Berthoud’s American Legion Auxiliary maintains Mountain Avenue flags for veterans
By Jan Dowker
As the summer days heat up with the celebration of Independence Day and Fourth of July fireworks, the American Legion Auxiliary Justin Bauer Memorial Unit 67 is celebrating its first year with a number of successes that will continue to enhance the lives of veterans and active-duty military in Berthoud and beyond.
“I think we’ve done an outstanding job,” said Laurel Downer, president of the auxiliary. “The highlight of my year is when we put up the flags on Mountain Avenue. We’ve added 13 more this year for a total of 21. This year we added one dedicated to all soldiers who have served, are serving, or will serve.”
According to Downer, that flag was inspired by the movie “We Were Soldiers.” It’s the auxiliary’s way to say ‘thank you for your service’ to all those who never got the thanks they deserved.
There are a dedicated group of members working to build recognition of the auxiliary’s programs and broaden its advocacy for veterans through education, mentoring youth and promoting patriotism and good citizenship.
This past spring the auxiliary awarded three scholarships to Berthoud High School juniors to attend the 67th session of the American Legion Auxiliary Colorado Girls State held June 8-13 at Western State Colorado University. Kiah Leonard, Lauren Mesikapp and Shelby Eason represented Berthoud at what is described as a program that “develops tomorrow’s leaders” and includes, among its notable participants, a secretary of Homeland Security, state governors, network broadcast journalists, and the first woman to serve as wing commander for the U.S. Air Force.
“Sponsoring three girls in our very first year from the sale of the calendars and the coupon books is something that we’re really proud of,” said Downer. “It is so important to educate our youth on what the founders of this country did, the sacrifices that they made, to help them understand what it means to be a vet and serve our country, to know the history of this country and what it means to be an American.”
As part of its outreach to learn about other area programs, members participated in a field trip to Hearts & Horses Therapeutic Riding Center in Loveland and learned about the Hearts and Horses for Heroes program to help wounded service personnel and veterans in the Loveland-Fort Collins-Greeley area. After seeing the success first-hand, auxiliary members agreed that they want to support the program financially, given its positive impact on veterans.
“We’ve come quite a ways and can support the Hearts and Horses program from the funds that we hope to raise at our fall auction around Veterans Day,” shared Downer. “When you talk to a vet that’s in the Heroes program and hear how much it helps them, that really touches me; that we can help.”
As Mountain Avenue continues to see more of the red, white and blue of American Flags this spring, families continue to purchase flags as a tribute to those who have served or now serve in the military; dog tags hang on each flag in recognition of the person they memorialize. There are 17 poles along Mountain Avenue still available that Downer and the members of the auxiliary hope to fill with flags this year. Each one costs about $60 for a flag, spinner pole, straps and dog tag.
“I’m in awe every time I drive down our main street and see all the flags,” said Downer. “It’s such a beautiful sight.”
“I feel grateful, especially to the one dedicated to past, present and future veterans. I’m totally grateful, especially for the past because they didn’t get recognized the way they should have. If this can be one thing that can show them that people thank them for their service, that it wasn’t in vain, then I’ve done my job.”
Along with the other programs in which they’re involved, the auxiliary takes particular pride in sending care packages to active-duty members of the military who are Berthoud High graduates. Care packages can be sponsored for $15 each, which includes a thank you card from the sponsor to the active-duty recipient to give them a little bit of home.
The main fundraiser for the auxiliary at this time is the sale of the Berthoud Coupon Book that offers discounts on many goods and services at a number of Berthoud businesses who support the auxiliary’s efforts. Proceeds from the sale help to fund the care packages and Berthoud High School scholarships to attend Girls State.
As she reflected on the celebration of the auxiliary’s first year Downer shared, “I hope that people learn more about the veterans in our community and ask ‘how can I help?’ There’s never a day that goes by when I’m not thankful for the sacrifices they made to make my life better.”
For more information on the auxiliary, to sponsor a flag as part of the Mountain Avenue project, or buy a coupon book, please contact American Legion Auxiliary President Laurel Downer at firstname.lastname@example.org.