American Legion post springs back to lifePublished 6:48pm Wednesday, December 18, 2013
After nearly a year of inactivity, Dowagiac’s American Legion Post #563 is back in operation, with a Starrett at the helm.
The post, which is located at 806 North Orchard St., had fallen into delinquency after its commander of more than 30 years, Lawrence Starrett, had fallen ill and was placed in nursing care at the Timbers of Cass County. While his eldest daughter, Clarawayne Wolford, attempted to maintain the post in her father’s stead, the post’s membership slowly dwindled
Without the guiding hand of its longtime commander, it appeared that the blue and white hall of Post #563 would remain shut for good.
That’s when Al Ford, the head of the Michigan American Legion’s development committee, came to town.
“Our committee comes to any posts that are experiencing a decline in membership,” Ford said. “We take inventory on how the post is doing and figure how to recruit new members.”
Ford, who served as the state’s commander during the early 90s, has oversaw the revitalization of a number of Legion posts around the state since he took over as chair of the development committee 15 years ago. Over the past 12 years, his committee is responsible for the creation of 128 posts here in Michigan, including a few in Southwest Michigan.
“We’re providing a service to our veterans,” Ford said. “We are making sure that they are getting the benefits they are entitled to from the government.”
Ford’s committee has helped pull the state’s Legion membership of its decade-long decline. Membership numbers dropped sharply from its all-time high of 101,000 during the early 90s, but they since grown to around 80,000.
In March, Ford helped the Post #26 in Niles recruit 60 new members into its ranks, bringing it back from the brink.
Ford’s first order of business in Dowagiac: finding someone who could replace the post’s beloved commander.
Fortunately, that didn’t prove to be much a challenge, as Starrett’s son, also named Lawrence, stepped up to the plate to help revive the organization that his father devoted three decades to building.
“Starrett didn’t participate much with the Legion in the past,” Ford said. “However, he has since retired and was anxious to follow in his father’s footsteps. He has a lot of honor, and has a lot to offer.”
Starrett helped Ford lead the charge in rounding up members for the post, holding a recruitment drive near the end of October. Ford said that 28 new veterans became members of the resurrected post, joining the many old members who have since returned.
“The attitude of the everyone at the recruitment drive was very positive,” Ford said. “People were saying, ‘golly, let’s make this happen.”
Once again flush with members, the post has begun making steps towards restoring normal post operations.
A few weeks ago, the members held their first meeting of the year, electing Starrett as their new commander, along with a slate of other officers. Starrett’s election was a bittersweet moment for everyone involved, as the elder Starrett died the previous day.
“We had about 25 folks in attendance at the meeting,” Ford said. “I’m very satisfied with the turnout, the folks who were there were very interested in seeing their post back up and going.”
Besides resuming their monthly meetings, the post will soon begin organizing the Legion’s various community projects, most notably choosing local students to participate in the Boys State and Girls State civic learning program. Every year, the organization sponsors one boy and one girl to participate in a mock government exercise, designed to give students an interactive look into the operation of the state’s lawmaking process.
However, the post must pay around $300 to sponsor a child. While Legion members must pay $35 a month in dues, the post is only able to use around $10 of that for operations, with the rest going toward the Legion’s state offices.
“They are going to have to grab ahold of some ideas and start raising money,” Ford said.
In the past, the post has raised additional funds by renting out its hall for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other community events.
“It’s a nice hall with ample parking, and it’s right downtown,” Ford said.
Another member of the development committee, Richard Parks, will continue to monitor the post’s activity, mentoring Starrett and the other officers to make sure it doesn’t falter on the road to recovery. However, Ford said he is very confident in the post’s future, and in it’s new commander.
“I’m satisfied that he will do a good job, and he has the time on his hands to do so,” he said. “It’s a big job, but I know he’s up to it.”