Finding new ways to remember

Legion uses entertainment to remain relevant & viable
Story and photos by Casey Lessard

Grand Bend Legion past-president Doreen Chester spends hours helping with entertainment and fundraisers.With a smile on her face and a friend in her arms, Doreen Chester looks like a good time personified. The Legion president is cutting a rug on the dance floor while Saturday afternoon’s entertainment performs a song. Partner after partner, male or female, it’s obvious Chester loves to dance and this has benefited the Legion and the community.
“It started with entertainment on a Saturday afternoon,” she says of her seven-year involvement in the Grand Bend Legion. “I was told there was entertainment here, and I love to dance and I love music, so I came. As I made friends, I was asked to decorate the hall for New Years’ Eve and then the Christmas trees. Then I worked upstairs at one of the banquets and one of the fellows heard that I was a teacher so he convinced me to join the executive as education chair.
“I knew I would be involved in the community when I moved in,” she says. “The people that I know in the Legion make you want to be part of it. If they ask you to help, you just want to say yes. And I’ve found that if you need help, people say yes right away.”
President-elect Ron Crown agrees.
“This town is known for its volunteers,” he says, “and a good example was the 2001 Canada Summer Games; we had to turn people away. A lot of people are looking for something to do and you don’t have to take a lot of their time. People want to support the community they live in.”
Joan McCullough and Dave Guyett are among the volunteers who help at bingo Tuesday nights.“We have at least 12-14 people who work the bingo every Tuesday night and some of them are in their early 80s,” Chester says. “They have that vivacious energy and drive that they want to give back to the community.”
Volunteering with the Legion can support the community in many ways. Its members fund local charities in addition to work with veterans and remembrance.
“The basic focus has not changed,” Crown says, “but the things you have to do to keep going certainly have. We still look after veterans and their dependants. But the problem is that the veterans are becoming fewer and fewer. Because of their age – most of them are at least 80 – we see a lot of them going into homes like Parkwood. We spend a lot of time making them more comfortable.”
The demographic change means the Legion must do things differently to remain viable, and that includes opening its doors to the public. Harry Young is an expert at promoting the Legion’s attributes. The entertainment coordinator wants everyone to come and spend money on a good cause, whether it be attending meat draws, bingo or Saturday afternoon entertainment.
“Giving back to the community is the most important thing,” Young says. “Coming here is your little part you play in helping them. We need $250,000 a year to run this place just to break even. And at the same time, we give away the rest of our money to all the different charities.”
“I believe that everyone has something they can offer to the community,” Chester says, “and that if they got involved in one organization they would realize how much they could get involved and how much fun it is.”