American Legion Post 39 to celebrate 100 years


The lights are still on at the North St. Paul American Legion Post 39, shining a spotlight on nearly 100 years of community service. (Amy Felegy photos/Review )

Behind its live music, happy hours and hot chicken baskets, North St. Paul’s American Legion Post 39 has quite the history — one that started nearly 100 years ago.

The national American Legion turned 100 on March 15. As of July, there are 330 Minnesota posts still going strong after a century. North St. Paul’s Post 39, and its nearly 600 members, will join the other posts in celebrating the Legion’s 100th anniversary on Aug. 1.

Chairman Archie Vickerman has been a member of Post 39 for 40 years.

“It’s been a lot of dedication by a lot of people,” he says. “A lot of hard work.”

 

Post 39’s early years

In the beginning, a group of 15 World War I veterans formed Post 39 and met monthly, likely at a local library or church. They submitted an application to the national Legion, filed for a post, and it took off from there. 

Members from Post 39 say they are missing records from its beginnings all the way until 1927. Their records used to be stored in a vault in a North St. Paul casket company and when the business ended, members believe the records disappeared along with it. 

Now nestled between Seventh Avenue East and Geneva Avenue North, Post 39 has quite the list of previous locations. 

Meeting spots included a lot near an old barn, motorcoach train cars, Oakdale’s Old Owl Tavern and a library where North St. Paul City Hall now sits.

In 1976 the post inhabited a then-floral shop before moving into its current location ten years later, says Ken Giannini, a U.S. Army veteran and Post 39’s public relations and special activities director. The current location was previously home to a National Tea grocery store, a furniture store, a bait shop and a liquor store.

The American Legion was initially created to gain veteran support across the country and in Congress after World War I, Vickerman says. After all these years, he says Post 39 has remained a place of friendship and solidarity. 

“There is a camaraderie that I’ve found here that I think is pretty special,” he says. “It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced except the four years that I was in the Navy.”

In the 1950s, Post 39’s club began to sell pull tabs, which turned into money for donations to community athletic fields, the fire department, police department and the local food shelf, to name a few. The post also visits Veterans Affairs hospitals every month and gives toiletries and used clothes to veterans homes, among many other donations.

Membership picked up after World War II, but since then Giannini says some posts have closed because of declining membership numbers. He and Vickerman say Post 39 credits much of its success to being open to the public.

“That, I believe, is one of the keys that we’re still here,” Vickerman says. Closed posts, which are open to members only, can create funding challenges. 

Post 39 members hope to get the word out that they are open to the public. Live bands play every Friday and Saturday night and they host events throughout the year. Just around the corner is the annual golf tournament on Aug. 11, a chili feed on Aug. 24, and a “Brat N’ Corn Feed” on Sept. 7.

“If you want to reach out to the community, you’ve got to be well-known in the community,” Vickerman says. “As much as our membership is declining, we are able to get more involved in the community with events and fundraisers and support than maybe ever before.”

 

Looking out for support

Randy Bastyr, Post 39’s gambling manager, served in the Army from 1973 to 1976. A member for 26 years, he also served as the commander and chairman of the Bar & Hall Board.

What is Bastyr celebrating?

“Just the longevity of any club being around that long,” he says. “And to stay together as strong as we are.”

But staying together and retaining member levels, Vickerman says, has been a challenge.

“This is a demanding business,” he says, pausing to note the post is a nonprofit, but the bar and hall are a for-profit business. “It requires a tremendous amount of time from volunteers.”

Post 39 leaders say there are few World War II veterans still alive, and younger veterans are likely busy raising families, leaving little time for volunteering and sponsoring. Of the post’s 598 members, only about 40 consistently show up to meetings and about 10 consistently volunteer. Luckily, auxiliary family members and umbrella organzations like Legion Riders and Sons of the American Legion are also close patners. 

But with only a select few taking the reins of the local legion, Giannini offers a lesson in commitment.

“I’m not going to join something unless I’m going to be involved,” he says.

This is why the local post reaches out annually to national holding post members who don’t belong to a local region. The “revitalization campaign,” as they call it, funnels a handful of members each year to Post 39.

“We’re trying to keep it moving and keep it growing,” Vickerman says.

 

The next 100 years

At 86 years old, Army veteran Roger Ball, who is the executive board membership officer, has been a member of Post 39 for nearly half his life. After 40 years of dedication, including commander and executive board membership, Ball now volunteers 25 hours a week.

“It’s part of my family,” Ball says. “It has been for 40 years. Everybody supports each other.”

Ball recalls an honor guard member who recently fell and fractured his arm. A handful of volunteers from the post spent 70 days cleaning his two-bedroom cottage so he could move into an assisted living facility — all of this in the middle of a Minnesota winter, Ball says.

Despite the challenges, Bastyr says he isn’t worried about the future of Post 39. 

“There’s always going to be a need to support the veterans that are around,” he says. 

Post 39’s 100th Anniversary Event is Saturday, Aug. 3. Tickets are available to anyone for $20 at the Legion’s bar and pull tab booth.

After the event comes and goes, the post has no intention of slowing things down.

“We’ll plant the seeds for the next 100 years,” Vickerman says.

 

More information and a historical timeline of North St. Paul American Legion Post 39 can be found at its website, www.americanlegionnorthstpaul.com. Post 39 located at 2678 E. Seventh Ave.

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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