Legacy Run Day 4: A face to go with the cause

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For the past 13 years, hundreds of American Legion Riders have traversed thousands of miles across the country to raise money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. And during this year’s American Legion Legacy Run, they got an opportunity to meet one of the reasons why they do what they do.

Ally Niven, the daughter of a disabled veteran and a member of Auxiliary Unit 461 in Pembine, Wis., is receiving a $20,000 Legacy Scholarship this year. She will attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering to study nursing.

Niven was at Struck-Klandrud Post 336 in Onalaska, Wis., on Aug. 22 for an opportunity to meet with the men and women who rode to raise the money for scholarships such as hers.

“I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am for this scholarship,” Niven said. “It’s … kind of emotional (to meet the Legion Riders) because it’s just a really great opportunity and I’m so thankful to them. They’ve not only given us service … to help us have a free country. They’re giving back to students like me in order to help them later on in life.”

Niven said the scholarship “allows me to go without a financial burden my first year (of college). I won’t have any debt. It will allow me to really focus on my studies to become a nurse. It just really helps me to pursue my education to the fullest.”

The Legacy Fund raises scholarship money for the children of servicemembers killed on active duty on or after 9/11, as well as for the children of 50-percent or higher disabled veterans. Ally’s father Lee served in the U.S. Army from 1992-2010 while deploying to Iraq.

“I’m a disabled veteran, and I’m no longer able to work a regular job,” Lee said. “It means the world to me that I can, in some way, support my daughter going to college. I’ve talked to my daughter about how much sacrifice by others has gone into being able to give her this scholarship. It’s very special.”

Department of Alabama Adjutant Greg Akers said getting a chance to meet a Legacy Scholarship recipient like Ally brings “it home. Everybody says that everything we do with the Legion, if you impact the life of a veteran, it’s got you in the organization for forever. I feel like if you actually meet a Legacy Scholarship recipient, there ain’t nothing that’s going to stop you from raising the funds from here on out.”

Akers said the Legacy Fund strikes a chord with him. “The children have already lost one of the most important aspects of their life,” Akers said. “To give them a feeling of security for the future, it (goes) a long way.

“Even though my son’s 5 years old, right now I’m 80 percent service-connected. So he’s got something he can fall back on that he doesn’t even realize yet. So I do it for him, and I do it for a lot of my buddies’ kids that are going to use it and a few that already have. It’s important for us to continue to do that.”

Wisconsin’s National Executive Committeeman – and a past department commander and state American Legion Riders director – Ken Rynes said he rides to raise money for the Legacy Fund because he knows that’s what his friends would do for his children.

“It’s important to me because I’ve got four kids,” he said. “I always said that if something would have happened to me, I know that my brothers and sisters (in the military) would have taken care of them.

“They say there’s government money available, but it’s not 100 percent (of college expenses). We owe them the minimum of 100 percent. They paid the cost of their parents’ lives.”

Riding for Her Brother. After leaving for Shelby, N.C., for the final game of the American Legion World Series, National Commander Denise Rohan returned to the Legacy Run on Wednesday for the afternoon portion. Like she did on Monday, Rohan rode on the back of Cindy Guthrie’s motorcycle.

Providing a ride for the national commander is “an honor,” said Guthrie, a member of American Legion Post 192 in Evans, Ga. But Guthrie also does the Legacy Run to honor her brother, Kenneth Nichols Jr. A U.S. Army sergeant, Nichols was killed in action Dec. 1, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan.

“He had four kids,” said Guthrie, on her ninth Legacy Run. “So in a way I’m doing it in his memory every time I come out here. I bring my dad. He comes with me.”

A Warm Welcome. When the 240-plus motorcycles rolled into Struck-Klandrud Post 336 in Onalaska, Wis., for the final stop of the day, they were greeted with the Onalaska High School band playing patriotic songs in front of the post, and Legion Family members and local residents waving American flags up and down Sand Lake Road. American Legion leadership from the national, state and local level also were on hand to greet the Riders.

