For many in Hillsboro, it is unclear what exactly the Hillsboro American Legion is about although most would probably mention that they have a bar. Or some may even think of the Annual Toy Run or Memorial Day services. While all of those are connected to the Legion, that is not all that the non-profit organization does.
The Hillsboro American Legion Post 366 is one of many posts of the national American Legion which was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. The mission of the American Legion according to legion.org is “to enhance the well-being of America’s veterans, their families, our military and our communities by our devotion to mutual helpfulness”.
The American Legion is essentially a private club for veterans to gather and have a sense of community while also serving the community. Many legions, including the Hillsboro American Legion, have a bar that is open to members only and their guests. But the events are open to the public and the community that they are trying to serve.
In fact, the American Legion has a list of value principles that focus on service and community. Josh Plenert, who serves as the Commander for the Hillsboro American Legion, says that service and community are what the Hillsboro American Legion Post focuses on most.
“You served in the military and served your country. You come back and you continue to serve your community, your state, your country, your right. It all comes down to serving others,” said Plenert. “And the Legion doesn’t have prejudices. When you join the military, you meet every ethnicity, every race, everybody. And you have each other’s back no matter what. So there are no prejudices in the military. And that trickles down to the Legion. We support and serve everybody.”
The main way that the Legion serves is by hosting various events that raise money for the community of Hillsboro and Marion County. The Legion host meals and events almost every month which provide a means for veterans and their guests to get together and have fellowship, and it allows them to raise funds for various causes. They also host annual events including a chili feed and auction after the annual toy run. Many of their members also participate in the toy run which raises money and provides toys and other items for children in need in Marion County.
“Everything we do, whether it’s a meal or the toy run, benefits some sort of a local group—whether it’s children, schools, veterans— whatever that might be. It is raising funds to support Marion County,” said Plenert.
With the funds raised, the group gives out six $500 scholarships to students graduating from a Marion County high school every year. They also help pay for a few boys to attend Boys State which is an educational program of government instruction for U.S. High school students.
“We support the Hillsboro High School Booster Club. We support After Prom and other high school activities. We also support the Hillsboro Rec. We usually sponsor four teams and we kind of spread that out from t-ball all the way up to boys fast pitch baseball,” said Plenert.
Every penny that comes in to the non-profit goes back out to various causes except the bare minimum needed to pay utilities and any other related costs. They don’t even pay for staff except for the few bartenders/wait staff they need to run the bar.
“We’re a not-for-profit organization. None of us make any money. It’s exactly the same as volunteering for the church or any kind of volunteering. Nobody’s getting rich,” said Plenert.
The group does elect members who oversee operations and govern the Legion.
In addition to serving the greater community, the Legion also serves veterans in a variety of ways. Two examples are the yearly Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day meals.
“We do one of the better Memorial Day services that I’ve seen on the news or otherwise, whether it’s a big town or small town,” said Plenert. “And we have steak dinner and a speaker of some sort. We’ve had local pastors, veterans and political figures as the speakers.”
They also work with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in order to help provide information and other help that local veterans may need.
“We offer whether they’re members or not. If they’re a veteran we can offer support. We can give a phone number. We can get them a ride to Wichita or Salina or whatever,” said Plenert. “And every Christmas we take a little gift basket to all of the Marion County Veterans in nursing homes and spend a little time in their room and visit with them.”
The Legion offers space for the public to rent out for graduations, weddings and other events as well. There is seating for 160-250 people depending on how tables are arranged.
“We are non-smoking now for the whole building. That was a big thing that kept people out because everything smelled bad before,” said Plenert.
Another service that the Legion provides is military funerals for veterans.
“Our post is one of the few around that has enough people still that regularly goes and does a full military graveside service,” said Plenert. “We even get calls from other county legions to do their funerals which is saying a lot when we have only 150 members and they have closer to 400 and somehow can’t get enough people. I think it really speaks to this town’s dedication to serve.”
While Plenert is proud of the dedication of the veterans who are members, he would like to add more veterans to the membership.
“I know there’s lots of veterans that live around here that are eligible to be Legion members that aren’t for one reason or the other. We are in desperate need of more members. When I started 15 years ago, we had 250 members, but we have more and more pass away each year than we have join,” said Plenert.
He explained that there is something for everyone.
“You don’t have to drink in the bar or participate in any of the stuff you don’t want to. You can be a Legion member and just help with funerals. You can be a Legion member and just come help, serve a meal, come do a meeting, have fellowship, etc,” said Plenert.
There are two other organizations that are closely connected to the American Legion—the American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion.
The American Legion Auxiliary is made up of the male and female spouses, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and direct and adopted female descendants of members of the American Legion. According to legion.org, the Auxiliary administers hundreds of volunteer programs, gives tens of thousands of hours to its communities and to veterans and raises millions of dollars to support its own programs, as well as other worthwhile charities. It is all accomplished with volunteers.
Sons of the American Legion (SAL) members include males of all ages whose parents or grandparents served in the U.S. military and were eligible for American Legion membership. They also do programming that focuses on preserving American traditions and values, improving the quality of life for our nation’s children, caring for veterans and their families and teaching the fundamentals of good citizenship.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Hillsboro American Legion, please contact Josh Plenert at 620-727-5235.