By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Delano resident Jennifer Kim-Ardakani recently learned that the kindness of the American Legion extends beyond US borders.
Her father, Jaime Ludowese, was an American Legion member living in Guatemala. When he passed away in May, his family wasn’t able to pick up the special flag that was draped over his coffin.
Determined to get the flag to Ludowese’s family, Adjutant William Shetz of Antigua, Guatemala brought it to an American Legion national conference in Milwaukee, WI, at the end of August.
Delano American Legion member Dick Amundson, who was at the conference, was surprised when he heard that someone from Mexico was looking for him.
“I thought, maybe I should run for the hills,” he laughed.
At the end of September, Amundson presented the flag to Kim-Ardakani and her sister, Natasha Ludowese.
“It was a really nice surprise,” Kim-Ardakani said.
Poetry and art
Jaime Ludowese served in the US Air Force, and was a “strong, silent type,” according to Kim-Ardakani.
He grew up in the tiny town of Dumont, the youngest of seven children, and earned an English degree from the University of Minnesota, Morris.
After teaching school for a while, he decided that being in the inner-city education system wasn’t a good fit for his quiet personality.
Most of his career was spent at a Napa Auto Parts warehouse in St. Louis Park. Instead of driving to work, he hitchhiked from his home in Delano.
“He didn’t drive it just wasn’t his thing,” Kim-Ardakani said. “He always got to work on time, if not early.”
Ludowese was a “hermit-type” who constantly carried a backpack filled with sketching material.
“He was a poet and an aspiring artist,” Kim-Ardakani said. “He was always writing things down.”
Ludowese has had several works published under his pen name, Egon Ludowese.
“He was a literary genius,” Kim-Ardakani said. “He was always reading.”
Ludowese’s artistic drive pulled him toward Guatemalan life. Many years ago, Kim-Ardakani purchased a plane ticket for her father, so he could go on vacation anywhere he wanted.
“He chose Guatemala, and came back with mosquito bites and insomnia, and was sick for about two weeks. But, he wanted to go back again,” Kim-Ardakani laughed.
The unpleasantness of his first trip didn’t deter Ludowese from enjoying the splendid vistas and colorful scenery of the area.
“He was inspired by the people, the culture, the history . . . the way the sun hit everything,” Kim-Ardakani said.
After vacationing with a host family in Guatemala a few times, Ludowese decided to make the exotic country his permanent home.
While Ludowese was there, Shetz recruited him into the American Legion, where he found a group of loyal friends.
“We are a support organization for all Americans,” Shetz said. His group is heavily involved in charitable activities in Guatemala providing breakfast for children, supporting a huge library, and helping students pay for school.
“We’re not your average American Legion Post,” Shetz said. “It’s not just veterans. It’s anybody who comes to us for help.”
In some areas, the quality of public school is in question, so the American Legion funds private education. The cost of first through ninth grade private school is $2,600, an amount that many families can’t afford, according to Shetz.
“Instead of sitting in a bar drinking beer, we’re going out and doing some good,” he said. “And, we have fun doing it.”
Ludowese enjoyed helping others through the American Legion, and later, when his own health started deteriorating, the group was there for him, as well.
“We have 150 members here, and everybody liked Jaime,” Shetz said.
Ludowese had a heart attack about six years ago, and had to get a pacemaker. A few years later, he suffered a stroke, which debilitated his speech and caused slight brain damage.
“The stable thing in his life was when William Shetz came to visit,” Kim-Ardakani said. “The American Legion just maintained calm for him. They were really phenomenal.”
For Kim-Ardakani, Ludowese’s burial flag is a touching reminder not only of her father’s life, but also of the American Legion’s care for others.
“It’s what the American Legion does,” Shetz said.
To learn more about the American Legion, go to www.legion.org.