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Serving from the start

Four charter members of Auxiliary still active, 50 years later

Teddy Roosevelt wrote, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

It could be said that the ladies of Inspiration Peak American Legion Auxiliary Unit #527 – Millerville took Roosevelt’s words to heart; the auxiliary will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, 2014.

The Inspiration Peak Auxiliary Unit #527 was organized on March 20, 1964, with the required minimum of 10 members signing up. Mrs. Joe Torisen, president of the 7th District in Minnesota, helped the local women organize, and explained the functions and duties of an auxiliary. By April 10, only a few weeks later, there were 13 members, enough to make the group chartered. All members who signed up within 30 days of official organization of the auxiliary were, and still are, considered charter members. Mrs. Torisen, district president, gave the unit a gavel as her personal gift.

Today, 50 years later, four of those charter members are still active members of the auxiliary, reminiscing around a kitchen table, chatting about the challenges, the enthusiasm, the accomplishments and the humor that 50 years can bring.  Agatha Thoennes, Joy Guenther, Betty Stroh-Ostlund and Regina Klimek all agree, “When you sit a group of determined women around a kitchen table, success is bound to happen.”  Success was, and continues to be, the only acceptable word in their vocabulary.

When the initial discussions began about organizing an auxiliary it was never a question as to whether today’s ladies would become members or not. “My husband came home from a Legion meeting and told me there were ladies organizing, and I needed to be there,” explained Agatha. “The men wanted us to meet on the same night that they did,” explained Betty Stroh-Ostlund as she laughed, “that way they would get lunch on the night of their meetings.”

Mrs. Howard Robertson was elected the auxiliary’s first president. Mrs. Alphonse Thoennes (Agatha) was elected secretary, and Mrs. Martin Stroh (Betty) was elected treasurer. At their first meeting the ladies agreed on $2.50/year for dues, set up the lunch committee for the months ahead, and decided to clean up the Legion Hall which was an old 1908 (former) schoolhouse.

In 1964 members of the Millerville American Legion Post 527 had just recently purchased the old 1908 school house for $1, “to make it legal,” and were meeting, in gentlemanly terms, quite comfortably. Some of the comforts we take for granted, however, did not exist. For instance, there was no bathroom. When the auxiliary organized, the ladies at first met in a private home. Agatha, who was secretary at the time, wrote in the 1964 meeting minutes, “We would like to thank Mrs. (Helen) Doll for letting us meet in her home, as the Legion Hall was smoky from the heater or cigarettes.”

The private home was only a temporary meeting place. The men held their meetings in the main part of the converted schoolhouse, and the women met in the kitchen, around the kitchen table. They began plans to improve the old building “We wanted to give the hall a feminine touch, so Agatha sewed curtains for those long, narrow windows,” explained Joy.  “A profit of $24.04 was made at a benefit dance, so now the Auxiliary had $32.39 in the bank. The new curtains were hung, the Legion paid for the material, and they stated it was quite an improvement to their club rooms,” wrote Regina in the auxiliary history booklet. The curtains were enjoyed by all… until one year, during the winter months when meetings were not held, raccoons got into those very curtains and shredded them to pieces. The ladies sitting around Agatha’s kitchen table today laugh about it now.

According to their history notes, “Most of the activity during the first year has been functions for raising money to repair, remodel and furnish our meeting place at the Legion hall.  We have sponsored a pancake supper, bingo party, teenage-hop and served lunches for Legion functions put on by the men. We have contributed one box of pocket-size books to the St. Cloud Veterans Hospital and made two pair of hospital slippers.”   Auxiliary members and their husbands chaperoned the teen-hops, as many as 115 paid teenagers at 75 cents each. Today, charter members still talk about the $1.65 profit from their pancake supper. The small profit did not deter their high spirits and goals.

By September 1965, the auxiliary’s total checking account amounted to $359.03, total income earned from a bingo party, that notorious pancake supper, and what seemed like “a lot of teen-hops.”  A gas range and forks were purchased for the kitchen of the old hall. “Heat…you stood as close to the oil heater as your fanny allowed, or you were cold most of the meeting.  The hall ceiling was high and took lots of heat.  When serving a hotdish or the like, it usually was kept warm on the oil heater.  A commode and mirror were set up in a ‘bathroom.’  Those were the good old days!”

