American Legion Post 53 strives for relevance

The Post honors local women, outlines active programs to attract today’s vets

Photos by Rusty Strait/The Valley Chronicle
In a sit-down interview with Russ Mills, executive board member/finance officer and committee chairman, The Valley Chronicle was briefed on Post 53’s plans for the future.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

The American Legion Post 53’s monthly membership meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, in Hemet, although sparsely attended was filled with purpose. In a sit-down interview with Russ Mills, executive board member/finance officer and committee chairman, The Valley Chronicle was briefed on details and plans for the future since the merger with San Jacinto Post 848 fell through.
The Valley Chronicle (TVC): What were the awards handed out tonight?
Russ Mills (RM): Susan Watson of the San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce and Linda Greilich from Golden Era [Productions] Golf Course were honored with citizens of the year awards for their services and dedication to the American Legion and its activities.
TVC: The expulsion of a member was voted on tonight. What was that all about?
RM: A charge was filed against a member whose conduct was unbecoming a member of the Post and The American Legion. We called an executive committee meeting the next morning. With all necessary protocol available, we took precautionary action to prevent such a situation from happening again. Everything was confirmed. The expulsion went from our post to district and area divisions of California. State said we ran through the procedure so adequately that a formal tribunal would not be required, referring it back to us for further handling. Tonight, a unanimous vote by the general membership confirmed the ruling and the guilty party will be so notified.
TVC: The Post’s involvement with Boys State was also a topic.
RM: It is an annual event where we select three or four young men, usually three boys and an alternate. Candidates from our three Hemet high schools submit their applications. A board made up of four officers of the post interview and chooses who our nominees will be. We submit those nominees to the district in Riverside County as candidates for Boys State, which is held once a year. The cost for each boy is $500.

Photo File
Rusty Strait

RM: If selected, the boys go to Sacramento University for a week where they participate in running their own state government and from among themselves they elect their own governor, state supreme court, and other state officers. In essence, they are operating a shadow government for a whole week. Every boy who goes through that procedure has an opportunity to see the workings of government close up and is exposed to the political process.
RM: Each young man who lives that week of government will remember it for the rest of his life. Boys State is so influential that when these youngsters are preparing for college, their participation in Boys State is taken into consideration as a plus.
TVC: How about your candidate for Eagle Scout of the year?
RM: Timothy Carlson is our nominee this year. His mom and dad own a local business in the middle of town. Timothy is above and beyond any young man I’ve ever seen as a candidate for Eagle Scout of the year. He takes leadership among other young men. His project for Eagle Scout recognition is the restoration of a Turkish F-1 GNAT fighter plane located at March Air… [Reserve] Base. It was recently painted and transferred to the prop hanger to show respect.
RM: Tim recruited other scouts to assist, but he was in charge of the program, supervising every step of the restoration that professionals stand in awe of. He organized the entire project. Additionally his humility, honesty and dedication to high morals exceed all aspects necessary to be an Eagle Scout. He is Post 53’s nominee for National Eagle Scout of the year.
TVC: I notice with discouragement that more recently discharged veterans are not attending the Post’s membership meetings. There were more people playing bingo this week than attending your regular meetings.
RM: It is frustrating when you try to rebuild a post. Remember that Post 53 is 98 years old.
TVC: How can you expect to have young recruits when most of your members are old men from World War II, Korea and Vietnam?
RM: I encourage young vets to become members. In our new proposed area center, my goal is for the VFW and American Legion to be part of the same facility as a team. We hope to offer facilities that will appeal to the younger generation. We understand that younger veterans would like to see us as their social club. One problem we have is that we do not have a bar and are not open on a daily basis. The new facility will have a bar, family facilities, and a gym and meeting room.
TVC: As to your current facility, I understand you sponsor a number of other programs. What are they?

Susan Watson, left, of the San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, and Linda Greilich from Golden Era Productions were honored with citizen of the year awards for their service and dedication to the American Legion.

RM: Glad you asked. Boy Scouts of America, Cub Scouts, Opportunities for Girl Scouts, Military Explorers from a local high school, J-ROTC, The Tops weight-loss programs, Sons of American Veterans, which includes children of veteran fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
RM: Our ladies auxiliary is quite active. They add a great deal to Post 53. They operate our bingo program which, as you know, is pretty well populated.
TVC: It is believed that with Soboba’s installation of a new bingo parlor, local bingo games will suffer financially. How will the post deal with that?
RM: We will operate on the days they go dark. Most tribes have one dark night a week in their bingo programs. It will work out. Those things always do.
TVC: As you know, in the past there has been some friction between Post 53 and the Hemet City Council. How is that going?
RM: We have a new mayor, Michael Perciful. I like him. He seems receptive to helping us in the community and Councilwoman Bonnie Wright is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. Her husband is also a member of the post. They’ve always stood with us. I think we can count on a healthy relationship with the city. We can grow together.”
TVC: Since you are a pure nonprofit organization, how are your funds dispensed?
RM: Most of our money goes to support veterans and youth activities. Any child in this community is our number one goal because our future is in our children. The legion will always be there for them.
Reporter’s Note: Mills is optimistic, but realizes there are many challenges in the road to fulfill the hopes and dreams of Post 53. We wish him luck.

Just sayin’

rustystrait@gmail.com

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