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Happy birthday to the American Legion . . . Members of the
American Legion Clarence McCormack Post #195 gather March 26th
to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the American Legion. Veterans
pictures above are, standing (l-r), Russell Bott, Maynard Anderson,
Greg Jacobson, Coyne Quigley, Gerald Lawson, Marlyn Kirkelie
and Art Lee. Seated is Virginia-Lee Bryans.
By Caroline Downs
Members of the American Legion Clarence McCormack Post #195 always pay special attention to the Legion’s anniversary when it rolls around each March.
After all, one of their own, a Donnybrook soldier named Christe Barke who served with the American Expeditionary Force, attended the Paris Caucus in March 1919 that established the organization as a patriotic veterans group focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities. The American Legion was chartered by the U.S. Congress later in 1919.
A group of veterans from the Clarence McCormack Post and several Auxiliary members celebrated the 93th anniversary of the American Legion with supper, patriotic decorations and a homemade birthday cake on March 26th at the Carpio Senior Citizens Center.
Russell Bott read, from the historian’s record, minutes of the first meeting of the post, when the group was chartered on July 28, 1920, at the Donnybrook State Bank.
Officers elected that day included Dr. Geo. M Constance as post commander, Barke himself as vice-commander, F.J. Robinson as historian, Harry Lewis as adjutant, Glenn Crompton as financier, Rev. Tewell as chaplain and Clarence Hultin as sergeant-at-arms.
The men established meeting dates as the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, with dues of $3.00 per year.
Bott quoted the following words from the record: “The meeting was adjourned by C.W. Barke. This meeting marked the organization of a post which was in future time to come to accomplish more for which the name Legion stands for than any other post its size in the state of North Dakota.
“Well does the historian remember in what spirit this meeting was held. The room, about 12 ft. by 12 ft. in size, suggested meetings that were held by our forefathers back in the Revolutionary Days. We did not then know much of what the Legion stood for, but we had a premonition that these were to be accomplishments which we were later to enjoy.”
Post #195 historical highlights
Virginia-Lee Bryans, who served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War and was the first woman admitted to the Clarence McCormack Post, researched highlights of the post’s activity from the first 75 years’ worth of minutes and other written records. Auxiliary member Marilyn Bott summarized that information in a short program for the group.
According to the records, Post #195 held the first of many dances on New Year’s Eve 1920. On March 2nd, 1921, the women’s Auxiliary organized to support the post. Memorial Day programs were started, with members of the post marching to both local cemeteries, although the minutes recorded how that effort tired the Auxiliary members.
Throughout the 1920s, the post met in various locations, but in 1930, they purchased the old Baptist Church from a Mr. Ogaard, then moved that building to its present location near the United Methodist Church in Donnybrook. Each member loaned the post $3.00 to buy the church, and various members donated trees to landscape the property.
Hardships of the 1930s and early 1940s were evident in the post minutes as the minutes recorded the suggested donation of one bushel of wheat accepted as membership dues in December 1932. In 1943, the post rented a field and worked the land at the rate of $10 each to cover their dues.
Bryans and her brother Jack Steinberger, both World War II veterans, were notified by letter in 1946 that Bryans was eligible to become a member of the post even though she was a woman. “I didn’t join until the 1950s,” she said. A few years after joining, she was named adjutant and held that office for 38 years.
Various improvements were necessary to the Legion Hall through the years, but the current members laughed over notes from 1954 regarding the status of the Hall’s outhouse. According to the minutes, the original outhouse was sold in November 1953, but the fate of the Hall’s bathroom facilities appeared to create discussion during the next few months because by September 1954 the minutes proclaimed, “If we cannot build an outhouse for $75.00, then the community can go to New Town.”
In October 1954, the minutes announced plans to pour cement for the outhouse base, while the November minutes stated a toilet would be built in the near future. The matter ended in December that year with a note about “...get lumber here for a toilet.”
The Hall was updated in other ways, too, with a finished basement floor in 1954 and indoor and outdoor lighting in 1957. In later years, shingles were replaced, the interior of the building was repainted, display cabinets were built and a new propane furnace was installed. A city sewer hook-up was bid in 1985.
The post became involved with the American Legion baseball program during the early 1970s, with Gerald Lawson organizing the local program for nearly 20 years. “We had a team ‘til we ran out of kids,” he said.
In fact, the American Legion team in Donnybrook grew out of a strong community baseball program that included PeeWee, Babe Ruth and girls softball squads those years, with tournament trophies now displayed in the Donnybrook American Legion Hall as testimony to the skilled players at all levels. Lawson himself was named to the American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988 for his dedication and commitment to the Donnybrook program.
Members of the Clarence McCormack Post served as color bearers and rifle squad members at programs throughout the area, while hosting their own Memorial Day and Veterans Day recognition services in both Donnybrook and Carpio until the Carpio school closed. The post provided flag etiquette information and official flag-burning services to the communities as well. “Anybody who had a flag to be destroyed brought them in and we discarded them,” Bryans said.
Several of the post’s veterans were honored through the years, including Barke and Herman Wenburg during a 60-year membership ceremony in May 1978, while fellow WWI veteran Charlie LaLond received his 50-year American Legion membership award. In 1985, area residents and WWI veterans Arthur McKinzie and Ernest Maynard were made honorary members of the post.
Lawson said as a younger Legionnaire, he always respected the post members who served during WWI. “They thought more of the Legion than anyone since, about attending meetings and keeping it going,” he said.
Clarence McCormack post
still going strong
Post #195 has listed more than 80 members on its roster during some years, but current membership stands at about 45 members, including Barke’s son Christie Barke of Fargo. Members today hail from Donnybrook, Carpio, Tolley, Kenmare, Berthold, Minot, Hillsboro and Fargo in North Dakota, and from around the nation in Spokane Valley, WA, Antelope, CA, Moorhead, MN, St. Paul, MN and Scottsdale, AZ.
Of those members, Greg Jacobson reported 7 as WWII veterans, 8 who served during the Korean War, 20 from the Vietnam years, 5 from the Lebanon and Grenada era, 1 who served in Panama, and 4 who have enlisted during the Persian Gulf conflicts.
Current officers include Danny Michel as post commander, Maynard Anderson as vice-commander, Jacobson as adjutant, Lawson as finance officer, Russell Bott as chaplain and David Miller as sergeant-at-arms.
For years the post held two meetings each month, with one scheduled to conduct business and one planned as a fun gathering, according to Bryans. These days, the post meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 7:30 pm, unless otherwise scheduled, from September through November and January through April. In May, members of the post participate in the community’s traditional Memorial Day program, complete with guest speaker, while the Auxiliary prepares and serves dinner for everyone.
The Clarence McCormack Post continues to sponsor local students for North Dakota Boys State, donate grave markers for deceased veterans in the area, host the Veterans Day program and flag-raising, and recognize 50-year members with a commemorative belt buckle. The post also makes annual contributions to the Ann Carlsen Center in Jamestown, North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon and Special Olympics.
From Lawson’s perspective, being active in the American Legion is a way of life. “It goes back to when I was a kid,” he said, adding that he joined 54 years ago following his service in Korea. “The Legion was so active in town, and my mother was an Auxiliary member. I was always interested in it.”
He appreciates the dedication and service of Legionnaires in the local post. “When I look back, there are several people in this Legion who have put a lot of effort into it,” he said. “I’d like to keep it going.”
For more information about American Legion Post #195 in Donnybrook, contact Lawson at 701-482-7835.