The last meeting in the old 1908 Legion hall was held on May 9, 1979, and on Aug. 9 of that same year the auxiliary held their first meeting in the new Legion hall in Millerville. Although the interior was not finished, the work had been done by Legion members and a proud community. As a way to raise money for the hall the auxiliary had served lunch at annual softball tournaments hosted by the Legion. The Legion also sponsored many bingo parties, fishball dinners, Vegas Nights,  and other fundraising activities, until the Legion hall was paid off.  It was a group effort. “We did the cleaning at many stages of the building of the hall and were so happy when we could turn water on for the first time in the new hall.  No more hauling water in when we needed it,” explained Agatha, Regina, Betty and Joy. “After a successful softball tournament, with a profit of $688.98, we unanimously voted to present the Legion with a check of $500.00.  The men were very surprised and happy to receive the check.”  The ladies had learned a lot since that first pancake supper with a $1.65 profit.

And as they raised awareness for veterans’ needs, incentives for supporting the American Legion and money to help to community, Joy Guenther explained, “There was, and always has been, a sense of family and a sense of pride, in everything we did ” One example illustrates this sense of family. In 1967 a local farmer’s barn burned down.  While neighbors helped build a new barn, the Auxiliary furnished a meal for around 25 people, plus leftovers for the family. The auxiliary members have helped each other through hard times, when husbands and children pass away, when close friendships are a comfort.

Secretary minutes reflect that 1968 brought “twelve new, eager members, ready to serve” into the Auxiliary. Hotdogs were sold at ballgames that year and a small profit was made.  The Auxiliary bought and donated bedding for another Legion family when they lost their house to a fire.  In 1969 a dinner was served, as men built a new barn for a neighbor after yet another fire took another barn and several cows.  In 1976, when the Homemakers Club donated 600 Betty Crocker coupons, the Auxiliary members ordered three large spoons and one small spoon for their Legion hall kitchen. It was a community effort for community needs, every contribution gratefully received.

In 1977 the Auxiliary raised the dues from $4.50 to $5/year. By the end of 1981 the Auxiliary had 34 members.  Approaching their 20th anniversary, Rosellen Korkowski suggested putting together a cookbook, a very good fundraiser. The 7th District project for 1985-86 was making Cabbage Patch dolls for kids having heart surgery.  Twelve dolls, complete with dresses, were made.  By January, 1986, the auxiliary had $1,955.47 in their fundraising account. They donated funds, not only locally, but to veterans’ hospitals, veterans’ families and other areas of need.

When the 25th anniversary rolled around Regina Klimek worked on a history booklet (at her kitchen table of course) detailing much of the activity of the Auxiliary. In Regina’s words, “Many of the newer members had no idea of the progress the Auxiliary had made throughout the years.  I wanted it to be shared. I got this bright idea one week before the celebration.”  She wrote all of the history in longhand, working day and night, and her daughter, Rosellen Korkowski, made copies and assembled each booklet by hand.*  All Auxiliary members received a copy.

And now the Millerville American Legion Auxiliary Unit #527 prepares to celebrate 50 years. They gather for monthly meetings in Millerville, with the officers sitting at the kitchen table, and members gathered around in a semi-circle. Throughout those last 50 years the Auxiliary has always remained very active and currently has 44 members.  “We may have given up the softball tournaments, fishball suppers, bingo night and teen-hops,” explained the four charter members, “however, we still serve the community in many ways. We take part in lowering the colors at the county fair each year.  We attend Legion and Auxiliary members’ funerals, marching in a group with our hats and navy blazers.  On Memorial Day, we attend, as a group, local cemeteries, and participate in short memorial programs held at each site, and enjoy a community potluck dinner. It is an honor to serve the community.  We have participated in the Girls State program, which is offered at the state level, and have always supported several. Money we raise goes to Veterans programs and facilities.  Our members have given many volunteer hours in community service.”

In 1989 Regina Klimek summed up 25 years worth of volunteer work done by Auxiliary Unit #527. She wrote, in her handwritten history book, “Throughout the years we have received numerous awards that make us all proud to belong to such an outstanding Auxiliary.  We have come a long way and worked very hard to get where we are. We have terrific support from our members.”  Today as they celebrate 50 years, the auxiliary may still meet around a kitchen table, but the work they do goes far beyond.

For information call membership chair, Evelyn G. Roers at 320-763-4251. The Auxiliary meets at the American Legion clubhouse in Millerville every second Wednesday, April – December, at 7:30 p.m.

The annual meatball dinner will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Auxiliary and will be the 2014 major fundraiser.  It is set for Sept. 28 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Seven Dolors Parish Hall in Millerville.

*The 25th anniversary booklet, written by Regina Klimek in 1989, was used as a resource in compiling Auxiliary history for this article.

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