Legion Rider Tim Morris, a member of Post 117 in Palm Bay, Fla., called the reception “gorgeous. The community involvement, all the young kids, the band, it’s fantastic, all the support. This defines patriotism: support for our veterans and their families. And getting the children involved, I think that’s awesome.”

Post 336 Commander David Delimat said around three months of planning went into the event – and it was worth it. “It’s a great honor to have them stop here,” he said.

Before the ceremony at Post 336, a wreath was laid at the graves of Otto Struck and August Klandrud, namesakes for Post 336. Members of Klandrud’s family joined National Commander Denise Rohan and Post 336 members in the ceremony.

Honoring a Founder. Before leaving Austin, Minn., Wednesday morning, the Legion Riders stopped at Oakwood Cemetery to watch as a local Legionnaire and the great-granddaughter of Jay C. Hormel laid a wreath at the former Hormel president and board chairman’s grave.

Hormel founded SPAM American Legion Post 570 – comprised entirely of women veterans – at his company’s Austin plant in 1946. The wreath was laid by current Post 570 Commander Mary Hanson and Heather Hormel Miller, the great-granddaughter of Jay C. Hormel.

“It’s just overwhelming to have the respect paid to all of the contributions the Hormel family has done for this town,” said Hanson, who has worked for Hormel for 32 years." “For everybody from the Legion to come in here and show their appreciation, it’s just overwhelming.”

Overwhelming was a term that Miller also used when looking around at the 240-plus Legion Riders surrounding her great-grandfather’s gravesite. “I got a little emotional,” she said. “I didn’t know (Jay C. Hormel), but I can certainly feel his legacy here today. I’m very proud of that (American Legion) legacy that he began here.”

A Lunch Stop, and Much More. A lunch stop in Rochester, Minn. – where American Legion Post 92 provided ice cream sandwiches, cookies and water – took place at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial, itself an impressive display of the community’s respect for those who have served and perished in the service of their nation.

But during a wreath laying, the Legion Riders also had the opportunity to meet with a Gold Star family: Dave and Kay Swenson. Their son, Curtis, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Many of the Legion Riders took the time to personally meet with the Swensons following the ceremony.

Kay said the loss of her son left a “gaping hole" in their lives. “But it’s things like this, people like you who come out and show your support, that’s really so overwhelming to us,” she said. “Many of you are veterans, and Dave and I are both veterans as well, and your hearts are so big and so full to give us this opportunity to be here today.”

Nice Weather: The Legacy Run’s ‘Paycheck.’ Sons of The American Legion Past National Commander Bill Sparwasser and American Legion Auxiliary member Gigi Bullock, both members of Joseph L Davis Post 47 in de Grace, Md., are members of the ride’s A Flight. Sparwasser has been on 11 Legacy Runs. And while this is Bullock’s 11th ride, it’s her first as a rider instead of a passenger.

Sunday and Monday’s rides, which were in weather that ranged from sprinkles to monsoon-like downpours, were a baptism by fire (or water) for Bullock.

“To have rained for two days, I think I made the cut,” Bullock said. “It was a challenge for me … but every time I was feeling some pain I said, ‘I’m doing this for the kids.’”

But Day 4 was perfect, with temperatures barely hitting 80 degrees, almost zero wind and just a few clouds in the sky.

“This is perfect,” Sparwasser said. “Comparing today to the days before, we don’t even remember the bad days. This is what it’s all about. This is the paycheck, if you will. When you get a beautiful day like today, this is the paycheck.”

More Donations. At Post 336, more than $110,498 was presented to Rohan, bringing the Legacy Run’s four-day total to $306,919. The Department of Alabama donated $12,533 to bring its 2018 total to more than $22,000.

Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis donated another $12,000 through its American Legion Family. Another $11,000 came from the Department of Wisconsin’s Seventh District American Legion Riders, while $7,051 came from Wisconsin’s Third District Legion Riders.