“White Bear has enough young men who are eligible to membership in the Legion to have a strong chapter if they all take an interest.”
Those words in the September 1919 White Bear Press announced the beginnings of American Legion Post 168, chartered a month later by Congress Oct. 8, 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization dedicated to “mutual helpfulness.”
That first meeting Sept. 8 was held in the city council chambers and called to order by Harrison Fuller, city editor of the St. Paul Dispatch. Those attending formed a committee chaired by Leslie Palmer to get the ball rolling for a charter. It was also decided to call it White Bear Post.
In November, 32 World War I servicemen became charter members. J.W. Mattimore was elected first commander. The veterans had familiar surnames like Long, Rief, Michaud, Webber, Labore, Auger, Garceau, Clark and LaRue. They wrote the constitution and bylaws.
A history of the Legion's origins was written by Edna Adam in 1980 for the White Bear Press and it is her three-page typed summary that provided much of the information here.
Adam served as Auxiliary president in 1949-'50. Her scrapbooks and photo albums are among the treasure trove of memorabilia discovered in the Legion basement; now in safekeeping with the historical society.
In her summary, Adam noted that membership picked up after 1945 when men from World War II started returning home. Average attendance, she wrote, was 35 to 45 at meetings, which were held in the library. Numbers were growing, and that meant the Legion needed its own home.
A carnival in the park behind the Post Office raised the necessary funds. “The post cleared several thousand dollars, enough to give a start on buying a clubhouse,” Adam recalled. “Sometime in late 1945, the present Legion Club at Banning and Third Street, known as Hardy's Corner and later LeVasseur's Store, was purchased.” Lyndon Long was first commander in the new quarters.
February 1952 marked the grand opening of a completely remodeled and redecorated club and hall, Adam recorded. “By now the trend to suburban living attracted many of the WWII and Korean veterans to White Bear Lake. Many of these veterans joined the Post so membership of 32 increased to 385.” Vietnam veterans also began contributing to membership rolls.
Remodeling was done again in 1979 “in keeping with the modernization and beautification of the community,” Adam wrote. “Post 168 is proud of its accomplishments of service to God and Country and has contributed much to our community through American Legion programs, undertaking many projects and cooperating with other civic groups.”
The Post sponsors an American Legion baseball team, a B Bantam hockey team, Boys State, a clown club and Sons of The Legion chapter, she noted. It also organizes a blood drive, the annual Memorial Day parade and participates in the Manitou Days parade. A recent project, Adam pointed out, was the replacement of five trees on Clark Avenue as a living memorial to White Bear Lake veterans of all wars.
One of the Post's outstanding “Americanism” projects, she continued, was the presentation of a new large American flag to be flown from the city flagpole.
Americanism is a word used early on in describing Legion objectives. Online, it is defined as a set of United States patriotic values aimed at creating a collective American identity.
The American Legion was early and firm in its opposition to anti-democracy ideologies, wrote the editor of The American Legion Magazine in a January 2019 article. “They had fought to make the world safe for democracy.” To the founders of the nation's largest veterans organization, the best kind of “ism” was Americanism.