All-women’s Legion post celebrates 75 years of service

Madelyn La Canne American Legion Post 539 in Green Bay, Wis., held its first blood drive March 4 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding. It was an opportunity for the all-women’s post – one of only two in the state – to support its community and bring awareness to the post.

“We are making a real push to get more involved in the community, to let the community know that we exist,” said Post 539 Commander Carol Johnson. “I enjoy getting together with the ladies that come out for events like this and volunteer their time and laugh. We have a good time together, and we do good for the community.”

The blood drive was held at Sullivan-Wallen American Legion Post 11 in Green Bay, which generously opens its doors to Post 539 to use for meetings, gatherings, etc., since it doesn’t have a post home. Post 11 member Paul Slatkey was one of 25 registered blood donors, along with walk-ins, to support Post 539’s efforts.

“It’s a way to give back,” Slatkey said. “I worked at a laboratory in a blood bank where we used to give out blood, so it’s nice to be able to supply blood besides giving it out. And it’s always good to give back to the Legion.”

The American Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply. But they have seen a 10% decline of blood donations since the pandemic began, which makes blood drives like the one at Post 539 vital.

“The need for blood is constant – even amid a pandemic,” said Greg Novinska, regional donor services executive at American Red Cross of Wisconsin. “Blood drive hosts and partners have been crucial in our evolving efforts to make sure life-saving blood is on the shelves at hospitals when people need it. American Legion Post 539 is one of those vital community partners, bringing in local donors to meet that constant need.”

Kathryn Meyer of Green Bay saw Post 539’s blood drive on the Red Cross website and came, as she tries to donate blood at least four times a year. “It’s an easy way to give back,” she said. “It makes a difference, and it only takes 45 minutes.”

As Red Cross staff and Post 539 members worked together Friday to create a successful blood drive, Novinska said, “We are inspired by (Post 539’s) dedication to help our communities with this blood drive, and we’re honored that they’ve chosen this generosity as part of their remarkable anniversary commemorations.”

Post 539’s namesake, Madelyn La Canne, served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and was the first fallen woman servicemember from the area. There were 24 women from the Green Bay area who formed Post 539 in January 1947 after much interest to start an all-women’s American Legion post. “They wanted to be together. They wanted the camaraderie that they experienced in the military,” said Johnson, a retired Navy veteran of the Gulf War. “We stand on their shoulders. Just like we stand on the shoulders of every American female veteran that has been out there.”

Since its founding, the mission of Post 539 has remained the same – “to provide a safe space for female veterans where they can come, they can tell their stories to each other, they have the camaraderie,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re here.”

It’s that camaraderie and admiration of what these women have done in service and community that Post Chaplain Sue Smith, who will be one of several post members on the all-women honor flight leaving in May out of Madison, loves about the post.

For Post 539 Adjutant Jo Ann Schedler, who retired from the U.S. Army Reserve nurse corps, she enjoys the sisterhood that the post brings. “One day they (post members) said, ‘Our sister Legionnaires.’ And that got to me because my sister passed away several years ago, so these are my sisters. It makes me cry when I think about it,” Schedler said. “Knowing that what they have gone through, as either active duty or different parts of their life, that they have gone through a lot of the stuff that the rest of us women have. That’s a real important thing. My husband (Jon) is all for this because he sees how important it is. To me, it’s being role models.”

Whether it’s being a role model to fellow Legionnaires, youth or women in the community, Post 539 members advocate for those who need them.

A county veteran service officer recently reached out to see if the post could help pay for a hotel room for a young woman who was trying to get out of an abusive relationship. Post members didn’t hesitate; they paid for the hotel room. The young woman came to Post 539’s meeting last month to thank them. “It’s things like that where you know you’re helping somebody without asking anything in return,” Johnson said.

For Valentine’s Day this year, post members took candy, flowers, smalls flags and tie blankets to elderly members in nursing homes. Johnson said in response, they received thank you cards. “One lady said, ‘I don’t have any family anymore, and I didn’t think there was anybody out there that cared about me until you guys walked in the room.’ To me that was like OK folks, if you don’t think you’re doing anything you better read this card.”

The post also sponsors a high school student to attend American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State and is now a sponsor of the Green Bay Southwest Area Girls Softball league, in effort to get involved more with children and youth. Members will provide concessions at the games, which the league has never had prior, and have an opportunity to throw the ball with the young women or volunteer however needed. “We are excited about this,” Johnson said. “Whatever we can do, we will find a place to fit in.”

The post has an active Facebook page that is currently being used to highlight March as Women’s History Month. For example, the post is sharing spotlight features of Wisconsin women veterans from the “I Am Not Invisible Awareness Campaign.” The nationwide campaign focuses on increasing awareness and generating dialogue about the role of women veterans by sharing their stories. Several Post 539 members’ stories are featured in this campaign.

Young women “need to know that they can do anything that they want to,” Johnson said, “and that it can be done in the framework of the military. One thing in the military is you learn you can do things you never thought you could do. From the minute you step in bootcamp … to however you advance.”

As Post 539 gets its name out through Facebook, the sponsorship of the softball league, and participation in local parades and community events, Johnson hopes it will continue to grow. The post achieved 100% membership this year with 69 members.

“We have gotten new members because our face hasn’t gotten out there, our post has gotten out there,” Johnson said. “We have to continue to push, let people know that we are here, let people know that we want to help. These women that are in this post are used to service. They still want to serve. I think that’s the biggest thing that will keep (Post 539) going.”