NY Dept. Commander Visits Area

Honors Floyd Firefighter, Utica PD, Post 229 Editor;
Joins Auxiliary and SAL Leaders at Testimonial Dinner

Department of New York Commander W. Michael Bowen honored first responders and a newsletter editor during his official visit to Oneida County on Oct. 15.

"Through our Americanism programs, we recognize first responders -- police and firefighters," Bowen told a gathering of Legionnaires during a luncheon at Whitestown Post 1113. And it's a "tribute to what the American Legion does."

Firefighter of Year

He presented both Oneida County and 5th District Firefighter of the Year Awards to Robert Leahy, a 36-year member of Floyd Volunteer Fire Department and a member of Leon R. Roberts Post 161 in Holland Patent.

"In New York, over 70 percent of all firefighters are volunteers," Bowen noted. "The only pay they receive is the knowledge of helping or possibly saving the life of a friend or neighbor. Bob Leahy has served in many capacities and is well-deserving of this award."

Police Dept. of Year

The commander then presented the New York American Legion Police Department of the Year  Award to the Utica Police Department "for 150 years of service as a full-time police department." As he handed the award to Utica Police Chief Mark Williams, Bowen noted: "In the last several years, there has been a dramatic drop in violent crime in the city. The department and the officers should be congratulated for their efforts in creating a safe environment for the citizens of Utica."

Chief Williams praised the Legion for going out of its way to show support for law enforcement, particularly Utica Post 229 for honoring top cops every year, and noted:

"We don't get a lot of accolades in this line of work, so it's really appreciated."

Utica Post 229 nominated Utica PD for the award, which Chief Williams said he was accepting  for the 180 dedicated men and women of department.

First-Place Newsletter

On behalf of the National American Legion Press Association, Commander Bowen presented a national first place award for post newsletter to Robert Stronach of Utica Post 229.

"Bob Stronach has been public relations chairman, editor of the newsletter 'First Call,' and in charge of the web page, uticapost229.org," Bowen said. "For the past three years, in that short time, Bob has won New York Press Association and New York Department Awards, and now a national award, the 'Al Weinburg Publication Award'."

Testimonial Dinner

Later in the day, Oneida County American Legion hosted a testimonial dinner at New Hartford Post 1376 for Bowen, Department Auxiliary President Ann Geer and Sons of the American Legion (SAL) Detachment Commander Dr. Greg K. Gibbs. County Commander Patrick Gubbins (of Whitestown Post 1113) was master of ceremonies.

SAL Commander: Priceless Heritage

Gibbs told the packed banquet hall that words in the preamble to the SAL Constitution hold great meaning and inspire action among the Sons. As the preamble says, the Sons are "proud possessors of a priceless heritage," Gibbs noted. That heritage includes the sacrifices of men and women "who served in the armed forces" and "who put their lives on the line."

"Without that heritage, we would not be the great power we are today," he said, and it's a heritage "we need to cherish and perpetuate."

In addition to working to keep alive the memories of veterans' sacrifices among today's youth, the Sons also support the programs of the American Legion Family, Gibbs said. For example, the Sons are the largest single contributor to the Legion's Child Welfare Fund, donating more than $400,000 in the past year.

Auxiliary President: An Organization of Choice

Recalling the open-arms welcome she received as a new member of the Legion Auxiliary many years ago, when she brought an infant and a 2-year-old to her first meeting, Department President Ann Geer said she envisions a Legion Family that is so welcoming, open to change and involved in activities that "we will become an organization of choice." People will ask to join, she said.

She announced that her special project for the year is the Children's Organ Transplant Association (COTA), which "makes miracles happen for children." With the "cost of transplants outrageously expensive," COTA helps families find funding, including helping to organize fundraisers and providing matching funds.

Dept. Commander: All You Have to Do Is Ask

The final speaker of the evening was Commander Bowen, who reminded everyone that the Legion "is the largest advocate for veterans rights." With its comprehensive pillars of service, the Legion has an impressive story to tell -- and because of that, it's not difficult to get new veterans to join.

"All you have to do is ask."

Paul Wojcik & Mike Bowen
Paul Wojcik of Post 229 assists Department Commander Mike Bowen in presenting awards.
Mike Bowen & Robert Leahy
Dept. Commander Mike Bowen presents County and District Firefighter of Year Awards to Robert Leahy.
Mike Bowen & Chief Mark Williams
Dept. Commander Mike Bowen presents Police Dept. of the Year Award to Utica Police Chief Mark Williams.
Pat Gubbins
Oneida County Commander Patrick Gubbins was host and master of ceremonies for the awards luncheon at Whitestown Post and the testimonial dinner at New Hartford Post.
Dr. Greg Gibbs
"Doc" Gibbs
Ann Geer
Ann Geer
Mike Bowen
Mike Bowen