With Pride and Honor...
After serving years of duty in the armed forces, veterans return home, often needing help. The American Legion has served those veterans since 1918.
The Victor I. Rieck Post 351 in Utica was organized in May 1943 and named after a local soldier who died shortly before the end of World War I. Like several other local groups, the first meetings were held on the second floor above a Main Street store.
Earl "Stub" McClellan, second post commander, owned land on Cass, north of the city and sold it to the American Legion Post 351 for $1.00.
"People used to dump garbage on that land," Reina Svacha, past Ladies Auxiliary president said, "The put up "No Dumping" signs and filled in the property.Members provided the labor to complete the lower portion of the building. Work on the upper hall was completed in 1954.
Serving veterans is a primary goal for the group. They help in all ways, from friendly visits, someone to talk to, guidance to resources, providing wheelchairs or transportation to the post, or whatever is needed.
"It is hard to explain. Sometimes the (returning veterans) just need the comfort of another vet," Post Commander Don Koperwas said. "It's a godsend to help and give of my time. Some people have had a lot of trauma."
The Post holds a flag burning ceremony twice each year to properly dispose of worn flags. They also participate in Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies. For many years they sponsored a Memorial Day parade through town with a color guard and invited local bands. "We enjoyed it and the community turned out," Anne Colwell said. Colwell served in the Women's Army Corps, while her husband, Don was a military officer for many years.
Among fund-raising projects, members sell poppies each spring. "Utica is a very giving community." Don Koperwas said. "Many people stop to talk and thank us."
Boy Scouts also are helped by the group.
It's not all work for the group. They hold various social activities, including a Steak-Out, sponsor Bingo nights and have a gathering place for members.
West Utica Elementary School honors vets from the American Legion Post and the Veterans of Foreign Wars for Veterans Day each November.
Jody Seefurth, columnist for the Advisor-Source newspapers, observed the assembly for several years. She wrote a column following the third assembly she saw. "The weathered veterans, who have battled more than most people could ever imagine possible, this day fought to hold back their own tears as pride and honor welled in their hearts. The scene - dramatic and moving - was overwhelming for many, including me, who didn't fight so hard when those tears surfaced."
Anne Colwell was elected as the first female post commander in 1993. "When I look at the wall with pictures of all the post commanders, see all those men and then "whew" one woman. It makes me proud." The Post honored her with lifetime membership in the American Legion.
"Many people don't realize the enormity of what the armed forces have done," she said. "With the terrorist attacks, they are becoming more aware." "I feel so proud," Colwell said. "We have a wonderful country, a free country. Sometimes I wonder if we appreciate what we have."
American Legion Post 351 helps us support vets and keep that appreciate alive.
by Gloria Grove Olman. Information from Utica Sentinel, Advisor-Source and Reina Svacha
... They Still Serve
Source: The History of Utica, Michigan by Naomi Gibbing and Gloria Olman, pages 40-41, can be found at the Utica Public Library.
Post Commanders, Victor I. Rieck Post 351
|1943-1944||Richard Pape||1944-1945||Earl McClellan|
|1945-1946||Robert Briggs||1946-1947||William Fredericks|
|1947-1948||St. Clair Carroll||1948-1949||Archie Fairchild|
|1949-1950||Federick Behrens||1950-1951||Allen Poulin|
|1951-1952||William Fredericks||1952-1954||Harold Butler|
|1954-1946||Russell Jones||1956-1957||Vance Hultz|
|1957-1958||Charles Downing||1958-1961||Morris Lipe|
|1961-1962||Kurt Bertram||1962-1963||Richard Sawicki|
|1963-1964||Joseph Saupp||1964-1965||Rudolph Valusek|
|1965-1966||Raymond Granke||1966-1967||Robert Miller|
|1967-1968||Frederick Cutchey||1968-1969||Harold Lucas|
|1969-1970||John Paul LeDuc||1970-1971||George Smith|
|1971-1972||Vernon Awe||1972-1973||James Waller|
|1973-1974||John R. Knox||1974-1975||Raymond Skerkowski|
|1975-1976||Don Ray||1976-1977||Richard Dill|
|1977-1978||George Smith||1978-1979||Vernon Awe|
|1979-1980||John R. Knox||1980-1981||Kirby Holmes|
|1981-1982||Raymond Skerkowski||1982-1983||William Donnelly|
|1983-1984||Henry Kochan||1984-1985||Donald Holder|
|1985-1986||William Donnelly||1986-1987||Jeffery Hume|
|1987-1988||Mel Susalla||1988-1989||William Donnelly|
|1989-1990||Theadore Kimberly (1 mo)||1990-1991||James Castle|
|1991-1992||John W. Knox||1992-1993||Anne Colwell|
|1993-1994||Quintin Q. Quidley||1994-1995||Robert Hastie|
|1995-1996||Bruce Dyer||1996-1997||George Buyse|
|1997-1998||Alex Michalkow||1998-1999||John Knox|
|1999-2000||Richard Whitkopf||2000-2001||Bruce Dyer|
|2001-2002||Ed Gajewski||2002-2004||Bruce Dyer|
|2004-2005||Allen Steiber||2005-2006||Wade Zanger|
|2006-2007||Allen Steiber||2007-2008||Douglas Carignan|
|2008-2009||George Wittstock||2009-2010||Don Koperwas|
|2010-2011||Allen Steiber||2011-2012||Peter Oleson|
|2012-2013||Michael Weaver||2013-2014||Tim Welker|
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