The menu is different — pork chops instead of chicken — but intentions remain the same.
American Legion Post 168's annual corn feed Aug. 17 has two goals: to raise money and draw attention to the club.
Not everyone knows the almost 100-year-old Legion even exists near the corner of Third Street and Banning Avenue in downtown White Bear Lake. Members old and new are working to change that.
This Saturday, their annual fundraiser gets underway at noon. Everyone is welcome. For $10, it's all-you-can-eat sweet corn, a pork chop, coleslaw and brownie. Pork replaced chicken after Legion volunteers selling chops on a stick at Marketfest saw how popular they were.
Homemade booya, a bean bag tournament, possibly a dance and a history day will follow this fall as the Legion prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in October. The post was chartered by Congress Oct. 8, 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization dedicated to “mutual helpfulness.”
A little background here might be helpful. The American Legion consists of two organizations. Members must be veterans but anyone, military or not, can patronize the club.
“They just have to be a guest of the commander,” explains John Strohkirch, first vice president of the Sons of the American Legion. “And to be a guest, you simply have to sign the guestbook.”
The Sons of the American Legion, affectionately called SAL, is the second organization. Members are males who have a family member who has served in the military. Strohkirch's father, for example, served in World War II and his brother served in Vietnam. There is also a women's auxiliary independent of the Legion for the distaff side.
Months ago, members worried the White Bear post was in trouble. Numbers were dwindling as people aged and “things looked dire,” according to Pam Farrell, an auxiliary volunteer. A change in leadership was initiated; volunteers assumed club positions that were previously paid. The financial situation is improving.
“We're trying to make a go of it with this fundraiser,” said Farrell who oversees event marketing for the Legion.
Finance Manager Greg Boehm agreed, the outlook was dim a few months ago. He worried the post would go the way of others in St. Paul, which has one functioning Legion left. When word got out that things were not good, people started showing up — members, their children and their friends.
“We have taken measures to turn things around and they've been fairly successful,” said Boehm, a Vietnam vet. “We are optimistic, and we are planning ahead to be a permanent fixture.”
Added Strohkirch, “We're just managing a different way. We have many more volunteers and that's helping a lot.”
Both men feel interest in keeping the Legion going is resurging among the younger crowd. “It's part of the new idea here to make the place more fun. Pam is an example. She and her husband are younger members who have been volunteering,” Strohkirch said.
“It's been all of a sudden and very nice,” observed John's wife Diane, Auxiliary treasurer. “New members like the place. They have fun. They don't want anything to happen to it.”
Why the increasing interest? “I think there is more respect and concern for veterans now who are serving in this day and age,” John replied. “Remember what it was like during Vietnam? You didn't dare wear your uniform. Now people respect veterans and want to do something for them.”
It's not just veterans who benefit from Legion generosity. Proceeds from Legion events benefit both veteran and community causes. The Legion supports the food shelf, Relay for Life, Boy Scouts, and the Lions toy drive.
“We take veterans fishing and hunting and support the Veteran's Rest Camp near Scandia. We also contribute to the VA hospital and Yellow Ribbon Network,” Boehm pointed out. “I've come to realize how much people remember the Legion's support and realize there is value here.”
The interior of the club is like a walk back in time. Patriotic memorabilia hang on the walls in the form of old posters and framed flags. Vintage rifles are displayed behind glass doors. Artificial red, white and blue flowers grace the tables and small flags are everywhere.
A sign displays regular events like Texas Hold'em Wednesdays and Sunday; bar bingo 1 p.m. Saturdays and karaoke at 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The Legion is open seven days a week, noon to 1 a.m. every day except Sunday, when closing is 8 p.m. Big Wood beer is on tap.
Again, everyone is welcome. Just remember to sign the guest book.