Small but strong branch
At a time when many community service organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their existence, the Sgt. Levi Hollett Memorial Branch 39 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Dildo is a survivor. It continues as a viable operation because of members’ readiness to be innovative when it faced a dismal future.
“ The setup we have here is quite unique,” president Ira Halfyard toldThe Compasslast week.
From Whitbourne to Dildo
The original branch was organized in Whitbourne in the late 1950s. However, in an attempt at centralization, it was relocated to Blaketown in the early 1970s.
Poppy chairman Eric Janes says it was impossible to maintain the building with the death of veterans. “ We were going in the red more and more every day,” he adds.
The branch moved again, this time to Dildo, where it has been for the last three years. Its catchment area extends from Heart’s Delight to Norman’s Cove.
The branch is named in memory of Sgt. Levi Hollett, a Second World War veteran who lived in Blaketown. He won several awards, including the Croix de guerre and distinguished conduct medal.
Rather than erect a building in Dildo, members decided to go a different route by entering into a business relationship with Good Will Lodge No. 84 of the Society of United Fishermen (SUF).
The branch now rents the downstairs and has access to the upstairs, including the kitchen and bar. Even the SUF holds the liquor licence.
“ The rent we’re paying is a gift,” Janes says. The agreement is negotiated on a yearly basis.
No better arrangement could have been made, Legionnaires insist.
Janes attributes the branch’s strength to the “open arms of the SUF.”
The proceeds from the sale of the building in Blaketown were invested in order to generate additional revenue.
There are some 50 names on the membership roster, but only 20 or so attend the monthly meetings. Membership chairman George Brown praises the dedicated and hard-working members, while Halfyard says the “Legion is not a building, but the people.” The branch is indebted to volunteers like 85year-old Mahalla Reid of Old Shop who was once known as the “ heartbeat of the Legion,” he adds.
An active branch
The branch carries on a brisk slate of activities. For example, it caters to four to five events annually; sponsors cadet corps; donates to the fire department and Trinity Conception Placentia Health Foundation; supports the cenotaphs in Heart’s Delight, New Harbour, Dildo, Whitbourne and Norman’s Cove; and co-ordinates the provincial Remembrance Literary and Poster contest. And that’s only part of what they do.
“It spreads us very thin when we all have to show up (at events),” says member Marj Higdon.
Members are fulsome in their praise of the route their branch took in seeking to survive.
“ This may be the way to go in the future,” Brown says. “Other branches are going to have to look at it.” Those branches unwilling to co-operate with other organizations will “ fall by the wayside,” he adds.
Longtime SUF member Gerald Smith calls the mutually beneficial relationship a “perfect situation” that sets a “precedent other (organizations) need to take heed to.”
Numbers not growing
Higdon laments, “sad to say, our numbers are not growing.” Only six people have joined the branch in the last two years.
While students heavily support Remembrance Day events, all members want to see greater involvement by young people.
Janes wonders if there’s a public misconception about Legion membership. Any 18year-old Canadian is welcome to join, he says. Individual branches, along with Provincial and Dominion Command, must “push this issue,” he suggests.
Meanwhile, he encourages branches to enlist the so-called “new” vets, including those who have served in Afghanistan.
Halfyard speaks for all members when he says, “ When everything else is gone, Legions will still survive.”