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American Legion posts are the fabric of many communities. Waconia American Legion Post 150 frequently opens its doors to the public for Sunday brunch, its monthly steak fry and other events. (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

The American Legion marks its 100th anniversary in 2019 and several local chapters are following suit.

The national American Legion organization was founded in March 1919 following World War I and just concluded a 15-month celebration period running from its national convention in August 2018 through Veterans Day 2019.

Waconia American Legion Post 150 began operations with a temporary charter in September 1919, but didn’t receive its permanent charter until Nov. 29, 1920. So, the local chapter is just embarking on its own year-long series of recognition events.

Current plans call for community open houses, a U.S. flag event, special programs and a centennial dinner. The goal is to try to schedule at least one event each quarter in 2020, according to Joe Gifford, membership director for Post 150.

Tentative plans are to start the year with a Centennial Celebration open house Feb. 16 tied to a public omelet breakfast slated for the day. The Legion frequently opens its doors to the public for Sunday brunch, its monthly steak fry and other events. Historical club artifacts will be on display that day and information will be available on Legion membership, programs and benefits. Other organizations like Carver County Veterans Services will be invited to participate in the event.

A second open house could be tied to Memorial Day services on May 25. Special focus will be on the women’s Legion Auxiliary which celebrates its 34th anniversary in April.

On Flag Day, June 14, a Legion Honor Guard program and information on flag etiquette, folding and retirement will be featured. The Legion will be accepting flags to be retired and replacement flags will be available while supplies last. Post 150 will be working to engage local Scout troops in this event.

In September, another open house is planned in tandem with Nickle Dickle Day. Focus that day will be on the Post 150 Sons of the American Legion (SAL) who celebrate their 19th anniversary on July 2. The post also is trying to arrange a military vehicle show, which would tie to the car show held annually on Nickle Dickle Day.

Later in the year, the Legion will be working with the Waconia Lions, who will be celebrating their 75th anniversary next year, on a special Veterans Day school program. The program could include music, a guest speaker, color guard, and information the Lions will be providing students from their “Liberty Day Program.” That includes nonpartisan information about each citizen’s rights and responsibilities as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

Finally, the year culminates with expansion of the Legion’s annual Veterans Day dinner into a Centennial Celebration event. Details are still coming together, but it will likely be a ticketed event with a catered meal, music, master of ceremonies and a guest speaker.

Carver County commissioners recently recognized all the county’s American Legion posts turning 100 years old (Waconia, Watertown, Norwood Young America, New Germany, Chaska and Chanhassen) acknowledging them for their support in the communities over the past century.

The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic organization focused on service to veterans and service members. While the stereotype has been that Legion posts are a club and corner bar for members only, local Legions have evolved into the fabric of their communities, opening their doors to the public, administering hundreds of volunteer programs, giving thousands of volunteer hours to community causes, and raising millions of dollars to support veterans programs and other worthwhile community organizations.

And these days, while some American Legion chapters are struggling with membership – even closing, Waconia Post 150 remains relatively healthy, although as with most organizations Legion leaders say they could use more active members, not just dues-paying members.

Still, membership numbers stood at almost 225 as of this fall – more than 300 with Auxiliary and SAL members.

The chapter remains active, and now, while honoring its past 100 years, the Waconia Legion is planning for its next 100 years, Gifford said.

For the past 18 months, a task force has been researching what to do with its existing post building, which was built in 1941 and requires considerable maintenance and upkeep.

The post would like to get out of the landlord/building ownership business to focus more on programs that benefit members and the community, Gifford notes. Last month, members voted to authorize the post’s executive committee to sell the building on Olive Street and explore suitable replacement options.

Several Legion members also are members of the local VFW chapter and there has been some discussion about merging the organizations as has been done in a few other communities – although that would require changes to charters and a vote of both memberships.

What direction each of those initiatives takes will be determined in the coming months.

In the meantime, federal legislation passed this year and signed into law in July opens the door for approximately 6 million veterans to join the American Legion and access all programs and benefits associated with membership. Those veterans previously had been denied membership because they served outside seven previously declared periods of war. The LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act) opens up membership beyond those eras.

The Waconia Legion has welcomed a few new members since the bill was signed and Legion leaders say they hope to bring in more during the post’s 100th anniversary celebration activities.

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