TOWER—The motto of The American Legion is “For God and Country.” But for the hundreds of Legion posts that dot small town Minnesota, the motto really should be “For God, …
TOWER—The motto of The American Legion is “For God and Country.” But for the hundreds of Legion posts that dot small town Minnesota, the motto really should be “For God, Country, and Community” and that’s why the community here will feel the loss of American Legion Post 245.
With only three remaining active members, the youngest of whom is 88, the Tower-based post recently surrendered its charter.
The post is one of many in Minnesota, and nationwide, that has ceased operations, due mainly to aging membership. The post closed its building back in 2015 and has been mostly inactive the past ten years.
“Minnesota once had 137,000 members and now has 64,000,” said past National Commander Dan Ludwig in this month’s Minnesota Legionnaire magazine. Legion posts sprang up in Minnesota after World War I, with 360 posts representing 35,000 members recorded in 1919. By 1920, there were 470 posts in Minnesota, and currently there are 539 posts registered in the state.
While Post 245 still has dozens of members on the books, only three had been active in keeping the organization going, even in its limited capacity. Those members can now choose to join other posts if they choose.
“We sent letters out to all our members telling them they could join whatever post they wanted,” said member Don Reinhardt. Both Reinhardt and Post Commander Ramon (Ray) Berg have joined Legion Post 248 in Ely to maintain their memberships but aren’t traveling to meetings. Member Roland (Charlie) Fowler is continuing to be a member of the Babbitt post.
Berg joined the Legion at the urging of his brother, right after he returned from service in the Air Force 69 years ago. He enlisted after graduating from Tower-Soudan High School in 1951 and was sent to radio school, but was given a medical discharge after a service-related illness caused him to lose his left kidney. He was one of four sons in his family to serve in the military.
He took over as Commander of the post after the death of John Morin. Jack Brandt also served as a longtime commander of the post. The late Paul Hendrickson was a very active post member, along with his wife Loretta, who served in the auxiliary.
Reinhardt joined the post in 1996 after moving to the area. He was a graduate of Ely High School and served in the Navy for four years, doing three tours during the Korean War. Reinhardt worked as an electrician on Martin Mariner twin-engine rescue planes, which did open-water rescues when pilots were shot down. They also patrolled and bombed enemy submarines. After his first four years, he was on inactive duty for four more years.
Berg wasn’t sure how old the Post 245 was but has fond memories of when the Legion post met in the VFW Building (now the Timberjay building) on Main Street. The dance floor was upstairs, and drinks were served in the basement where Berg worked as a bartender. He remembers watching his grandparents dancing upstairs. He wouldn’t admit to dancing, saying he was too young then, but did find his lifelong sweetheart. Shortly after he returned from his service, he married his wife Lorraine, got a job in the mine, and they raised their family in Soudan.
Back in those days, there were many service clubs in Tower, including a Moose Lodge, the VFW, and the Masons, they said.
The post eventually bought the closed Masonic Hall for a dollar, and both Berg and Reinhardt were on the “fix-up crew” that brought the building back to life.
The Legion post has struggled with finding active members for many years, but over the past 30 years was a visible presence in Tower-Soudan. The post raised funds by selling pull-tabs, hosting bingo, regular pancake breakfasts, and rummage sales. The funds they raised helped with expenses for their building, but any extra funds were donated to both community and veterans causes.
The pancake breakfasts were a major fundraiser in the post’s later years, helping raise money for building upkeep and ongoing expenses.
Fowler said he was the group’s dishwasher, and occasionally got to mix up the pancake batter, but the actual pancake cooking and flipping was left to others. Fowler belonged to Legion posts in both Tower and Babbitt. He was in the service, U.S. Army, at the same time as Berg and Reinhardt. Fowler was a member of a canine corps that served in Korea, bringing along 54 German Shepherds.
The Legion also participated as a color guard in the Fourth of July parade, during community and school events, and at veterans’ funerals.
For years they were a major funder of the town’s Fourth of July activities, sponsored the Memorial Day program, helped fund afterschool activities like unicycling, donated money for new playground equipment, and made regular donations for veterans’ homes in both Minnesota and elsewhere.
Their community Thanksgiving dinner involved roasting seven large turkeys, said Reinhardt, who along with his wife Judy (who was an active auxiliary member) also made homemade stuffing and many of the pies.
“We served a free meal,” said Reinhardt, “but were always surprised with how much people donated.”
The post also delivered meals to several dozen shut-ins each year.
St. James Presbyterian Church took over the community Thanksgiving meal after the post was unable to, due to a lack of members.
And other local groups and businesses have stepped up to continue some Legion traditions. Good Ol’ Days now offers free hot dogs to children after the parade, and the Tower-Soudan Civic Club took over the annual Fourth of July pancake breakfast and organizes the community Memorial Day program. Tower-Soudan Elementary now hosts the annual Veterans Day program.
The post also had an active Legion Auxiliary, most recently led by Delores Clark, which disbanded several years ago.