by Dennis Dalman
The American Legion Post 221 of St. Stephen is in danger of fading away after thriving for 61 years. And the reason? None of its members has yet agreed to serve as post officers.
“Nobody wants to volunteer,” said current commander Michael Legatt, a veteran who served in Germany during the Vietnam War era. “At the last two meetings, we were unable to elect officers because nobody is willing to serve as officers.”
What makes the situation worse is the five current officers’ terms on the board, including Legatt’s, will end July 1. A Legion post without officers cannot hold meetings, according to American Legion charter rules.
There are 58 members in Post 221, Legatt noted, including two veteran women – Bridget Williams and Cortney Schwartz (the current board’s finance officer). There is also a St. Stephen Women’s Auxiliary headed by Althea Heim.
“If somebody doesn’t step up and throw their hat in the ring, we might have to turn in our charter, and that will have to happen within two years for any American Legion charter without officers,” Legatt said. “I’m an old person just trying to get change. This is a great organization. I hope we don’t have to lose it. What we need is some motivation.”
In the past, Legatt said, many times it was just a few members doing the bulk of the work. What’s needed, he said, is the kind of motivation for shared responsibility by all of the members.
“It’s hard to go back and run the Legion like it was run in the old days,” he said.
The American Legion Post 221 of St. Stephen was founded on March 2, 1959 ,when it received its charter from the national headquarters. Its first commander was Alex Hlebaen, vice commander John Vouk, second vice commander August Supan, adjutant Joseph A. Kosel, finance officer John R. Ferche, sergeant at arms Alex R. Smoley, chaplain Joseph M. Omann, service officer James Slamnik and historian Firmin Pogatshnik.
All of those men have since passed on, the last being Pogatshnik about a year ago, Legatt noted.
During the course of six decades, the American Legion of St. Stephen did many projects to better the community: Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies, a get-together to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day, the building of a veterans’ monument in the city, scholarships for students, flag-etiquette education programs, helps families whose loved ones are deployed overseas, and much more.
The national American Legion was founded in 1919, the year after the end of World War I. Its purpose was and still is to honor the sacrifices of those who served in the military by enhancing the lives of veterans and their families at home and abroad. The organization advocates for veterans, helps educate citizens, mentors, and promotes good citizenship, peace and security.
There are currently about 15,000 American Legion posts in the nation with more than three million members.
Current American Legion of St. Stephen board officers, besides Legatt, are adjutant Eric Kreager, finance officer Cortney Schwarts, chaplain Jerome Supan and vice commander Marc Stang.
Legatt said he and others are hoping the American Legion of St. Stephen will continue and gain strength in the coming decades just as it has in the six decades since 1959.