages eligible veterans to join the Legion and follow their passions, whether that is volunteering with Boys State or Legion Baseball, engaging in flag advocacy or supporting military families. “The American Legion has a lot of great programs whether you’re female or male,” she says. “It’s about helping the community. It’s about helping your fellow veterans.”
Branch of Service Navy (1969-1972)
Rank Petty officer third class
Military job Yeoman
American Legion post Winnek Post 396, Geneva, N.Y.
Years in The Legion 38
- Department commander (2017-present)
- District commander (2015-2016)
- District vice commander (2012-2014)
- County commander (2005)
- Post adjutant (2005-present)
- Post commander (1990)
- National American Legion College graduate (2015)