MONTICELLO — Thirty-six thousand, five hundred and twenty-five — and that includes 25 leap days.
That’s how long ago the Thornton Williams American Legion Post 81 first organized in Monticello. And while the post officially turned the century corner Sept. 16, the community and area veterans will mark the occasion at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 21 at the corner of East Washington Street and Riverside Drive with a 100th birthday celebration.
There will be a dinner provided by the Ladies Auxiliary, followed by several speakers and presentations, and dancing to the tunes of DJ Huddy.
“For the 100th birthday celebration, the Sons of the Legion and Auxiliary stepped up to the plate to provide it,” said William Madden, the 69th commander in Post 81’s history. “That shows the teamwork involved in order to make this operation a success. I appreciate their assistance.
The same day the Monticello post was organized during a meeting at Red Man’s Lodge — Sept. 16, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed the American Legion’s federal charter. The date was later recognized as “American Legion Day.”
The Monticello post’s founders — all military veterans who served between April 6, 1917, and Nov. 11, 1918 — include: A.B. Cray, Carl H. Hopkins, Clifton R. Barnes, Walter A. Simons, Galen A. Barnes, Roscoe R. Fraser, Richard Short, Fred W. Meeker, Harry D. Anheier, Guy Malone, C.V. Newton, John Rothrock, George A. Inskeep, Ralph W. Davis and Walker W. Baker.
According to a copy of an application for a permanent charter, obtained from the archives of the Indiana American Legion headquarters in Indianapolis, Post 81 began with 49 members and charged $3 in post dues.
Focusing on veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership grew to more than 1 million and local posts sprang up across the country.
Madden said Post 81 doles out thousands of dollars each year to area nonprofit organizations such as the Senior Center, Literacy Volunteers of White County and others. The post also provides free medical equipment to people in need of wheelchairs, walkers and crutches; it accepts American flags for proper burning, and they loan out their ballroom area — free of charge — to nonprofit agencies for fundraising campaigns.
The post, Madden said, also awards scholarships to Twin Lakes High School seniors, and members work with other Monticello military posts to provide Christmas gifts to veterans in nursing homes each December.
“We sometimes provide free meals to veterans,” he said. “We also honor veterans in many ways, such as ceremonies or an Honor Guard for a funeral or other occasions. We have a bar that is open Monday-Saturday and one Sunday per month. We have a dining room that provides meals every Friday night.”
The auxiliary, formed at the Thornton Williams Post on Jan. 12, 1921, with 42 initial charter members — wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers of veterans — annually raises money for the Legion through its Poppy Days fundraiser to support veterans. The auxiliary also has its own scholarship fund for local high school students.
Post 81’s history, future
In the early days, Post 81 members first met at Legion members’ homes, then found space at the White County Courthouse until it moved into its own building, a two-story structure purchased from Opal Carmichael across the Washington Street Bridge on East Washington Street. The property was across from lake property the Legion had owned since it was donated to the post in 1927. The building was then remodeled. The basement and second floor were used as meeting rooms while the first floor served as a bar.
In the 1970s, an influx of veterans from the Vietnam War resulted in the Legion needing a new building. Post 81 constructed a new building on the property and conducted a grand opening on May 5, 1973. An American flag, which once flew above the Indiana Statehouse, was given to the post by then-Sen. Birch Bayh, and hoisted up the new flagpole alongside the Indiana state flag.
In July 1973, the Legion executive board decided to form a Sons unit at Post 81. The Sons consists of male descendants, adopted sons and stepsons of the American Legion. The S.A.L. at the post now has about 150 members.
On April 3, 1974, a tornado ripped through the heart of Monticello and came close to Post 81, which suffered some damage. After repairs were made, a second grand opening was conducted on June 1, 1974.
On June 27, 1994, membership stood at 798 members — an all-time high for Post 81. Today, the post has about half of that total.
In the history of the post, there have been 69 commanders. Madden, of Monticello, took over the position from Dave Goffe, who was the post’s commander for eight years — the longest of any commander in the history of Post 81.
Madden said there will always be a need for the American Legion.
“Our post will always be a haven in the future to military veterans seeking the friendship of other veterans,” he said.
A book authored by Madden about the full history of Post 81 will be available at the 100th birthday party.