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Department boosting the Veterans Assistance Fund

Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Administrative Assistant Heather Larson, center, holds back a smile as members of the Department Executive Committee applaud her for her work. She leaves in August to work for the ATF.

And a farewell was given to the VA&R admin assistant

By Tim Engstrom

REDWOOD FALLS — Department Service Officer Jeremy Wolfsteller announced to the Department Executive Committee and others watching in person and from home that VA&R Administrative Assistant Heather Larson will be moving on.

The DEC met Wednesday, July 14, the evening before the Department Convention began.

“It’ll be hard to fill her shoes,” Wolfsteller told the members.

Outgoing Department Commander Mark Dvorak presents Andrew Rose Sr. with a gift for his service as 5th District commander on Wednesday, July 14.

Larson was present and said she has enjoyed her time with the Legion.

“It’s been an honor working for The American Legion. You treat me like family,” she said.

The Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation administrative assistant works out of the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling.

She does VA&R Committee work — preparing and compiling information from site visits, getting materials prepared for conventions and conferences, submitting American Legion accreditation for Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs claims representatives, filing national reports and sending out and receiving Post Service Officer Reports, among other tasks.

She began in March 2016. Larson’s final day will be Aug. 4.

Her new job will be executive assistant to the special agent in charge of the St. Paul Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Larson is a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard. There, she is a culinary specialist.

She resides in Apple Valley and is a member of at-large Minnesota Post 1982.

Wolfsteller and Department Adjutant Mike Maxa interviewed several candidates for filling the position. The new hire will be announced in the next issue of the Legionnaire.

In other action, the DEC:

• Heard from Minnesota American Legion Foundation Chairman Lloyd Ricker, who called for bolstering the Foundation’s Fund 85. It is the Veterans Assistance Fund.

He said the Foundation met with the Minnesota American Legion Riders about raising funds for Fund 85 through a new ride. ALR Director (at the time of the meeting) Paul Hassing said the Riders still have to discuss the idea, but he said he thought it sounded like a good plan.

Ricker spoke of $5,000 grants to help veterans in need. The grants will be vetted by Wolfsteller and Department Adjutant Mike Maxa. Presently, there is $135,000 in Fund 85.

Maxa noted a 2022 Department Calendar, at a cost of $20, also will benefit Fund 85.

People or Posts wanting to donate can send a check made out to “Minnesota American Legion Foundation Fund 85” to American Legion Department of Minnesota, 20 W. 12th St., Room 300A, St. Paul, MN 55155.

• Heard from Department Membership Director Sy Fix.

Past National Commander Dan Ludwig gestures while addressing the Department Executive Committee on Wednesday, July 14.

There had been an error at National Membership Services that sent 3,500 renewal notices to Paid Up For Life members, mainly ones who purchased the PUFL after July 1, 2020.

“This has been identified by IT, and they are working with Personify to ensure this list is coded properly, and they do not receive future renewal notices,” Fix said.

Membership Services, he said, identified 540 Posts around the country whose remittance is going to an incorrect address.

“This has something to do with the Post using an alternate mailing address in the past,” Fix said.

• Heard from Convention Corp. Chairman Phil Bellefeuille, who said members statewide can look for a survey in an upcoming issue of the Legionnaire about the convention.

Some ideas he mentioned were moving the DEC meeting to Thursday, have the Entertainment Night on Friday, be more family-schedule friendly, reduce costs on convention booklets.

• Heard from VA&R Committee Chairman Spencer Wilson.

“This year was unlike any other year. This pandemic hurt everybody,” he said. “We didn’t sit on our hands.”

He told the DEC the committee conducted 17 site visits using either phone conferencing or Zoom and Microsoft Teams video conferencing.

“We carried on our work and our mission virtually,” he said.

He said a veteran drove 100 miles to shoot himself in the traffic circle in front of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis in November. He said the committee contacted the VA to ask how The American Legion could ensure it never happens again.

The committee was told the veteran had separated himself from all friends and family. Wilson said the Legion’s efforts to reach out to veterans and ask how they are doing — the Buddy Check program — can aid in that effort.

Wilson described several resolutions coming out of his committee and thanked Wolfsteller and Larson for their efforts.

• Heard from National Executive Committeeman Bill Barbknecht, who encouraged everyone to visit the Legionnaire Insurance Trust table outside the convention hall. (See new ad on the back page, too.)

• Heard from Legionville School Safety Patrol Camp President Gene Leifeld. He shared the camp’s numbers for the rest of the year: 88 campers this week, 79 the next week, 44 the following week and 77 the final week.

He asked for members to volunteer in May with camp preparation. There are a variety of tasks to suit interests, inside and outside.

“We can’t depend on just the 6th District,” he said.

Leifeld reminded members the camp is not open to the public.

The caretaker house and the Bauer Cabin were removed from the camp and donated, saving the cost of renovation.

He said the camp had expected to receive $147,000 in March 2021 for land placed in RIM reserve. (Reinvest in Minnesota is a state conservation program.) It still has not come.

A grant from Crow Wing County provided $3,000, and the camp is seeking $5,000 next year.

Adam Felton was hired as the camp manager in November 2020.

Leifeld said camp fees this year remained at $325. He thanked Department Commander Mark Dvorak and SAL Detachment Commander Dave Vulcan for raising funds for Legionville, such as the dock and the dining hall ceiling. He mentioned 129 DNR training classes are happening at the camp September through April.

The annual Legion Family gathering called the Camporee takes place Sept. 9-12.

• Heard from SAL Detachment Adjutant Dennis Henkemeyer. He reported the Detachment Convention took place June 26 at Legionville. He said the Detachment approved $5,000 to replace SAL Membership Administrator Tracy Myren, who stepped down from the position as a result of health problems her husband, Roger, experienced over the winter.

• Heard from Department Adjutant Mike Maxa, who said judging from questions and complaints the Department receives, it appears they do not know or interact often enough with District and Department officers.

“Get out and visit the Posts,” he said.

He brought 12 cases of gun locks, to prevent suides, and he gave one case to each District commander to distribute.

Maxa encouraged members to apply for Minnesota American Legion College.

He thanked 3rd District Commander Linda Dvorak and 8th District Membership Director Jennifer Havlick for helping Posts and Districts with MyLegion.org’s membership database update to Personify.

• Heard from Department Commander Mark Dvorak said Minnesota has been challenged to raise funds for National Commander Bill Oxford’s 100 Miles for Hope, which raises funds for The American Legion Veterans and Children Foundation.

Minnesota is pitted against Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Dvorak said Bloomington Post 550 already donated $3,000 to the cause.

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