Mid-Winter Conference Features
A Full Array of Legion Topics

The New York Department's Mid-Winter conference, held Jan. 21-23 at The Desmond in Albany, featured informational sessions and workshops on a host of Legion topics – from membership to public relations to youth programs.

History Can Be Exciting

Post and county historians gathered for one of the Friday night sessions, and were urged to put together an annual history book.

"We want more books (for judging) at the department convention," noted Department Historian Raphael "Buzz" Blevins. Historians don't have to be present at the convention, he said. He'll accept mailed submissions.

Researching and recording history can be exciting, and contributes to a post's legacy, said Mike Duggan, who chaired the session. "So go back and talk it up in your posts."

He urged everyone to carefully read and follow Legion guidelines for assembling a history book. That's what made the difference with those books that stood out and won accolades, he said.

The session ended with dues-paying members electing officers for the next year:

  • Mike Duggan, president.
  • Ray Beebe, vice president.
  • John Kasmer, secretary-treasurer.

Public Relations Can Bolster Posts

Duggan also helped to kick off a series of public relations workshops Saturday by talking up the other hat he wears as executive director of the National American Legion Press Association (NALPA).

"Public relations – when you're into it and actually do it, it's very exciting," Duggan said. "The people you meet and the events you get into are outstanding."

When NALPA was started in 1923, it was composed mostly of professional writers and editors, he said. Today the members are largely post editors and post PR persons.

"We in this room are the guys that get the word out to the rank and file," he said, noting:

"We have found that posts with newsletters have a more active membership…Membership goes up because they know what's going on."

For that reason, he said, the press association is "constantly pushing newsletters."

Duggan also plugged the annual awards contest sponsored by the national and New York press associations, with categories for newsletters, editorials and websites.

Bob Stronach from Utica Post 229 led morning sessions on producing a post newsletter and creating a post website. Newsletter and web editors need to be self-reliant, Stronach said. "We can't always rely on others to automatically provide the information we need. We need to go to meetings and activities and chat with the people involved. We need to exercise our curiosity and seek out the news."

The first of two afternoon sessions featured tips on being interviewed by the media by Ken Kraetzer, co-host of a Sons of the American Legion (SAL) radio program on WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle.

Then, Ken Governor, the Department PR chair who organized the PR workshops, offered a review of PR tools that national headquarters makes available online, and urged posts to take advantage of such tools as sample speeches, position statements  and a PR handbook, with everything from news release templates to how to plan a community event.

Governor also took his message of Legion PR resources to a SAL PR workshop later in the afternoon.

Be An Example

An ecumenical service and a Roman Catholic Mass took place prior to an evening band concert, reception and dinner.

"Be an example in service to others," thereby drawing "others to our ranks," preached Fr. Robert Sweeney, department chaplain. "We're one in Christ. We're one in the Legion."

Knights and Ladies

Various county Legions offered hospitality suites throughout the weekend, with Queens County attracting a lot of attention with its Knights of the Round Table and Ladies in Waiting serving up hors d'ouervres and beverages.

Riding for Vets

Among the many display tables was one staffed by American Legion Riders' Southern Tier Chapter.

"We're 104 members strong," noted chapter Vice President Walt Weirich. "We're one of the largest in the state, and we're serving veterans all the time."

For example, he said, they visited elderly veterans in four different nursing homes across the region, distributed 400 Christmas baskets to nursing home vets, and raised $1,000 for a camp for wounded warriors across the border in Pennsylvania.

Walt Weirich, left, and John Post
Legion Riders' VP and President

NY's Impact on Legion

The evening culminated with the banquet speaker, National Adjutant Dan Wheeler, reviewing New York's impact on the history of the Legion, starting with such founding fathers as Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and continuing with other influential New Yorkers up to the present day. Wheeler acknowledged Michael Kogutek of Buffalo, who was in the audience, as the last national commander from New York, serving 1980-1981. New York is in the spotlight again as Fang Wong of New York City is the leading candidate to become national commander later this year.

Sunday Wrap Up

Cmdr James TroiolaThe conference wrapped up Sunday morning with a general session presided over by Department Commander V. James Troiola.

Just Ask Vets to Join

Membership Chair and Department Commander-Candidate W. Michael Bowen reminded the packed assembly hall that membership is everyone's responsibility.

