In celebrating its 100th anniversary, the O’Fallon American Legion has spruced up with a new look, different activities and fresh outlook, hoping to attract active members.
“We’re making a comeback. We want to make it as user-friendly as possible — for anybody,” said Cheryl Hill, junior vice commander and Canteen manager.
From Taco Tuesdays and a Wednesday steel-tip dart league between local establishments, the Legion wants to be inviting. The Post building has a fresh coat of paint, new awnings and is now handicapped-accessible. A stair-lift was installed this summer.
O’Fallon is one of the oldest Legion posts in the country, established Sept. 13, 1919, a month before Congress made the group official and after the St. Louis caucus in May.
“We’re one of the original ones,” Hill said. “And one of the largest.”
In fact, the log cabin now in the O’Fallon Community Park was originally the Legion post’s building.
The O’Fallon Post 137 will honor their legacy and vision for the future at an open house Saturday. The event, which is open to the public, kicks off with a ribbon-cutting at 4 p.m., conducted by the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce, followed by cake, free hors d’oeuvres and. Food will be available for purchase from 5-7 p.m., and music will be provided by a DJ that evening. Door prizes will be part of the festivities.
The Post is located at 109 N. Penn St. in downtown O’Fallon. The Canteen opens at 10:30 a.m. daily and closes at midnight Monday through Thursday, or at the bartender’s discretion, and can stay open until 1:45 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Hill said.
Meetings, membership requirements
The Post’s membership meetings are at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month. Members are of all branches of service. As the American Legion moves into its next century, the organization is changing to allow a broader-based membership for both military veterans and spouses. Membership requirements changed this summer, so that anyone who served in the military from Dec. 7, 1941, to now is eligible.
“There was a period, from 1975 to 1990, when a big chunk of people were not eligible. It wasn’t right. The Cold War was just as hard to deal with — people were always on standby, alert. It wasn’t just during combat times. You had to be mission-ready just in case something happened,” Hill said.
Hill is an Air Force veteran. She grew up in a military family, which is how she arrived at Scott Air Force Base in the first place. She worked in vehicle operations — and served in the Vietnam-era, and returned to Scott, living in O’Fallon. She met her husband, Mike, a local resident, and they’ve been married 36 years. She retired from civil service after 32 years and became the Canteen manager five years ago.
The Legion has also dropped the “Women’s” from the Auxiliary, and all spouses are now eligible for membership, not just wives.
“So happy that we can have anyone who served. So glad they finally opened it up,” she said.
Hoping to attract a new generation
Hill would like to see a more active membership, and hopes their recent changes will attract a new generation.
Recently, the Legion officers were recognized at an O’Fallon City Council meeting with a proclamation, emphasizing the impact the organization has had upon American society, and the extent of its contributions to the national security and the welfare of military veterans, their families and their communities. The mayor, city clerk and two aldermen are Legion members.
The O’Fallon Post has about 300 members, including its longest, Bernard “Whitey” Schwarz, a veteran of World War II, who has been a member for 74 years.
The post’s activities include Boys State, helping the Quincy Veterans Home, and outreach to military families.
“We’d like to get Legion baseball back,” Hill said.
She issued a standing invitation to anyone who would like to know more about the Legion to stop by. The Post is available for event bookings. The phone number is 618-632-8879.