The Watseka American Legion Post 23 will have an open house in honor of its 100th anniversary Saturday. This, along with more information and photos will be on display from 1-4 p.m.
Note: This history is compiled from the three previous histories written about
Legion Park by: The late Sherry Waters, reporter for the Iroquois County Times-Republic, the late Victor Koester, Past Commander, Post 23, Russell Wessels, Past
Commander and Past Adjutant, Post 23. It was shared with the Times-Republic by past commander Al Day.
Watseka American Legion Post 23 was founded in 1919, the year that the national
American Legion was founded.
In 1952, Watseka American Legion Post 23 (its membership made up of mostly WWII veterans, the greatest generation) purchased 60 acres of land on the south edge of Watseka for the purpose of creating a community park, aptly named Legion Park. Ten acres were subdivided to be sold as building lots to help finance the project.
June 6, 1954, saw the opening of a new community swimming pool owned and operated by Post 23 and located just off Belmont Ave. on the east side of the park. On
opening day, 400 swimmers took their first dip in the new pool. Post 23 continued
to own and operate the pool until 1973, when dwindling finances forced the post to
deed two acres of Legion Park, including the pool, to the city of Watseka. The city
continues to operate the pool to this day. During the summer months, swimming
lessons are conducted at the pool by the Watseka Park District.
During the year 1955, a baseball diamond and two softball diamonds were constructed on the east side of Legion Park, along Belmont Ave. The softball fields were originally used by the Watseka Girls Softball League but several years ago, that
league built its own complex on land owned by the Unit 9 Community School District.
The softball diamonds are now used by the WAtseka Little League teams as practice
fields. The baseball diamond is used by the Watseka High School team, and the
American Legion team. More recently, a semi-pro team played there for a couple of
years. We have been told by players, coaches and parents of visiting teams that we
have the best baseball facility within fifty miles of Watseka.
In 1958, a lagoon was constructed south of the baseball diamond to be used as a
fishing pond and is stocked with fish periodically. For many years, the iroquois
Valley Shrine Club conducted an annual fishing derby at the pond during July.
During the years of 1988 and 1989, a footbridge was constructed across the lagoon
to provide better access to all parts of the park. Sixteen members of the post
donated 4000 hours of time to remove old trees, plant new trees and construct the
bridge. Iroquois Paving donated the use of construction equipment to be used on
this job. The lagoon was also cleaned and enlarged at that time.
Four picnic shelters and many individual picnic tables are located throughout the
park. Many of these tables are plastic coated metal with attached benches. These
have been constructed withing the past ten years and have been donated by local
residents in memory of loved ones.
The park contains three playground areas. Some of the playground equipment dates back to the early days of the park. A few years ago, new playground equipment was constructed on the east side of 4th St. near the post home.
In 1969, a Veterans Memorial dedicated to “all the men and women who have served in
the armed forces” was built in the park. In 2006, this memorial underwent extensive
repairs at a cost of $45,000. The money for this project was donated by our members
and the kind business owners and people of the city of Watseka. This memorial is
the site of our Memorial Day services each year.
In 1993, financial difficulties forced them to sell their post home on Oak St. At
that time, we also sold approximately fifteen acres of land, so that the park now
consists of about 33 acres.
The south edge of the park is bounded by Sugar Creek, The Watseka High School
Ecology Club has used the creek for its studies and the WCHS biology class uses the
park to learn to identify the various species of trees.
In 2014, the lagoon was dredged, white rock was placed around its banks, and it was restocked with fish.
In 2016, a new weathering steel walk bridge was constructed across the ravine which lies south of the Veterans Memorial. This bridge replaces an old wooden bridge
which was built by legion members in the early days of the park. At the time the
bridge was constructed, the banks of the ravine were shaped and new grass seed was
sown. Wedding parties and prom goers use this bridge to pose for pictures to
commemorate the special event.
In the late 1990s we were ;eft a Trust Fund known as the Cotton and Maggie Fanyo Trust. The income from this trust is used for the upkeep and beautification of the
park. We have also been bequeathed money from other estates so that we have been
able to build a maintenance building that houses our park equipment and other
materials, In addition, our post home was built in 2004 with money we inherited
from generous people who were thankful for veterans and the American Legion.
In the future, we hope to continue to make new park improvements and acquire more new playground.
Unfortunately, as with other civic minded organizations, our older members are
passing on and we need an infusion of new blood to continue the traditions of the
American Legion. We need younger members to become members of our Honor Guard which serves at the funeral of any veteran whose family makes such a request. We need younger members to participate in Poppie Day, where all the money collected goes to help hospitalized veterans. We need younger members to help place flags on the graves of deceased veterans. We need younger members to march in parades and carry our flag. We need younger members to participated in all the things we do to serve our city, state and nation.