Legion on a roll
Spaniard’s Bay branch builds on stable foundation
At a time when many community service organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their very existence, Branch No. 9 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard’s Bay seems to be bucking the trend.
The volunteers who run the branch use words such as “active and vibrant” to desribe the operation, and say there is a wide range of fundraising and social activities in support of veterans and their dependents, and many other community and charitable programs.
And membership is considerably higher — on a proportionate basis — than most other Legion branches across the province and the country, says Jack Chipman, the branch’s public relations officer and secretary of the 2010 executive committee.
“Of the eligible population, age 19 or older, we have a 4.6 per cent participation rate,” Chipman explains. “ The national average is a little over one per cent, while the provincial average is less.
“ We don’t have a problem with membership. We don’t even try,” he says.
Instead, the branch focuses on retention; not recruitment.
The branch serves an area that includes Spaniard’s Bay-Tilton and Bishop’s Cove, with a population of just under 3,000 people. It employs six staff, which is also higher than what many might expect.
“ We’re in good standing,” Chipman says.
And membership statistics cannot fail to impress. A total of 152 names are currently on the roster; up from 133 three years ago.
“Looking at the geographic area, that’s a big membership,” observes Calvin Crane, first vice president and a former president of the provincial command. Crane is also a chaplain and chairman of the poppy
The Spaniard’s Bay branch is part of District No. 2, which also includes branches in Carbonear, Blaketown ( Dildo), Harbour Grace, Upper Island Cove, Bay Roberts and Brigus.
The struggles of the Royal Canadian Legion have been well publicized in recent years. With the number of veterans from past wars shrinking every year, it’s becoming harder and harder for branches to operate. Many have closed or operate at reduced capacity.
The Spaniard’s Bay branch has faced its share of challenges, but not to the same degree, it seems. Why?
Chipman attributes it to what he calls “an attractive branch.”
The 4,000-plus square-foot facility, which is valued at $ 1.85 million in replacement cost, is a major drawing card. Virtually debt-free, it boasts a complete stainless steel kitchen, air conditioning and an elevator.
“ It’s one of the very best in the province,” Chipman suggests.
The facility is bustling every night of the week with activities such as card games, bingo, dart leagues and catering. There are also a wide range of special events throughout the year, including dances and banquets.
The dedication of the membership is also a big factor in its success.
“I’ve been involved in many other organizations, both privately and professionally, and there’s no better group of people than we have here,” Chipman states.
Ladies play a role
One member, 86-year-old John Pauls, who served in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War, is known as “ Mr. Legion.” He’s been a member of Branch No. 9 for 65 years. Jack Mercer, who served in the Korean Conflict, is another long-time and faithful member.
Both have been recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal and Palm Leaf, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a legionnaire.
The ladies auxiliary comes in for fulsome praise.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Chipman says, “they’re the heart and soul of this branch.”
Chipman says the executive committee is also very productive and supportive.
The annual poppy campaign is a Legion highlight. The red poppies worn on lapels serve to recognize veterans, soldiers, peace officers and others who have risked their lives for the freedom we have today.
“ It’s without a doubt one of the most important functions of our branch,” Chipman indicates.
The 2009 poppy campaign was the best since the founding of the branch in 1921.
For the last three years, Branch No. 9 has been the recipient of the national Hughie Connors award, which is based on community performance. The branch is widely and well-recognized for its varied community service, both within and without its purview.
One such charitable program is the annual cystic fibrosis darts tournament. An estimated $60,000 has been donated by the branch during the past three decades.
The Legion is committed to the scholarship and support program of Holy Redeemer school. For the past four years, the branch has prepared more than 700 cold plates. In 2009 alone, the school took in $4,200 from this program.
The Legion annually provides financial support, in the amount of $200 each, to many community-based organizations, and makes an annual donation to all major recognized charities at both the provincial and national levels, upon request.
The branch also has a close relationship with cadets and youth sports programs.
Indeed, the Legion prides itself on refusing no reasonable request for assistance.
In short, the future of the Spaniard’s Bay Legion appears to be very bright.
President App Sheppard acknowledges the willingness of members to “get together on the one thing. We all want to do the best we can.”
Crane adds, “ We’ve had our downs. We’ve had our ups, too. I don’t think we can go any lower and still succeed. So I can only see greater things to come for Branch No. 9.”
The leadership at Branch No. 9 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard’s Bay have plenty to smile about this Remembrance Week. The branch continues to be a stable, vibrant operation, with growing membership and an impressive record of supporting veterans and their families, and community-based organizations. Shown here are, from left, Legionnaires Calvin Crane, App Sheppard and Jack Chipman.