(Posted May 15, 2023)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The American Legion hit a milestone a few years back, and West Jefferson Post 201 is inviting the public to celebrate.
In 1919, Congress chartered the American Legion as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to service to veterans, service members, and communities. Today, nearly 2 million veterans are members in over 13,000 American Legion posts worldwide. Post 201 was chartered in 1920.
The 100-plus members of Post 201 are marking the Legion’s and the post’s 100th years with a belated birthday party. (Scheduling conflicts and the pandemic prevented them from celebrating earlier.) An open house will take place May 21, 2-5 p.m., at the post, 9701 W. Broad St., West Jefferson.
The public is invited to stop in for cake, cookies, sandwiches, and drinks and to learn about what the American Legion does for veterans and the community. Representatives of Honor Flight and the Madison County Veterans Service Center will be on hand, as well.
Service to Veterans
Post 201 got its start in a house near its current location. The building in use today was built in the 1960s.
“The main purpose of this building is that it’s here for the veterans. It’s a place they can come and feel welcome,” said Mike O’Reilly, post commander.
In addition to providing a place where veterans can gather for camaraderie, Post 201 keeps tabs on those who served, sending get-well cards and lending a hand whenever possible.
In the days leading up to Memorial Day each year, members place flags on veterans graves at five cemeteries around West Jefferson. The post conducts Memorial Day services at Pleasant Hill Cemetery and participates in Veterans Day services at Norwood Elementary and the Madison County Senior Citizens Center in London.
The post provides an honor guard at veterans’ funerals. The honor guard is comprised of a color guard, firing detail with a rifle salute, and the playing of “Taps.” Since 2018, Post 201’s honor guard has served at 99 funerals around Madison County and beyond.
“We provide an honor guard in West Jefferson mostly, but we go to other places, too, because not many American Legions do honor guards anymore,” said Kent Stryker, post first vice commander.
The post also sets up a POW/MIA table at every activity they do to honor military personnel who are still in captivity or whose remains were not returned.
Service to the Community
Post 201 does a lot for the community, as well. Their most visible service includes raising the flag at West Jefferson High School’s home football games, marching in parades, and attending the tree lighting ceremony at West Jefferson’s Christmas in the Park. They also hold fish fries at the post from 4 to 7 p.m. the first and third Fridays of the month, May through October.
Education plays a big role in the post’s activities. Annually, they sponsor delegates to Buckeye Boys’ State and Buckeye Girls’ State, an American Legion program that immerses students in the workings of government. This year’s delegates are West Jefferson High School students Nathan Smith, Timothy Leskiv, Christian Greene, Brent Gardner, Brooke Raver, Gabbie Stanley, and Lexi Swaney. Boys State is set for June 11-18 at Miami University. Girls State is set for June 11-17 at Bowling Green State University.
Post 201 awards a scholarship each year to a West Jefferson student related to someone in military service. They also coordinate and provide cash prizes for the American Government Test taken by students in grades 10-12.
The post provides new American flags when needed to the local cemeteries, the village of West Jefferson, and Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library. Members hold a flag retirement ceremony each Flag Day, disposing of flags that are no long serviceable. The public can drop off worn out flags in collection boxes located outside the post and at the gazebo next to West Jefferson’s town hall.
With residents’ health in mind, the post has a collection of medical equipment that anyone can borrow, whether or not they served in the military. They also accept donations of equipment to add to the collection.
Two years ago, the post began furnishing invalids in the community with lock boxes to place on their front doors. The Jefferson Township Fire Department installs the lock boxes and keeps a record of the combinations.
“That way they don’t have to break down the door in an emergency,” said Eugene F. Smith, post second vice commander, who came up with the idea.
In addition to renting out their building for private events, Post 201 donates the building’s use to several charitable organizations for events, including blood drives, American Cancer Society fundraisers, and assembly space for parades.
Any person who has served at least one day of active military duty since Dec. 7, 1941, and was honorably discharged can join the American Legion. Eligibility also is open to anyone who is still serving active military duty honorably. The cost to join is $35 a year.
Post 201 will have membership applications available at the birthday party open house. Additionally, anyone who would like more information about the post can visit https://amlegpost201.org/ or call (614) 879-9126 and leave a message.
Officers for the 2023-24 membership year are: Michael O’Reilly, commander; Kent Stryker, first vice commander; Eugene Smith, second vice commander; Tina Beckwith, adjutant; Terri Kovalchik, finance officer; Bob Penry, chaplain and service officer; Gary Heiman, sergeant-at-arms; Tina Beckwith, Skeeter Nelson, and Andy Estep, trustees. Member Steve Holcomb is chairman of the birthday celebration committee.