Flag retirement ceremonies like this one have elevated Post 38's presence in its community. (Photo by Clay Lomneth)

A post's service rewarded

For more than a year, members of Johnston-Blessman Post 38 in Wisconsin had the cloud of a six-figure debt hanging over their heads. The town of Grand Chute had assessed the post a bill of more than $100,000 to pay for road improvements on West College Avenue, a road the post resides on but does not use.

The original bill was for $114,966, though the actual job ended up costing just over $103,000. Payment was due May 1, leaving Post 38 in a jam. It had just spent more than 10 years paying off a similar bill of $65,000 for improvements to Bluemound Drive, on which the post also resides. Not paying the current bill off in time would have resulted in being charged steep interest rates.

"It was panic mode," Post 38 Adjutant Laurel Clewell said. "We were all trying to figure out how we could possibly (pay the bill). We thought we might have to close. At one point we thought there was no way it was going to happen."

But it did happen, thanks to incredible community support for a post that has meant so much to its community. It addition to regular community flag retirement ceremonies, Post 38 also awards $6,000 yearly in college scholarships, provides flag donations and flag etiquette lessons to local schools, puts on egg hunts and Christmas parties for low-income families, and lets other community organizations use its property for their fundraisers.

The post also has a big presence in the annual Appleton Flag Day Parade and last year was invited to 14 Veterans Day events, attending as many of those (nine) as it could.

The post's efforts in its community obviously have been noticed. After local media reported on Post 38's dilemma, donations began to pour in, and post members also were able to get other community members and organizations to match their donations.

"We had one gentleman come in and give us a $25,000 check," Clewell said. "His brother used to be a member of our post, and he had died and left him money. He said he wanted to give it right back to us, to the veterans. I just wanted to cry."

Attendance at the post's fundraisers spiked. A local band donated time at the post's annual corn roast. "Our corn roast usually makes like $2,500," Clewell said. "We were way up around $12,000. The community stepped up so large."

The post ended up raising $112,000 and with the leftover money was able to put in a new air conditioner at the post that had been needed for more than a year.

"We're just looking at things in a different light now," Clewell said. "We just had a lot of people do some really good things. It's amazing how dedicated they are to helping veterans. The community stepped up large, and we are so grateful."

Clewell believes the post's image in the community made the effort so successful. "I think a lot of people relate The American Legion to good," she said. "They see that we're not in it for us. I think people understand that we're a good organization. You could see it when they came through (the post). They were all thanking us for our service, throwing $5 in the bucket or $10 in the bucket. All of that added up. It was awesome."