The Hutchinson American Legion Post 96 is celebrating 100 years of dedicated service to the Hutchinson community.
"Both the American Legion, VFW and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) in Hutchinson today do so many behind-the-scenes things for our communities," said Legion member Bob Rolander.
The Legion conducts those service by honoring its four pillars: Americanism, children and youth, national security and veteran's affairs. One of the many programs they sponsor in Hutchinson is the school patrol, which is also a statewide program.
"I was in it myself," Rolander said. "I was in like fourth and fifth grade, and twice a day you got excused 15 minutes early to go out."
"As long as that has been in existence — it's been in existence for over 60 years — no child has ever been a fatality," added Legion Executive Committee member Roger Olson.
Throughout its history, the American Legion has recognized two special days, Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.
This year for Veteran's Day, members of the Legion are going out to all of Hutchinson's schools to participate in ceremonies as part of their community outreach efforts. Rolander, who is a member of the Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad, will demonstrate a flag folding ceremony to students.
One of the most special events the Legion hosts, according to Olson, is its annual Christmas party for children with special needs, which is held on the second Thursday in December.
"We have right around 50 children that have various special needs," he said. "We have Santa Claus and each child gets a gift."
On a more national scale, students who are direct descendants of U.S. wartime veterans are eligible for the Samsung American Legion Scholarship, which is awarded to five girls and boys nationwide. Hutchinson's Maggie Kleiman was a recipient of the scholarship two years ago.
"That's $10,000 a year for four years," Olson said.
But one of the most important goals of the Legion is teaching kids the values of Americanism. They do this through a national program called Boys State. This program allows participants to learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens.
"Schools select those students," Rolander said. "In Minnesota we've got Boys and Girls State, and from that group they select the students who will go to Boys and Girls Nation. ... I wish I'd known about that when I was in school. I certainly would've tried for that."
"It's such a good program. I teach flag etiquette and ceremony to cub scouts, brownies, girl scouts, boy scouts," he added. "They are going to be our leaders. (We) try to instill in them Americanism, values of good citizenship and why it's so important. It's always a joy to work with young people."
Post commanders have a storied history that's intertwined with the city of Hutchinson.
"We've always had a very active American Legion post here in Hutchinson, all the way in the beginning days," Rolander said.
Dr. A.J. Thompson was the first Legion Commander of Post 96. He, along with E.L. Higgins, Spencer Stearns, Iver Iverson, J. Beytien and Willard Sahr were well known within the community.
"They were all shakers of Hutchinson in the '20s and '30s," Rolander said.
"I was commander in 1974-75, and Dr. Thompson came and spoke at one of our Legion birthday dinners," he added. "His wife and my mother were real good friends, so it was neat to have our first post commander there."
Helmuth Kurth, who was the 1937-38 commander, was known for helping people out in a restaurant he owned. During Christmastime, he would distribute food to families in Hutchinson.
Post 96 has also had three of its commanders elected to the state commander positions, the only post in the Minnesota to do so.
"There's several that had two, but no other post has had three," Olson said.
Despite all they've accomplished, the organization hasn't been without its challenges. According to Rolander, it has been difficult to motivate the post's younger members to step up into leadership roles.
"I'm not one of these, 'I want to do this job until I go in the ground,'" he said. "You want to get younger people involved, but you don't want to push too much on somebody or it will overwhelm them."