Supporting veterans, community for over 30 years
SEELEY LAKE – Veterans Day has been celebrated in Seeley Lake for over 30 years thanks to local veterans and their families. While Seeley Lake (VFW) Post 7992 Foreign War Veterans relinquished their charter in May 2012, mission and community service have continued with the non-affiliated, non-profit veterans and families of Seeley Lake (VFSL). VFSL continues to support the local chapter and oversee veterans, their families and other local charities that benefit the wider community. They invite everyone to the Veterans Day Ceremony at Seeley Lake Memorial Gardens on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.
VFW Post 7992 received its official charter on March 19, 1990. Veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam opened the post which quickly grew to 30 members. First officers included: Commander Joe Nagy; Senior Vice Commander George Barlett; Junior Vice Commander Reginald Colby; Quartermaster and Warrant Officer Jack Shoupe; Judge Advocate Don Skillicorn; Chaplain Ken Kelly; surgeon Sam Moore; Director (three years) George Myers; Director (two years) Don Winterrowd; Administrator (one year) George Hart and Duty Officer Charles Lewis.
In the August 30, 1990, Pathfinder, officers said they planned to serve the community by helping residents who are unable to do all of their yard work and other odds and ends. They added that there are no plans to open a bar, like many other VFW positions.
In July 1991, the VFW signed an agreement with Missoula County to erect and maintain a flagpole and veterans monument on Missoula County lands at the north end of Lake Seeley on Highway 83.
“Missoula County has determined that the monument and flagpole as described will be a beautification project providing an attractive entrance to the Town of Seeley Lake,” reads the agreement signed by the Board of County Commissioners and Don Skillicorn for extension 7992.
VFW Post 7992 participated in many events during the year. They held Memorial Day ceremonies and a Veterans Day service at the VFW Memorial north of town. On Memorial Day weekend, they provided poppies to raise funds for disabled veterans and placed flags at veterans’ graves at Seeley Lake Cemetery. On July 4, they provided the Veterans Honor Guard and created a tank for veterans in subsequent years. They also adopted Highway 83 from mileposts 2 through 4 and cleaned up the ditches. Additionally, they provided financial assistance to help veterans with medical expenses and provided transportation to doctor’s appointments when needed.
One of the goals of VFW Post 7992 was to have a female auxiliary. The Auxiliary is an organization of female relatives of veterans who served or served overseas.
With Skillicorn’s encouragement, the ladies organized and chartered on June 28, 2008. Barbara Knopp served as president.
The Seeley Lake Ladies Auxiliary existed to support our local VFW Post 7992 in its efforts to help veterans and their families, as well as to cooperate with other organizations to meet the needs of Seeley Lake. Their mission was to inspire the community with their patriotism, educating them about who veterans are and why everyone should proudly value the sacrifices they and our current service men and women have made for the nation. .
The Auxiliary has adopted the Seeley-Swan Community Food Bank. In 2008, they launched their first annual food drive from late October to mid-December. They prepared pre-filled grocery bags sold for $10 at the valley market, collected non-perishable food and donations. In March 2010, the Auxiliary reported collecting over 3,000 pounds of food as well as cash donations from the community for the food bank.
Other local projects initiated by the Auxiliary include the backpacking program at Seeley Lake Elementary School which began in 2009 and timely projects for local veterans in need. Outside of the community, the Auxiliary sent med kits to troops in Afghanistan. They have donated funds to the Veterans Hospital and Veterans Retirement Home of Montana, VFW National Children’s Home of Michigan, Disabled Veterans of America, Aid and Research Cancer Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In 2010 VFW Post 7992 Commanding Officer Gary Pelletier reported to the community that they only had 10-12 members and the post was in danger.
“If the position closes, the Ladies Auxiliary should do the same,” the Auxiliary wrote in a letter to the community in the March 4, 2010 Pathfinder. [23 active members] Postal Auxiliary, believe it would be a tragedy for our community and for the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces to lose this VFW Post.
After more than 20 years, due to attrition and a lack of volunteers capable of filling vacant leadership positions, post 7992 voted to drop its charter in May 2012.
“Attrition due to ill health and death has diminished the number of members of our post. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to recruit new members to continue. We now find ourselves too few to continue serving Seeley Lake” , wrote Pelletier in a letter to the community in the Seeley Swan Pathfinder on July 5, 2012. “We hope to form a new community service organization that will be open to all veterans and their families. This approach will better support veterans.” veterans, our region and people in need.
Due to the surrender of extension 7992, the Ladies Auxiliary closed in September 2012.
“No one in the band wanted to stop doing what we were doing,” Knopp said. “That’s why we formed Seeley Lake Veterans and Families.
Veterans and Families of Seeley Lake received non-profit status in March 2013 and is still an active community organization eight years later. Knopp, who is the current president, said the group is not affiliated with any national organization and is not regimented. This allows them more flexibility with the membership and the services they can offer. Anyone related to a veteran can join the group and veterans do not have to have served overseas. Annual membership dues are $15 per person or $25 per family.
“We can do whatever we want when we’re not restricted,” Knopp said. “We are just a group helping other families and veterans in the area.”
As was the original intention, VFSL continued many of the projects started by Post 7992 and the Auxiliary, including Overseas Veteran Care Packages, the annual holiday food drive for the Food Bank Seeley-Swan community and support for SLE students through the backpack program and lunch program. They have also financially supported many of the same organizations and immediate needs within the community.
In September 2013, VFSL signed an agreement with Missoula County to maintain and manage the Veterans Memorial Gardens. Last year they installed a new memorial gazebo. Wooden plaques commemorating veterans have been replaced with metal plaques behind glass and under a roof to help preserve them. VFSL wishes to return the wooden plaques to the relatives of these soldiers. Although many families have been located, they are still looking for relatives of: Jack Archibal, Steve Brodi, Duane Boule, Glenn Brewer, William Butenhuis, Charles Burmeister, Ed Bass, John Burt, Edward Coverdell, Robert Coverdell, Robert Cherry, Warren Cork, EJ Doney, Daniel Hughie Evans, Clyde Elsea, Kenny Freshour, Victor Freeman, Paul Gibson, Erwin Gysler, Gottlieb Heinzmann, Williams “Bill” Hahn, Ronny Holt, Marvin Hayes, George Hart, William Hogan, Donald James, George Kennedy , Alfredo Kinkle, Kenneth Kelly, Kenneth Kellog, Albert Mullenex, Sam Moore, Delwayne Morgan, Robert Nelson, Victor Nethig, Clarence “Bill” Maloney, Russell Maloney, Francis Major, Samuel Moore, Albert Mullenax, Robert Allen Phelps, Kenneth Price, G. Ron Pederson, Leo Perro, Virgel Roeder, George Ruppert, John Ryan, Joe Stover, Raymond Schmidt, Howard Sandbert, William Smithson, Theodore “Ted” Smith, Richard Stauffer, Warren Stone, Herb Townsend, Trent Toms, Henry “Bud “Turner, Pelham You rner, James W. Arrington, Emil Wiitanen, Glenn Walters, Donald Winterrowe, and Jerry Zebarth.
To claim a loved one’s plaque, contact Sharon Ding at 209-639-1718. For more information about VFSL, contact Knopp at 406-677-2543.