American Legion posts increase recruiting efforts
by BRIAN NADIG
Local American Legion posts are increasing recruiting efforts as they implement more family-oriented programs to help attract new members and to erase their former image.
"There’s the image of a club with a bar, (but in the Illinois) 9th District we’re doing more outreach and letting people know about our services and being family-oriented," said Dale Tippett, the district’s new commander.
The district, which has about 3,000 members, consists of 22 Chicago area posts. About half of the posts have a permanent location for meetings and social activities, and in some instances posts share a facility, Tippett said.
The type of programming and outreach offered by each post varies. "It depends on the culture of the individual post," Tippett said.
A variety of scholarship opportunities are offered through American Legion, which also has an awards program honoring elementary and high school students for good citizenship.
In addition, the district last spring participated in a job fair at Triton College, and some members have conducted homeless outreach.
The American Legion was formed by an act of Congress in 1919 to help veterans from all branches of the U.S. military. Concerns had been raised about the challenges facing those soldiers returning home from World War I.
"All they had were the clothes on their back, $67 and a bus ticket," said Tippett, a Vietnam War veteran. "They were literally given no benefits."
Currently there are about 74,000 American Legion members in Illinois, a decrease from more than 200,000 in years past.
However, Tippett said that he anticipates an enrollment increase due to new recruiting efforts and other factors. He said that many veterans of the recent wars in the Middle East have been busy raising families but may start to seek out a local post as "they have more freed up time."
Many veterans join the American Legion because they need assistance with applying for benefits from the government.
"The number one thing we do is connect them with the veterans service officer, Ray Toczek," Tippett said. Toczek worked for the Veterans Administration for 35 years and knows how to navigate the bureaucracy, he said.
It costs $48 to join the American Legion as a member at-large, but dues may be lower by joining a local post.
The Billy Caldwell Post 806 charges $20 for new members and $40 for renewals, said Tippett, who is a past commander of the post. The post was formed by a group of doctors and lawyers in Sauganash in the 1930s and has 182 members today.
Also in the 9th District are Gladstone Park Post 777, Edison Park Post 541, Portage Park Post 183, Norridge Post 1263, Iwaszuk-Cetwinski Post 943, Carl Lindberry Post 1009, Des Plaines Post 36, Elk Grove Village Memorial Post 216, Ellsworth Meineke Post 1983 and Franklin Park Post 974.
Also, River Grove Post 335, General George Bell Jr. Post 716, Mel Tierney Post 247, Howard H. Rohde Post 888, Mount Prospect Post 525, Tattler Post 973, Palatine Post 690, Merle Guild Post 208, Schiller Park Post 104, South Arlington Heights Post 2020 and Lafayette Post 159.
The legion’s four pillars are veterans and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth. The organization’s positions are guided by resolutions passed by American Legion National Convention delegates.
For information on the American Legion, call Billy Caldwell Post 806 adjutant Al Coughlin at 773-852-5561.