2017-11-05 / Insight

Lapeer American Legion Post 16 nears 100 years

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


One of the walls at the American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer has photos of the post’s previous commanders, dating back to its origins shortly after the end of World War I. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich One of the walls at the American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer has photos of the post’s previous commanders, dating back to its origins shortly after the end of World War I. Photo by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — The Lapeer American Legion once offered “the only hall” in town, but for nearly a century, the local organization has served a much bigger role — specifically, as a kind of service organization for veterans and their families.

That’s according to Art Whelan, 81, a former commander of American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer who also serves as one of the post’s unofficial historians.

Today, the Lapeer American Legion Post 16 consists of about 1,000 post members (those who served), Sons of the American Legion, and Auxiliary (mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, or grandmothers of American Legion members).


The exterior of the American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer. The building was constructed in 1949 and once offered “the only hall” in Lapeer, according to one official. The exterior of the American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer. The building was constructed in 1949 and once offered “the only hall” in Lapeer, according to one official. It’s based in a 10,000-squarefoot building at 1701 W. Genesee St., Lapeer, that was built in 1949 and offers various amenities, including two halls available for rent (one seats 200, the other has room for 400 plus a stage), plus the lounge area for members and their guests.

“It’s part service organization, but it’s not in the same category as a Rotary or Optimists Club, or one of those,” said Whelan, who was on active duty for four years with the U.S. Air Force starting in 1954.

According to the official history, the American Legion “was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to more than 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at more than 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.


Art Whelan, 81, a former commander of American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer, points to the original charter of the post that hangs in the facility at 1701 W. Genesee St., Lapeer. 
Photos by Andrew Dietderich Art Whelan, 81, a former commander of American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer, points to the original charter of the post that hangs in the facility at 1701 W. Genesee St., Lapeer. Photos by Andrew Dietderich “Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth.”

The Lapeer American Legion was formed around the same time.

As Post 16 in Michigan, it was the 16th formed in the state.

Its original meetings were held at Lapeer City Hall.

Originally, Whelan said, the American Legion generally served as a kind of union for service men and women returning to civilian life.

“After almost every war, the guys and women coming back felt…they weren’t being treated right,” Whelan said.

What’s more, he said, a need was identified for veterans to have a place of their own where they could get together with others who can fully appreciate what they went through.

“When you’re in the service, there’s a kinship,” he said. “And they tended to band together.”

Whalen said members also decided to increase their level of community involvement.

That meant numerous programs “basically on the idea of teaching Americanism, and good citizenship to the rest of the community.”

The American Legion attempts to reach the goal in various ways, Whalen said.

For example, it sends youngsters to Boys State and Girls State — an American Legion program founded in the 1930s in which students become part of the operation of local, county, and state government for a week.

In another example, the American Legion will send youngsters interested in law enforcement to a police camp.

Other examples include American Legion Baseball, oratorical contests, providing meals and gifts for families in need during the holidays, donating U.S. flags to schools, and participating in Honor Guard detail for qualifying funerals.

“We bury anywhere from 40 to 60 guys every year,” Whelan said. “We usually have anywhere from 15 to 20 guys show up at a funeral.”

Funds are raised through various programs (including poppy sales) and membership dues, among other ways.

The American Legion is open to those who served during wartime from World War I through today’s “War on Terrorism.”

Gordon Wildfong, sergeant-at-arms for the American Legion in Lapeer, said he’s been a member for six years.

He said it’s important to him “because of the enjoyment of just being with the guys.”

More information about American Legion Post 16 of Lapeer can be obtained by calling 810-664-9312 or online at www.americanlegionpost- 16lapeer.com

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