The joke among American Legion Auxiliary members is that it only took 100 years for men to be allowed to join.

For a century, the Legion Auxiliary has been an organization for wives of American Legion members. Originally chartered to support the Legion in 1919, the Auxiliary has come into its own as one of the world’s largest women’s patriotic organizations aiding veterans, raising money, developing youth programs and volunteering millions of hours in communities across the country.

But times are changing.

In August, Chanin Nuntavong and Mike Rohan became the first two men to join the American Legion Auxiliary following a nationwide rule change.

The reason for the change? The face of the military is changing. Currently, 1.9 million women veterans are living in the United States, and 9% of the U.S. military is female. By 2045, it’s estimated that 18% of the military will be comprised of women, said national Auxiliary president Nicole Clapp.

History was made in August at the American Legion Auxiliary’s national convention when delegates voted to change the requirements to allow the “spouses” of members to join.

The change was only one for the Legion that week in August. Days earlier, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation opening Legion membership to hundreds of thousands more veterans. The “Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service LEGION Act” allows any honorably discharged veterans who served since Dec. 7, 1941, to join the American Legion and access its benefits and programs. The American Legion was chartered by congress in 1919. Prior to the new law, military veterans who served in periods of peacetime between wars weren’t eligible for membership in the legion.

Local Legion members are ready for the changes, although there are no male Auxiliary members yet.

“The spouses of female veterans had no place to join,” said Kay Mugavero, president of the American Legion Auxiliary at Post 110, 3152 Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte. “Now the spouses have a chance to volunteer, give back and have fun.

“We need men to carry the heavy things too.”

Nugavero said while no men have joined the auxiliary, some like George Haray are eligible and considering membership.

“George’s wife Susan served in the Coast Guard and is the first vice commander at the post,” Nugavero said. “She has a dual membership to both the Legion and the Auxiliary. He is a member of the Sons of the Legion and the honor guard. If he wants to join the Auxiliary, he’s welcome. So far, about 128 have joined across the country. I think it’s a great idea.”

Nugavero said the crossover is easy because the auxiliary is always doing something.

Auxiliary works

“Our primary goal in 2020 is raising money to send local veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial at no cost to them. We are also working on the Welcome Home Vietnam Vets two-day event.” They are also bringing singer Lee Greenwood (“Proud To Be An American”) to Punta Gorda to perform near the Vietnam Wall replica on March 23.

The Auxiliary recently held a medical clinic for first responders offering free flu and Hepatitis shots, CPR and insurance information.

“There’s no end to what the auxiliary does,” Nugavero said. “We are donating to Charlotte Harbor School for handicapped children. We are giving school supplies for a school in DeSoto County. We will be sending off boxes treats and foot power, pocket flags, Christmas cards made by kids for the troops.

“We will be working with another post next week making wreaths for fallen heroes,” she said. “We put the wreaths on the graves of fallen firefighters and police officers.”

In Rotonda

Auxiliary Post 113 members are also waiting for a few good men to join. Until then, they will continue to help honor the men and women who have served.

At 11 a.m. today, members are welcoming the Englewood Chamber of Commerce and the Englewood Area Board of Realtors to honor local veterans and will commemorate Veterans Day by serving veterans.

At the same time, they will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Legion, which was chartered in March 1919 and had its first convention 100 years ago this weekend. The public is welcome for lunch and entertainment at the post, 3436 Indiana Road, in Rotonda. Veterans will get commemorative coins.

The Auxiliary will also be offering a free Thanksgiving meal for members who don’t have a place to go. They are having a Christmas party for needy children. They raise money for shoes and school supplies for Kids’ Needs in Englewood. They also award scholarships for Lemon Bay High School seniors.

“The Auxiliary is having a USO-style Canteen USA event at the post in March,” said auxiliary president Robbie Brown. “Our Bob Hope impersonator is emceeing the 25-skit show. Our members will impersonate celebrities. They are doing skits and singing. We will have Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Elvis, Toby Keith, Shania Twain, Rosie the Riveter, the Andrew Sisters and Phyllis Diller. We would love for any new male members interested in joining the Auxiliary to be a part of the show.”

In North Port

The auxiliary at Post 254 in North Port also anticipates men to join by next year. Last week, the North Port City Commission deemed Nov. 10 American Legion Auxiliary Day in the city. Members planned a Sunday celebration at the post, 6648 Taneytown St., with a DJ and a cake to enjoy the 100th anniversary of the auxiliary.

“We do so many fundraisers and events with the legion and the Sons (of the Legion), we hope some men will want to be dual members,” said Roberta Brown, auxiliary president, adding the group is dedicated to Americanism, national security, children, community service and public relations/ veteran awareness.

“We are having fundraiser for the Honor Flight in 2020. We did a school supply event for students,” she said. “We are having a Christmas party for about 75 children in need. We sponsor a teen to go to Girl’s State. We will be doing baskets for families at Thanksgiving. We really are always doing something and we could always use the help. We welcome new members with open arms.”

Like many others nationwide, today, North Port American Legion Auxiliary members plan to join the VFW Post 8203 in a ceremony honoring veterans at 11 a.m. at Veterans Park, near the North Port Library.

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