GENEVA – The Geneva-Fox River American Legion Post 75 was chartered in August 1919, making this the 100th year of the patriotic organization in Geneva.
In recognition of its century of service, the Geneva History Museum hosted a presentation of “A Century of Service” on May 14 at the Legion hall, 22 S. Second St., as part of its Brown Bag Program. About two dozen people attended.
“The entire city celebrated this newly formed organization and its veterans when the planned a large welcome home celebration in September 1919,” Museum Executive Director Terry Emma said. “This was the first large gathering of the World War I veterans.”
After World War II, an increase in Legion activities and membership presented the need for a larger facility, so in 1948, the members embarked on a fundraising campaign to build a permanent home. Legion members sold bricks for 25 cents each at the corner of State and Third streets.
A dedication of the completed building was held in November 1949.
The Legion did a membership drive during Armistice week in 1926 as they tried to have 100 percent participation by ex-servicemen in Geneva, Emma said.
They used the front window of the Geneva Building & Loan Association at State and Third streets during the drive to show a large electric wheel that marked its progress.
“The wheel had 200 spokes and each had a name and those who signed up had a blue star placed by their name,” Emma said. “The wheel was referenced in the newspaper as a ‘marvel of mechanical ingenuity.’”
However, the Legion did not make its membership goal, she said.
In the 1990s, the Geneva Public Library needed to expand and passed part of a referendum in 1992 to purchase two properties across the street on Second Street but the portion to fund the operations of the buildings failed, Emma said.
“The American Legion gave their building at 21 S. Second St. to the library and the library gave the Legion 201 James St. – the former home of the Yurs-Wittenburg Funeral Home,” Emma said.
Each August, the American Legion held a free four-day carnival in McKinley Park, featuring rides, games and booths, where merchants would present displays and exhibits of their wares, Emma said.
The carnival raised funds for operating expenses and Legion work such as veteran rehabilitation, welfare, hospitalization and services to families of veterans in need, she said.
Other philanthropy included an annual children’s Christmas party, Christmas potluck dinner and a New Year’s Eve party in 1952. The Legion also participated in the “Gifts for Yanks” charity drive to provide a Christmas gift for every hospitalized war veteran, Emma said.
Several members shared what Legion membership means to them, including former 4th Ward alderman Ron Singer, a member for more than 40 years.
"There is such a great amount of camaraderie," Singer said. "The way we presented ourselves and the community accepted us. We expressed our needs to you and you supported us."
Member Kyle Moore, who is still active in the Marine Corps reserves, agreed with Singer that the camaraderie with other fellow service members is what draws him to belong.
“And promoting the ideals of what the Legion stands for: citizenship and what makes America special," Moore said. "And so we just try to instill that spirit in others. Usually what drives people to serve is pride in their country and pride in their citizenship. And I think that is what the American Legion stands for.”
The Legion’s Adjutant Mike Ferrari said he talks to veterans and tries to convince them to join.
“I ask, 'Are you a veteran? Are you in the Legion?' And sometimes I get that response: ‘The Legion really does not do anything for me,’” Ferrari said. “I have to stop them and say, ‘Listen, the Legion is there for you to do things for your fellow veterans, not for them to do things for you.’ We have that mentality here of striving to do things for our fellow veterans. That is what makes this post so great.”
More information about the post is available by visiting genevapost75.org.