On Oct. 13, 1919, the Paynesville American Legion was chartered with 18 members. Today the Legion has 262 membes which is a 20-year high, according to Carl Wagner, former Legion commander.
The Legion first held their meetings in the basement of the old city hall. As fund raisers, they held dances and other functions upstairs.
Charter members in 1919 were: Arleigh Behr, Sam Pratt, Bert Sivers, Ralph Binder, Cliff Gesme, Herman Kramer, Edwin Schultz, Remie Pelkey, Arthur Hoiseth, Peter Schriver, Frank Miller, William Gordon, Martin Whan, Sidney Burr, Alfred Christianson, George Sweet, Lester DeBlois, Oscar Bliven, Howard Barrie, Howard Phillips, Theo. Lunde, Millard Nehring, Arthur Schwarz, Ludwig Johnson, George Russell, William Johnson, Gordon Nelson and Howard Phipps.
In 1922-23, due to lack of interest, the post became inactive. They remained so until the end of 1923 when enough interest was aroused to try to reorganize.
In 1928, the Legion debated whether they should change the name of their organization from Paynesville American Legion to that of a veteran who died during the war.
The Legion Auxiliary helped the men decide the issue by stating the post was not named for any particular veteran. With many young men from the community who died in the service, it was thought best not to use any of their names. It would remain the Paynesville American Legion, after the home town from where the boys had marched off to war.
In September of 1946, the Legion restarted their drum and bugle corps. Arleigh Behr and Les Matteson were in charge of locating the old instruments used by the first drum and bugle corps.
In 1960, the Legion purchased the former Catholic church and started the work of remodeling the building into a Legion hall.
In 1960, Gerry Linn was hired as the first bar manager for the Legion Club. In 1960, Bingo was also started.
Over the years, the Legion has sponsored Boys State, stag parties, turkey shoots, scholarships for students, the school patrol, Legionville Camps, Legion baseball teams, highway cleanup, smoke-free t-shirts for the kindergarten students, Memorial Day programs, and trips to the circus for third graders. They also held raffles and teen canteens as fund raisers.
Wagner said the Legion did what they could for the kids of Paynesville.
ďI wasnít always active, but I joined the Legion to be with men who had experienced the same things I did during the war,Ē Wagner added.
New Legion facility
In 1998, the Paynesville American Legion membership voted to move forward and construct a new building in 1999. The building committee is meeting with architects to finalize plans and prepare bid specifications.
The 9,000-square foot building will be located between Alco and Country Inn along Highway 23 on the western edge of Paynesville.
The new facility will feature a lounge area, dining/reception hall plus a formal dining room. Anticipated seating will be about 350 compared to the 130 in the present facility.
The new building will be completely handicap accessible for its membership and community members.
The Paynesville American Legion Auxiliary was organized in May 1924 with 15 charter members. Today the auxiliary has 107 members.
Charter members were Sara Tucker, Grace Lundblad, Lura Gesme, Martha Mehr, Pam Tolman, Mary Tolman, Genevieve Olsen, Mabel Gesme, Lillian Schwarz, Myrtle Stinton, Frances Pelkey, Esther Miller, Nellie Barrie,Vera Holton, and Frances Dunton.
The auxiliary held their first poppy poster contest in 1925 and they still sell poppies today as a fund raiser for veteranís programs.
The Legion Auxiliary started sponsoring the Camp Fire Girls in 1929 and today sponsor the Girl Scouts.
In the 1930s, the auxiliary formed a glee club. A ladies trio performed in 1950 and placed third in a music contest at the state convention. Members of the trio were Janet Hoiseth, Lois Hess, and Alice Sauer.
ďDuring the Vietnam War we sponsored ďOperation Home Town Newspaper,Ē Lois Nehring, 43-year auxiliary member, said. ďWe would send letters, newspapers and cookies to our veterans serving in Vietnam. The Paynesville Press donated the papers.Ē
Over the years, the auxiliary has continued to host the Memorial Day program and dinner, sponsor Poppy Day, Girls State, contribute to the local community service center and Special Olympics, give apples to the school staff during American Education Week, and host birthday parties at the St. Cloud Veteranís Home in August of each year.
The Paynesville VFW post was formed in February 1946 with 30 charter members. They purchased a house on Oak Park Avenue in which to hold their meetings.
The VFW Drill team started in 1948. They took part in more than 30 parades during the summer months. Carl Wagner became a member of the drill team in 1953. ďWe were gone every weekend,Ē he added.
In 1953 they built a new facility in which to hold their meetings. Today, it houses Activities Alive. They held suppers for the Lions Club, Kidís Night once a week and dances for the community.
Seven VFW charter members are still alive and members of the Paynesville American Legion. They are Wilfred Butkofski, Howard Heinrich, Arnie Liestman, Cyril Lutgen, Delore Lutgen, Rainer Weis, and Herbert Younkin.
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