"There are 23 million veterans out there," he said. "We have 2.5 million. That's 11 percent." The Legion can grow a lot more. "All you have to do is ask. It couldn't be any easier."

Department Adjutant Richard Pedro picked up on that theme, taking umbrage with the notion that the Legion is a dying organization. "We're a growing organization," with over 50,000 new members joining last year. If anything, he said, "we're dying to achieve" new heights.

New Legion College Dean

The department commander introduced Michael Hannan, the newly appointed dean of Legion College, who urged every post to send at least one member to the annual educational experience (which takes place June 17-19 at Morrisville College).

Business Boot Camp

Howard Garrity, veterans business development officer with the Small Business Administration, spoke of initiatives and partnerships with universities – including entrepreneurial boot camps -- to help veterans start businesses, especially disabled vets.

Counseling for Combat Vets

James Sheets of the Watertown Vet Center described the VA's commitment to provide readjustment counseling to combat veterans and their families. "We have to be able to help the entire family," he said. Sheets then introduced a mobile vet center team – Jason Davis, Mike Walling and Judy Carbonell – who cover most of the state in a 38-foot Winnebago. "Our whole team – we're all veterans," noted Carbonell, who is also a Legionnaire.

Mobile Vet Center Team:
Jason Davis, Mike Walling, Judy Carbonell

Socks for Troops

New York Auxiliary President Nancy Kurk, who joined the assembly to a rousing standing ovation, declared her love and support for veterans and spoke of her special project to help homeless female vets. She also announced that the Auxiliary's socks-for-troops project collected 20,723 pairs of socks at the Mid-Winter Conference, which will be shipped to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. She then presented a $1,000 check to Commander Troiola for the Legion Emergency Fund.

Contributions to Fang Wong Campaign

Except for a few closing remarks, the general session wrapped up with some 35 Legionnaires lining up to present contributions to Fang Wong's campaign to become the 2011-2012 national commander. A few drew rousing applause, such as when SAL Detachment Commander John Rogers and Adjutant Robert Avery presented a check for $10,000, and Robert Morrill, campaign chairman and past department commander, immediately noted that it was the third such donation from the Sons of the Legion, bringing their total contribution to $30,000.

Harvard Tang, commander of Fang Wong's home post, Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 in New York City, was greeted with a standing ovation as he handed over a check for $50,000 and then returned to the podium to quip: "There will be more checks coming!"

Harvard Tang announces $50,000 contribution.

After the presentations, Adjutant Pedro announced that a total of $85,769 was contributed to the campaign during the conference. As leading candidate, Wong would become the first New Yorker in over 30 years to lead the American Legion.


Utica Post 229 sent representatives to the New York Department's Mid-Winter Conference. They included Commander Tony Palladino, 2nd Vice Commander Lenny Lascala, Past Commander Frank Cassella, Treasurer Jim Haggerty, Chaplain Paul Wojcik, Service Officer Dave Wilson and Historian/PR Chair Bob Stronach. Attending a simultaneous Auxiliary conference were Auxiliary President Theresa Jensen, Eleanor King, Rose Coniglia and Peggy Kohler.

The conference featured sessions and workshops on all things Legion, such as membership, legionnaire of the year, public relations, ROTC-JROTC, Americanism (baseball, education and scholarship, bowling, Scouting, oratorical), the summer convention, junior shooting sports, law and order, protocol, economics (employment, veterans preference, energy and conservation), children and youth, Boys' State, Sons of the American Legion, national security, internal affairs, compliance, Legion Riders, rehabilitation, legislative, New York Historians' Association and the New York American Legion Press Association.

"Knight of the Roundtable" David Valentin mingles with Legionnaires. Knights and their Ladies in Waiting were a hospitality attraction offered by Queens County Legion.

"Lady in Waiting" Irene Valentin served up shrimp at the Queens County Legion hospitality area.

Raphael "Buzz" Blevins
Dept. Historian

Mike Duggan
& NALPA chief

Ken Kraetzer
SAL Radio

Ken Governor
Dept. PR chair

Queens County's
Knight David Valentin
and Lady Irene Valentin

Newly Appointed Legion College Dean Mike Hannan poses with Lady Jenny Miller at Queens County's hospitality area.

W. Michael Bown
Dept. Membership Chair

Richard Pedro
Dept. Adjutant

James Sheets
Vet Center

Nancy Kurk
Auxiliary President

Robert Avery, John Rogers
SAL Detachment