Pearl Harbor Rally brought out camaraderie

By Tim Engstrom
Department Commander Paul Hassing speaks during the Pearl Harbor Rally at Paynesville Post 271.

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PAYNESVILLE — The Pearl Harbor Rally brought the Minnesota American Legion Family together for good times together.

Department Commander Paul Hassing said having video teleconferencing is good. However, there is value to meeting face to face, to being around friends and sharing camaraderie.

“I see it as hanging out with friends,” Hassing said.

He reminded the Legion Family members that his project is the Minnesota Veterans Assistance Fund. It is close to his heart because, when he entered the military, he had trouble making ends meet, and he went to the American Red Cross and begged for assistance.

Minnesota American Legion President Sharon Cross greets everyone at the Pearl Harbor Rally.

“And that stuck with me still to this day, that I had to beg in order to pay my rent and food,” Hassing said.

The Pearl Harbor Rally was held at Paynesville Post 271.

Sons of The American Legion Commander John Weiss said he is sharing the same fundraising project as Hassing.

To donate to Hassing’s project, make the check to Minnesota American Legion Foundation, with Fund 82 in the memo. Fund 82 is the Commander’s Project. The funds, at the end of his term, will go toward Fund 85, which is the Minnesota Veterans Assistance Fund.

To donate to Weiss’ project, put Fund 99 in the memo. Fund 99 is the SAL Commander’s Project. Gambling funds are accepted. The foundation is a 501c3.

NECman Bill Barbknecht said Minnesota is respected when Legionnaires from across the country gather at National American Legion Headquarters.

“No other department can hold a candle to Minnesota,” he said.

SAL Detachment of Minnesota Commander John Weiss welcomes everyone to the Pearl Harbor Rally.

He cited how the Minnesota American Legion Riders have made it so Minnesota is the only state to raise more than $1 million for the American Legion Legacy Scholarships. He cited how Minnesota American Legion Baseball has led the nation in number of teams for more than a decade.

Barbknecht called on Legion members to be forgiving.

“There isn’t a day that goes by and I don’t make a mistake. I have a witness for that,” he said.

He encouraged building membership by talking about the charitable work the American Legion Family performs in communities throughout the state.

Junior Honorary Department President Taylor McElroy was absent. She is in the Army Reserve and was being promoted that same day to E-4. Her project is raising funds for Believet, which provides canine service partners to veterans at no charge. It is based in Northfield.


Candidates for office

Time was allotted for members to announce their intentions to run for offices. Elections are at the department and detachment conventions in July.

In the Legion, Carl Moon of Zimmerman Post 560 announced he is running for Department of Minnesota commander. Veronica Fernlund of Waite Park Post 428 is running for department historian. Donny Skow of Forest Lake Post 225 is seeking department vice commander. Randy Olson of Winnebago Post 82 is running for department vice commander. Kristy Janigo of Osseo-Maple Grove Post 172 is running for 10th District commander. Frank Grittner of Zimmerman Post 560 is running for 6th District commander.

In the Auxiliary, Judy Ackerman of Northrop Unit 522 announced she is running for Department of Minnesota president. Robin Dorf of Monticello Unit 260 is running for 1st vice president. Jean Walker of Warren Unit 27 is seeking NECman. Raleen Tolzmann of Minnesota Lake Unit 287 is running for alternate NECman.


Membership standings

In the Legion Family, membership percentages are expressions of renewals added together with new members. If an entity had 100 members at the start of the Legion year, and there are 75 renewals and five new people, that means membership is at 80 percent, and there is another 20 percent to go to achieve 100 percent.

These reports were dated the date of the rally: Dec. 9.

Minnesota American Legion Membership Director Pam Krill remembers Pearl Harbor victims at the Pearl Harbor Rally.

SAL Detachment of Minnesota Membership Director Gary Richardson announced the 5th District was in first place with 55.93 percent. The 3rd District was in second place with XX renewals. The 2nd District was in third place with 54.83 percent.

He said 20 squadrons are at or above 100 percent.

Auxiliary Department Membership Director Jenny Nelson three units were over 100 percent in membership.

She said 2nd District was in first place at 68.84 percent. The 6th District was in second place at 67.62 percent, and the 1st District was in third place.

American Legion Department of Minnesota Membership Director Pam Krill brought the poignancy of remembering the Japanese Empire attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and how, that fateful morning, Naval Reservists from St. Paul aboard the destroyer USS Ward fired the first American shots of the Second World War when they sunk a two-man Japanese submarine at the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

She said 55 Minnesotans were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack or missing as a result of it, and these are 55 people who never were able to join the Legion and share camaraderie with other veterans. She said their families never got to be part of the Legion family.

“We must never forget those who will never be part of us,” Krill said.

She said 45 posts were above 100 percent.

Garylee Davenport of the 7th District sports his cowboy hat.

She said membership was at 80.22 percent, and this was the highest it has been by the Pearl Harbor Rally in five years. The national goal for Dec. 13 is 75 percent. Nationally, Minnesota sits in fourth place. First was the Department of France. Second and third were South Dakota and Iowa. Virginia was in fifth place.

Among districts in Minnesota, the 6th District sat in first place at 85.26 percent, 4th District in second at 83.52 percent, and 3rd District in third at 82.40 percent.

To follow weekly updates to Legion membership numbers, visit


Legion Riders

The Minnesota American Legion Riders hosted the Pearl Harbor Rally. Director Jody Hassing reminded the attendees that the Riders are a program of the Legion itself.

Minnesota American Legion Auxiliary Membership Chairman Jenny Nelson names which districts performed the best.

“They should give a report at meetings,” she said.

The Riders, she said, are good at raising money, and that’s a good reason to start a chapter at posts without one. She mentioned how Clearwater ALR Chapter 323 has raised lots of money for homeless veterans.

The funds the Riders raise, she said, can be included on the annual Consolidated Post Report.

This year, she is asking ALR chapters in Minnesota to report their fundraising totals to her so ALR Secretary Shawn Davis can calculate a statewide total.


Other photos from the rally:

Sons of The American Legion National Vice Commander Robert Bristo speaks with a member.
Helen Steffen, 92, mother of 10th District President Anne Steffen. Dec. 9 was her birthday, and the room sang “Happy Birthday” to her.


Bloomington Post 550, represented by Department Commander Paul Hassing and Communications Director Tim Engstrom, donated $3,000 to Junior Auxiliary Honorary Department President Taylor McElroy’s Project, which is Believet. McElroy was not present because she was being promoted in the Army Reserve that day. However, Auxiliary Department President Sharon Cross, center, filled in.
The 4th District, represented by Honorary Junior 2nd Vice President Bree England, center, donated $155 to the Department Commander’s Project. The fire truck was among a box of toys from the 4th District Family Holiday Dinner for Eagle’s Healing Nest.


SAL Detachment Commander John Weiss presents a check for $200 on behalf of American Legion Riders with St. Paul Arcade-Phalen Chapter 577. The check goes toward Department Commander Paul Hassing’s Project: Minnesota Veterans Assistance Fund.
Garylee Davenport of Spicer Post 545 presents a check for $563 from Elks Lodge 952 in Willmar toward Department Commander Paul Hassing’s Project: Minnesota Veterans Assistance Fund.
Minnesota NECman Bill Barbknecht presents a check for $1,000 from his home post, Underwood Post 489, for Department Commander Paul Hassing’s Project: Minnesota Veterans Assistance Fund.

See more photos on the Department of Minnesota Facebook page here.