Since Valmeyer American Legion Post 901 was chartered 75 years ago, its membership has doubled in size, with the auxiliary steadily growing alongside it.
Both were chartered in 1946, with the legion post seeing 31 members and the auxiliary having 58. Today, the legion post has 65 active members, some of whom live out of state, and the auxiliary has 85 – not including additional junior members.
At the helm of the ship sits husband-and-wife duo, Air Force veteran Charles “Chuck” and Mary Asselmeier. Chuck is Post 901 commander and Mary is auxiliary president.
“We both consider it to just be an honor to serve where we’re serving,” Mary said, adding that while the organizations have separate meetings, both “work towards the same goals.”
Having been a member of the post for over half a century, Chuck has seen both organizations change with the times. He said one glaring difference is the demographics of legion membership.
“I can remember when the post was primarily run by the World War II veterans, those who had served back in the 1940s … (now), we might have only one or two WWII-era veterans remaining,” he said. “Of course, as time marches on, the leadership role has changed. Now, our leadership is Vietnam-era guys, but even we are in our 70s now.”
The meeting places have also changed. When Chuck first joined, legion members gathered at the Royal Theater and then an old grade school building. Eventually, the group built their own building only for it to be destroyed by the Flood of 1993.
A few years later, the post built its current home in New Valmeyer.
“That’s one of the changes: We had upgraded our building several times since the old days,” Chuck said.
Who is eligible to be a legion member has also changed, most recently in 2019 when then-President Donald Trump signed the LEGION (Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service) Act.
According to legion.org, the act changed the American Legion’s membership eligibility criteria to consider more periods of time war eras. Because, as Chuck said, one must have served in active duty during a time period when there was a conflict to be a legion member, this legislation had opened the door for many more veterans to be part of local legion posts.
“That’s important because their service is important,” Chuck said. “One way to think of it is when you join any of the services – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and now the Space Force, which is a new one – you’re essentially giving the federal government a blank check that they can send you anywhere, anytime you’re needed. It could be anywhere from maybe personnel work, which would be a more administrative area, to troops that are right at the frontline of war. There are just so many needs (that) the different services have.”
The legion recently honored a member who has been a constant for over 90 percent of Post 901’s life: Frederick Meister. The Air Force veteran has been a member for 70 years and is the post’s longest serving member.
“I made a presentation to him at (the Memorial Day service) this year, which he was at. His daughter and son-in-law brought him down from Oak Hill … we were really pleased to have him out there,” Chuck said.
Chuck acknowledged the post would not be as successful without the post’s auxiliary, which is made of women who are descendants or spouses of American Legion members as well as women who have served themselves.
“Over the years we’ve just done various projects,” Mary said. “Anywhere that we find out there’s a way to connect to help veterans, that’s what we do.”
Some of these projects are done in conjunction with the legion, while others are spearheaded by the auxiliary, such as the well-known quilt raffle to benefit veterans.
“They have a beautiful handmade quilt that they raffle off each year,” Chuck said. “They raised more money with the raffle this year than any other prior year, and they were really proud of that.”
The Post 901 Auxiliary also works with Valmeyer High School to find good candidates for Illinois Girls State, a week-long program sponsored by the Illinois Legion Auxiliary that focuses on the government’s function and patriotism. Mary said she enjoys hearing the candidates’ experiences from the trip.
The two organizations come together to host their most popular events: their Veterans Day dinner and Memorial Day service, both of which are long-standing traditions.
While the Veterans Day dinner is limited to post and auxiliary members, the public enjoys the Memorial Day service.
“Our Memorial Day program is very well attended,” Mary said, adding it typically includes a speaker, ceremony with a firing squad and a reception afterwards.
Chuck said he views the event as a type of “open house.”
“We’ve picked up some members that way (who) were not members before; they were just people who lived in the community, but maybe this person or that person was a veteran and they’re on our legion team now,” he said.
Chuck said a consistent point of pride is the two baseball teams the legion has sponsored over time. Both the junior and senior teams boast championship wins.
He said this is the legion’s main youth and community outreach activity, although both the post and auxiliary sponsor Songs4Soldiers and help with a myriad of other community events.
For more on the organizations, visit legion.org.