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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.

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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
2014-current David DeBlauwe    
       

 

                                                                             

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