In a class of its own: American Legion looks to remain relevant
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – The American Legion has a presence in the Marshfield area which dates back to June 1919, when charter members met at an old armory located on the 100 block of West Second Street. Just short of a century in existence, Post 54 members have watched as local organizations similar to theirs have lost their facilities, some of the groups disappearing all together.
However, these tough military veterans are not willing to let their facilities suffer the same fate. They are fighting to remain relevant through programs and improvements that are designed to increase their presence in the area.
“We’ve been sitting in the 70s for a long time,” said Past Commander Gary Cummings.
“The American Legion is the best kept secret in Marshfield,” added current Post Commander Dave La Fontaine.
But, they are looking to change all of that.
Gracing Main Street Marshfield
“It started over a year ago,” explained Paul Rogers. “I was down in Cape Coral. I was driving down the street and saw these beautiful banners on the avenue there.”
That set the wheels in motion and Rogers set on a mission to learn more about the banners that gave honor to those who had served our country.
“I had Crabby Dave Fischer with me and it took us a while. First, we went to their visitors and promotions bureau… then, we went to the Chamber of Commerce… then, we finally went to economic development. They said, ‘We are not involved, but we will tell you who is.’
“They happen to have, in Cape Coral, Florida, a military museum as big as our Pick ‘N Save. I found out that part of the way they fund their military museum is having these banners.
“At that time it had just come out that the KC Hall was closing and the VFW had closed the year before. I knew from my extremely long relationship with Mike (Feirer) and Gary (Cummings) that the Legion has, for years, struggled along, and I knew from being on Main Street that they never have money to do anything.”
With that, Rogers and fellow committee members – Cummings, Feirer, and La Fontaine – initiated a program, now named the Marshfield Honor Walk, which would supply banners to honor veterans along Marshfield’s downtown.
The program creates funds for Main Street Marshfield and the American Legion, with Main Street receiving $5,000 and the Legion $10,000 each year.
“We are sold out for 2018, and we are sold out for 2019, and we are taking reservations for 2020,” said Rogers.
The 2018 banners were installed in the downtown area of Central Avenue on May 5. In addition, the committee has created a yearbook, as a memento, highlighting each veteran that is featured on the walk.
For more information or to obtain a banner on the Walk, contact Mike Feirer at 715-305-0123.
Enhancing the facilities
The funds coming to the American Legion from the Honor Walk have been designated for club enhancements.
The club has already used funds to obtain new lighting and bar stools, and will be working on bathroom upgrades.
“That is what we are spending our first $10,000 on,” explained Rogers.
Gene Wesley, who has produced the Hardacre Park artwork and multiple murals throughout the city, has been commissioned to produce a painting on the Vietnam War – more specifically, the activities on Hamburger Hill.
“I have seen it and it is absolutely, in my opinion, it could hang in the national art gallery,” said Rogers.
“A chopper is coming in and there are one or two GIs jumping off already, so the one that is running away from that chopper, you swear that you could reach out and grab his hand,” Feirer explained.
“The Huey helicopter is a symbol of the Vietnam War, because that was the first time the military used air cavalry,” added Rogers
“It doesn’t look like a painting to me, it looks like a photograph,” said La Fontaine.
The painting will be unveiled in conjunction with the Legion’s steak feed on May 14 at 5:30 p.m.
But, possibly the most significant addition to the Legion hall is the Merkel Brothers Vietnam Veterans Memorial Patio. The new outdoor addition to the club house features two fire pits with swivel rocking chairs, a fireplace, pizza oven, benches, and bistro tables and chairs, protected by two pergolas.
With the introduction of the patio, the Legion will begin hosting outdoor events throughout the summer – both public and private.
The patio will be dedicated in a red carpet ceremony, complete with honor guard, on May 23 at 4:30 p.m.
“When you hit the (west) door, you will receive not only the 2018 (Honor Walk) yearbook, but you will get the dedication program and you will get a gift redemption card at the door,” said Rogers. “When you go out the (north) doors, if you have a card, you get a gift. It is one per couple.”
La Fontaine said that National Commander of the American Legion Denise Rohan will also be on hand for the event.
“She is the first woman commander in 99 years,” added Feirer.
The Honor Walk committee says that the purpose of these improvements is two-fold; first, to become one of the finest Legion halls in the state of Wisconsin over the next 4-5 years. Second, and certainly not in the order of importance, the group is working to provide something that they have done for nearly a century – give something for those that gave to their country.