About a week ago, Roy White received a letter from The American Legion National Headquarters notifying him of his eligibility to join the organization under the LEGION Act. He remembered reading in the newspaper that his local American Legion Frank Kresen Post 24 in Lake Geneva, Wis., was holding an open house. On April 29, White walked into the post to learn more about the organization and to join.
“I want to serve and be part of a veteran’s group,” said White, who is thankful for the passing of the LEGION Act that opened eligibility in the organization for millions of veterans.
Post 24 held an open house last Saturday in support of Resolution No. 7: American Legion Family Day. The resolution established an American Legion Family Day to be observed annually on the last Saturday of April where posts are encouraged to open their doors to members of their community for the day to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of Legionnaires, Sons of The American Legion members, Legion Riders and American Legion Auxiliary.
“We have never done an open house before, so Resolution 7 was the spark for that,” said Post 24 Adjutant Bob Miller. “We were like, ‘we have to do it.’ People have seen the building coming for fish fries and fundraisers but not a real formal come in, learn about the post history, learn what our Legion Family does, learn that we are more than just a veteran’s group. Yes, we help veterans and support local veterans, but we also support the community at large.”
Post 24 was chartered in 1919 and is named after the only Lake Geneva resident to be killed in World War I. The post home is a schoolhouse that was built in 1887. This is where community and Legion Family members stepped inside for a free lunch of hot dogs, chips, desserts, coffee, lemonade and camaraderie.
“It’s important to let the community know that the Legion isn’t strictly for veterans,” Post 24 Commander Troy Hibbard said. “The Legion is for the veteran’s family, children, but also the community at large that veterans can be a positive influence in all community events. I would hope that they see an active and engaged core group of people and also understand that the Legion is here to help whatever it is they’re trying to do.”
Throughout the post, displays were set up to show what the Post 24 Legion Family does. A table had three large cardboard flyers for each entity that listed how they help veterans, youth, families and the community, along with “Why You Should Belong” membership brochures, a one-page takeaway sheet on significant dates in American Legion history, and another takeaway sheet that lists the Department of Wisconsin’s overall impact.
“We want the community to see what we do,” said Auxiliary Unit 24 President Debra Black.
On another display table was a posterboard filled with photos of Post 24’s Legion Family engaged in community events and flyers of Wisconsin Legion youth programs such as Legion Baseball, Legion Softball, oratorical contest, Junior Shooting Sports, Youth Government Day, and Law Enforcement Career Academy.
“Our biggest thing (for Legion Family Day) is just community awareness and letting everybody know that we’re here and what we do,” said Sons of The American Legion Squadron 24 Commander Dan Jegerski. “It’s more awareness of who the members are, where they served and what they did and what they do now. And for the community to figure out some ways they can get involved and help out as well.”
Frank and Kim Tonkovich moved to Lake Geneva two years ago and have attended fish fries at Post 24. They came to the open house to join the Legion Family in support of their two boys who both served in the Army. Their sons are why “we feel strongly about (joining),” Kim said.
Another mission of American Legion Family Day was to bring awareness to the organization’s “Be the One” initiative to reduce the rate of veteran suicide.
“We wanted ‘Be the One’ to be part of the spotlight,” Miller said. A “Be the One” poster was displayed on a table with a 988-crisis line wallet card to take away, a “Be the One” brochure handout and other local assistance materials. Miller downloaded a Be the One customizable brochure and personalized it to the local area by listing resources where veterans can get help. “It was very easy to do,” Miller added. “The best part was us being able to localize it so we could specifically help veterans in our community.”
Post 24 is only four members away from reaching 100% membership for the 2023 membership year. The American Legion Family Day at the post was a reminder for all those who walked in the door of the camaraderie the Legion Family provides and the continuation of service available.
“A huge part of getting out of the military is a sense of feeling lost or displaced,” said Hibbard, 39, an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “Having a group of people where you can walk into a room and not have to say anything or explain yourself and have them understand you on a more personal level, even if they don’t know you, I think is huge.”