Friday, July 21, 2023
A Time for Joy and Tears on 2nd Day of Convention
Lucy, a 7-year-old Bernese Mountain service dog, sat on the floor in the front row of the 105th Department Convention, attentively gazing up at the podium where her master, Dana Verissimo, was receiving not one, but two honors.
Veterans Service Committee Chair Eilene Fisher was introducing Verissimo as the John Sampson Service Officer of the Year. And committee member Patrick Rourke was presenting Dana with the Meritorious Service Award. Both were commending Verissimo for outstanding service to veterans as an assistant service officer with Westchester County Veterans Service Agency.
Verissimo, a member of Mahopac Post 1080, looked out at the crowd and simply said: “When you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, it’s a good bet it didn’t get there on its own.”
While suggesting he’s part of a team, the comment did spark a ripple of laughter. In fact, one might say the second day of the convention was full of emotion.
There was the joyous exuberance of youth brought on by the 2023 Boys State governor and the 2023 oratorical champion.
There was the stirring declaration of love for the American Legion by the public relations award recipient.
There was the tearful moment of a service officer honoree describing his encounter with a desperate veteran suffering from PTSD – and getting him not only into counseling, but also into a job.
BOYS STATE GOVERNOR
Boys State of New York Director David Cariddo said a total of 572 students graduated from the program, which was held at SUNY Morrisville last month. He introduced Boys State Governor Jonah Williams, who immediately sparked cheers and applause when he mentioned that he was a cadet first lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol and that he planned “to go into the Air Force to do search and rescue.”
Because he met people who had attended Boy State and Boys Nation, he applied for the program and was determined to run for governor right from the start. But then, “I got to meet all the other kids running for governor, and I was terrified,” he said to laughter. Despite second thoughts, in the end he jumped into the competition, running on the slogan, “No hand left unshaken,” as he made his way down the lunch lines at Boys State.
Oratorical Chair Anthony Paternostro introduced oratorical champion Ian Chung by noting that he won the state championship three times and went on to place second in the national competition this year, garnering over time a total of $50,500 in scholarships. As if that wasn’t enough, Ian also attended Boys State and was selected to represent New York at Boys Nation this year.
Ian said he entered the speech contest to practice public speaking and it ended up changing the course of his life.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of you veterans,” he told the crowd. And that experience convinced him of the “need to support our nation’s veterans.”
PUBLIC RELATIONS AWARD
Media and Communications Chair Robert Stronach introduced the Department Public Relations Award recipient as an example of how to get the word out about the American Legion in a way that wins community support and attracts new members. In her two years as commander of Bassett-Baxter Post 789 in Carthage, U.S. Army combat veteran Dr. Janice Gravely, PhD, instituted such signature events as weekly brunches with a side of health screenings and an annual Vietnam veterans’ welcome home parade. Newspapers and radio and TV stations quickly responded to support her efforts, and the community, as she put it, felt welcomed at the Legion Post. In her first year as commander, the Carthage Post attracted 31 new members, and in her second year, another 19 new members joined the post.
As she received the award, Janice told the applauding assembly:
“When you love an organization and what it represents, like I love this awesome-phenomenal-outstanding organization called the American Legion, sharing its story and how it continues to impact my life is as natural as breathing.”
DISABLED VETS’ OUTREACH SPECIALISTS
Employment Committee Chair Thomas C. Rielly announced that the Legion was honoring two Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) Specialists.
Runnerup for DVOP Specialist of the Year is Gary Hogate, who works out of the New York Labor Department’s office in Elmira, Rielly said.
The DVOP Specialist of the Year is William Haines, he said. Haines works out of the Labor Department’s office in Norwich. After he tearfully recounted helping a desperate vet, Haines said the job is “more than just helping veterans get back into the workforce.”
Department Historian Frank Carletta announced winners of the History Book competition.
In the Post Category, Fuller Taylor Post 915 in Central Square (Oswego County, 5th District) grabbed first place and will go onto national competition. Francis J. Donovan Post 1616 in Cheektowaga took second place, and Bassett-Baxter Post 789 in Carthage placed third.
In the County Category, Suzanne Quirk of Erie County took the first place title. Nassau County (James T. Randle) came in second, and Onondaga County (Jerome Orton) took third place.
In the District Category, 5th District (Jerome Orton) won first place. The 6th District (Wayne Dunkel) took second, and 10th District (James Randle) came in third.