A legion of visitors

MARSHALL – Patriotic music was playing on the loudspeaker, as men in American Legion hats mingled outside the Schwan Community Center for the Performing Arts. It was a scheduled break time between training sessions at the Minnesota American Legion’s State Fall Conference, which was in full swing on Friday. So far, things were going very well, attendees said.

“It’s our primary training session of the year,” said Dick Juhl, commander of the Minnesota Legion’s 10th District. Being able to hold the training in facilities like the Performing Arts Center was a plus, he said.

The fall conference is an annual event for members of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary. Around 500 people were visiting Marshall to take part in the event, said Marshall Legion Post Commander Jeff Gay.

“It brought people from all over the state down here,” as well as members of the national American Legion organization, Gay said.

Although Marshall has hosted the fall conference in the past, Gay said it’s been a long time since the event was last here.

“It’s a great honor,” he said of hosting the conference. However, Gay said the credit went to members of the conference’s organizing committee and all the community members and volunteers making the event possible. “It couldn’t have been done without them.”

“It worked out excellent, because of the people,” said Mike Ash, department commander for the Minnesota American Legion. Ash said the facilities at Marshall High School and the Marshall Ramada also worked out very well for the conference. It can sometimes be hard to hold a Legion conference in a smaller community because both a large gathering space and smaller classrooms or offices are needed, he said.

The fall conference is one of the main training events of the year for American Legion, Sons of the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary members, attendees said. Discussion topics ranged from building leadership skills and keeping an active post, to legislative issues and even some computer tutorials.

“These are the kind of questions we’re asked a lot at the local level,” said Legion member Darrel Redepenning.

Technology was a major focus at this year’s conference. The proceedings were even being broadcast online through streaming video. Ash said staying on top of communication trends like social media is going to be important to the Legion, especially as it reaches out to younger members. For some potential Legion members, Facebook may be a better way to connect than by phone or a printed newsletter.

The conference isn’t just work, however. There were also some more social events planned for attendees.

“One of the biggest highlights is just meeting people,” Gay said.

Some of the fun events scheduled for the conference included the “Walk, Run and Roll” event to support veterans and their families, which was held by the American Legion Auxiliary. On Friday afternoon, participants put on their running shoes – or in the case of one participant, rollerblades – and completed a one-mile course winding around Marshall High School.

“It’s a community service project for the Auxiliary,” said Patti Coleman, the community service chairwoman for the Minnesota American Legion Auxiliary. More than 30 people took part in the event and made donations to help veterans, she said. “We hope that people will go do something like this in their own communities.”

Ash said the response to this year’s fall conference has been good so far.

“We’ve heard lots of good comments from everyone,” Ash said.

Ash said transportation was one of the few areas that posed a challenge for the conference. But attendees like Larry Pocrnich seemed to be taking it in stride. Pocrnich traveled to Marshall from Hibbing, a trip he said he’s made before to help with Boys State in the summer.

“It’s a long drive, but we’ve got some dedicated members,” Pocrnich said.