American Legion Post No. 44 celebrates 100 years in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

American Legion Post No. 44 celebrates 100 years in Steamboat Springs

The American Legion Post No. 44 drum and bugle corps leads the 1932 Winter Carnival Parade in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Photo courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For 100 years, Steamboat Springs’ American Legion Leo Hill Post No. 44 has been welcoming those who served their country home, while making the community a better place.

“A lot of the people that live here now do not realize how important the American Legion is to a lot of the things that have happened in Steamboat Springs,” said Jim Stanko, who has been a member of Post No. 44 for 35 years. “I think this is an opportunity to show the people of Steamboat that the American Legion, even though we’re maybe not as prominent as we used to be, played major roles in the development of Steamboat.”

Post No. 44 was founded on Oct. 15, 1919, by 40 members and named in memory of Leo Hall, the first Steamboat Springs soldier killed in World War I. That makes the local Legion Post one of the oldest continually operating organizations in Steamboat.

“It was a bunch of community leaders that decided this would be the organization that would be best suited to help returning veterans,” Stanko said.

The members set out to make sure those who served in wartime would get the benefits and recognition they deserved. Post No. 44 took on a vital role in the recognition of Armistice Day — now Veterans Day — starting in 1919, and then Memorial Day in 1921.

“Our main objective is to serve veterans,” said Post No. 44 Commander Hal Matthes. “There is a large group of members of the American Legion who grew up here and went off to service and then came back. They still live here. They have ranches and businesses here and are members of the community.”

Post No. 44 hosted Steamboat’s first Memorial Day services at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery in 1921, then added a parade in 1922, a rifle squad and taps in 1924 and a drum and bugle corps in the 1930s. The Veterans of Foreign Wars joined Post No. 44’s ceremonies in 1946, and together, the groups place flags on the graves of soldiers to this day.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the Routt County Board of Commissioners and Steamboat Springs City Council will make proclamations honoring Post No. 44 for its 100 years of service to the community.

This black and white image of the Legionnaire “building” was taken around 1950. The building was located on the southeast corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue. It was used by the American Legion Post #44 from 1935 to 1953.
Photo courtesy of Jim Stanko

For members, Post No. 44 was, and still is, an opportunity to stay connected and to contribute.

“It was social, too, because we lived out of town and came in for these meetings and stuff like that,” said Betty Kemry, who joined the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary in 1952 and is now a lifetime member. “The district meetings were held other places, so you got to meet other people from Hayden and Oak Creek.”

In the 1930s, the members of Post No. 44 purchased a building at Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue that the members turned into a community center, which hosted dances, programs, meetings and banquets. It also hosted Steamboat’s first roller skating rink in the 1940s.

In 1953, Post No. 44 sold that building and purchased the building where the John Deere Ford Dealership was located. The garage was transformed into a gathering place for community events and meetings. The post eventually sold the building to the city of Steamboat Springs, which turned it into a community center and town library.

Stanko said Post No. 44 has played a vital role in the community in the 100 years since it arrived — building the rodeo grounds for the 1927 Fourth of July celebration and in 1938, supervising a project to build the concrete grandstand, a concession stand and new bucking chutes and barns.

He said it was Post No. 44 that introduced the parade and fireworks to the Fourth of July celebration and continued to support those efforts through the early 1960s.

Post No. 44 has backed youth programs, including high school sports, youth baseball programs and a Golden Gloves boxing program in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The post has sponsored a local Boy Scout troop and sent young boys and girls to state level programs where they learned civics and government.

“Knowing that you were helping made it special,” said Kemry, who said her favorite part was selling poppies every year to support the programs Post No. 44 sponsored. “We would sit there in front of Safeway, or we would walk the streets. Everybody would dig in their pocket, you know, and at first, it was a quarter and then it got to be a dollar and then $5 bills. At the very end, I even had a person or two give me $20, but that was a different time. I mean a quarter went quite a ways in my younger years.”

Fundraisers like that helped Post No. 44 assist in community fundraising events like an effort to place water fountains along Lincoln Avenue in the 1920s, make improvements to Howelsen Hill in the 1930s and cut Memorial Ski Run on Emerald Mountain in 1946. Members also raised money for a new hospital, contributed funds to build the old community center near the library and donated wood floors for the new community center.

Through it all, Stanko said Post No. 44 has remained faithful to its original purpose — to be there for the veterans.

“From the very beginning, the Post has had programs that have assisted local veterans and the families of veterans with financial, medical, employment and educational needs,” Stanko said. “After World War II, the Post worked with local businesses to hire returning local veterans and advocate for a strong permanent county veteran service officer to make sure returning veterans could claim benefits due to them.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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