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  • Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Conference Focuses on Vets, Membership, Getting Word Out

    ALBANY — Not only does the public know little about what the American Legion does, but also many members, so getting the word out is a vital need. That was a message from Michael Helm, the leading candidate for national commander, who stopped in at the Public Relations Workshop at the Department’s Mid-Winter Conference, held Jan. 24-26 at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center.

    Mike Helm

    Mike Helm

    “It’s an absolutely amazing organization we have,” said Helm, who hails from Nebraska. “But we have difficulty letting people know, both outside and inside the organization, what we’re all about…

    “Public relations is the way to go…and we have to work harder.”

    PR was one of a host of breakout sessions on Legion programs and services (membership, finance, baseball, Sons of the American Legion, Legion Riders, legislative issues, historians, press association, Legionnaire of the Year program, ROTC/JROTC, Americanism, oratorical contest, junior shooting sports, children & youth, law & order, protocol, Boys State, economics, veterans issues, national security, compliance, scouting, and special projects).

    While Saturday’s morning sessions were starting to wrap up, Helm and Department Commander Ken Governor briefed reporters from the Albany Times-Union and WTEN TV on such issues as jobs for veterans, suicide prevention and restoring the cost-of-living-adjustment for military retirees.

    The weekend conference, which also featured the debut of the new Department news magazine (Legion New York), kicked off Friday evening with a few break-outs and a welcome reception.

    Saturday’s full schedule of workshops was capped off by an evening band concert/reception and banquet.

    Concert Band

    American Legion Yankee Doodle Concert Band

    The concert featured stirring patriotic tunes performed by the American Legion Yankee Doodle Band from Fort Crailo Post 471 in Rensselaer.

    The banquet opened with a thunderous chorus of the Star Spangled Banner and ended with a rousing, hands-holding rendition of God Bless America. In between, the leading candidate for national commander reminded everyone about the Legion’s four pillars and its basic mission to fight for the veteran in need.

    Mike Helm with Jim Casey and Ken Governor

    Department Adjutant Jim Casey and Department Commander Ken Governor with Mike Helm, leading candidate for national commander.

    Helm also asked the Department of New York to put a focus on membership growth by reaching out to Vietnam War veterans. “There are five million of them and only one million belong to the Legion…They’re retiring now and looking for something to do.” There also needs to be a focus on recruiting women veterans, he said. The Legion is pushing hard “to ensure that women veterans are treated equally all across this nation,” and is “working to reduce the backlog” in VA claims. Pointing out that the Legion doesn’t believe in the notion that other countries would like America if it becomes second rate, he asserted: “The American Legion will always stand for a strong national defense, second to none.”

    Sunday morning’s concluding general session featured a memorial service for Department Adjutant Emeritus Richard Pedro and remarks by Watervliet Arsenal Commander Col. Lee H. Schiller Jr.

    Fellowship and fun weaved their way throughout the weekend.

    Jim George and Mike Bowen

    Jim George and Mike Bowen jamming.

    In front of the adjacent Rensselaer County and Oneida County hospitality areas, Utica Post 229 Vice Commander Jim George brought his 12-string guitar and did some jamming with Past Department Commander Mike Bowen, sporting his 72-base, German-reed accordion.

    Frank Weodon & Paulette Casey

    Queens Co. Cmdr Frank Weodon with Ghoul Paulette Casey.

    The Queens County delegation, determined to bring a new motif to its annual Saturday afternoon hospitality, put on a “Monster Mash,” with a number of Auxiliary members sporting a variety of ghoulish garb.

    Frank Peters, the leading candidate for Department commander, played host to a long line of well-wishers visiting his campaign hospitality suite. He took time to pose for a photo with every visitor and to talk up his “honoring all who served” theme.

    Legion College Dean Michael Hannan poses with FFA state leaders Leann Green and Amanda Rhodes.

    Legion College Dean Michael Hannan poses with FFA state leaders Leann Green and Amanda Rhodes.

    College students Amanda Rhodes and Leann Green, state FFA (Future Farmers of America) leaders, stopped by the American Legion College Alumni Association booth on their way to give a presentation at the Children & Youth seminar. Legion College Dean Michael Hannan discovered Amanda’s father, Gary, served in Desert Storm, and Leann’s grandfather, Richard Friends, was a World War II vet, and immediately offered them American Legion Auxiliary applications.

    Donald Guernsey

    Donald Guernsey

    The jolly ole saint from the North Pole made a couple of appearances (or at least his Legion stand-ins did).

    Donald Guernsey of Broadalbin Post 337 never tires of seeing children’s “eyes pop out of their heads” as they pull on the beard and realize it doesn’t come off. “I like to play Santa all the time,” said Guernsey, who is also a Legion Rider active in the Legacy and Honor Flight runs.

    Wayne Gevelding of Dunbar Post 1642 in Syracuse enjoys being a stealth Santa rather than putting on the red suit.

    Wayne Gevelding

    Wayne Gevelding

    If he is in a restaurant and sees a couple of kids acting up, he takes out his notebook and pretends to jot down their names. The kids suddenly sit quietly, and the mom whispers a “thank you”. Or, if he hears a child ask a parent if he’s Santa Clause, he can’t resist a booming “Ho Ho Ho!”

    There’s a downside, though. “My wife gets mad every time I do that.”