By Starrla Cray
WINSTED In some ways, the Winsted American Legion Auxiliary looks much like it did half a century ago.
It has many of the same members, and the organization’s purpose has also remained constant.
“It’s still basically doing things for the veterans,” said Helen Yager, who has been in the Auxiliary for 51 years.
Helen, 89, was originally part of the Auxiliary in Delano, and she and her late husband, Arwood “Woody,” moved to Winsted in 1996.
“That’s considered new around here,” she said with a laugh.
The member of the Winsted Legion Auxiliary serving the longest is 93-year-old Sylvia Artman, who has been involved for 63 years.
Irene Weinbeck, 92, is another longtime member, with 54 years of service. Irene is originally from California, while her late husband, Benedict, was a Winsted native. During World War II, Benedict was as a B-26 gunner and a German translator.
Helen’s husband was also involved in WWII, serving four years in the South Pacific Theatre as a member of the US Coast Guard.
Another local WWII veteran was Richard “Dick” Genty. He is the late husband of 88-year-old Joan Genty, a 55-year member of the Auxiliary.
For all veterans
Most of Winsted’s Auxiliary members joined the group because of their husbands’ service. Although a number of the husbands have since passed away, the women are still committed volunteers.
“It’s a good cause,” Joan commented.
“We do it for the love of serving the veterans,” said Margie Kritzeck, whose late husband, Ken, served in the Korean War.
Margie is almost 74 years old, and has been part of the Auxiliary for 49 years. She is currently the group’s president.
Other officers include first vice president Julie Weinbeck-Baruch, second vice president Carol Kappel, secretary Agnes Fiecke, and treasurer Carol Norman. These positions are elected once a year in May. Helen is in the appointed position of membership chair and chaplain.
Auxiliary members noted that the first-ever Auxiliary president in Winsted was Ella Weibel, the mother of Winsted resident Glenn Weibel.
Opportunities to give
Auxiliary members participate in a variety of fundraising events and activities throughout the year.
In a few weeks, members will be offering poppies in exchange for a donation. Later in May, they’ll be decorating the cemetery for Memorial Day.
After the Memorial Day service, there is a barbecue potluck at the American Legion Club downtown.
“Anyone can come,” Margie said. “You don’t have to be a member of the Legion. All are welcome.”
Another opportunity for food and friendship is the pork chop dinner each August. Auxiliary members help coordinate this event, which takes place during the Winsted Summer Festival.
Summer is also the time for Minnesota Girls State, an interactive program that teaches girls who have completed their junior year of high school how to form city, county, and state government offices. Winsted Auxiliary members typically give one local girl the opportunity to attend this week-long event. This year, Girls State is set for June 10-16 at Bethel University in St. Paul.
The Auxiliary is also active during the holidays.
“At Christmas time, we give gifts to all the veterans; they don’t have to be a member of our Legion,” Joan said, explaining that they go to St. Mary’s Care Center, Lindenwood Apartments, and other local places to distribute the presents.
The Auxiliary also takes cookies to Auxiliary members who aren’t able to leave their homes, and gives presents to veterans at the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System.
“This year, they had a clothing drive in St. Cloud,” Margie said, adding that Winsted was able to raise more than $2,500 for this cause.
Auxiliary members have also volunteered at Winstock Country Music Festival, read stories to children, helped with blood drives, sent care packages to military men and women overseas, and made quilts for people who are sick or in nursing homes. In the past, they’ve made and distributed special pillows for heart surgery patients, and participated in other volunteer activities.
Margie recalls helping with a hamburger stand years ago when Winsted’s summer festival was downtown.
“My job was always cleaning the grills,” she said. “When it got done, I’d be so exhausted I’d think ‘never again.’ It was a lot of fun, though.”
One of Margie’s favorite parts of being an Auxiliary member is the friendship. Many of the women have known each other for decades, and they’re able to support one another in good times and in hard times.
Attend a meeting
The Auxiliary meets at the Legion the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m., with the exception of January, when there is no meeting.
“It’s nice to get out and go to a meeting,” Joan said. “And when you go to this meeting, you’re also helping somebody.”
Auxiliary members stressed that they are currently in search of new members, especially younger women. The organization is open to mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, or grandmothers of members of the American Legion, or of deceased veterans who served in the US Armed Forces. Women who are eligible for membership in the American Legion are also eligible to join the Auxiliary.
“We’d like younger people who are interested in getting involved to come to a meeting,” Margie said.
For more information about membership, contact Helen at (320) 485-2172.