Post History Continued
James K. Byrd (1978-1980) A Charter Member, it was Mr. Byrd's brainstorm, and his alone to organize a Veterans Post in Vail, and he was also its first leader, serving Post 109 for two terms. The first as Chairman of the organizational committee that applied for the temporary charter in October of 1978, and upon its arrival 9 Jan.1979, he became the first "elected" Post Commander. It was during this time that the decision was made to name this new Post in honor of President JFK. Mr. Byrd was re-elected in May of 1979 to serve as Commander for the Legion year of 1979-1980. Our permanent charter arrived 13 March 1980. On its arrival he sponsored & supported the drive to organize and charter our Ladies Auxiliary Unit 109. Also, early in 1980, the Post leased from the State, 5 acres of land located between the "Vail Steak House" and the old Vail "Post Office." This lease was sold to Mr. Pete Cobb in early 1985 during the administration of Comm. Al Laier. The general membership meetings in those days were held at the Vail Steak House, then owned by Elmer "Pete" Cobb, a charter member and his wife Dee. From time to time, Pete would become somewhat annoyed at the conduct of some of the membership during and following the general membership meetings in his establishment, for various reasons which resulted in his denying us the privilege of meeting there every now and then. The meetings were then conducted at Vail's "Santa Rita Catholic Church Annex facility, until Pete would allow us to return. These alternating meeting arrangements continued until the term of Willard Edwards, in 1985. In any event, JFK Post 109 was off and running. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Paul K. Shelton (1980-1981) was a Charter Member, and in an effort to raise funds, he had the Post sponsor "Trail Rides" in conjunction with the newly organized Ladies Auxiliary Unit. These annual "rides" lasted all day, beginning with a trailside breakfast, cooked and served at the corrals located about 2 tenths of a mile south of Sahuarita & Davidson Roads. The riders then proceeded south into the Santa Rita Mountains, where a lunch was served near another set of corrals east of what is locally known as "Fagan Lake". After the lunch, the riders returned to the starting point, arriving at their leisure. This day long event proved to be very popular, and brought the needed funds to maintain a small Post. The "trail ride" idea was the concept of Jane Celaya, wife of our 3rd Commander. Also during this administration, another fund raising event was conducted. Tickets sold for $5.00, and first prize was a two week trip for two, to Hawaii. Second was a rifle, and third a small TV. The official drawing of winning tickets was held at the Santa Rita Church Annex, by Father Ray. The Post was in serious trouble, as there was not enough money to pay for the prize's. But the main prize, the trip to Hawaii was won by a Post member who sensed the trouble we were in prior to the drawing, and so purchased a couple of hundred dollars worth of tickets. Fortunately for the Post, one of them won. As there were not enough funds in the coffers to pay for this trip, the individual Post members, would legally have had to come up with the funds needed, as we were not yet an "Incorporated" organization and not protected under Arizona Statute laws. The Post had not yetcompiled our own by-laws. We were operating under the National American Legion suggestd by-laws. A small committee had been named Comm. Shelton to develop by-laws for Post 109. this was done and they were approved by the membership during A. A. Celaya's first term. Our "winner" donated the funds we did have left, about $800.00 dollars, to the Post, providing that it be used to initiate our first Post "building fund. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Antonio A. Celaya (1981-1982-1983), Charter Member became the first Commander to be ELECTED to two consecutive terms. The Post by-laws were formally adopted under his administration in a regular meeting assembled at Vail, AZ., on 3 July 1981, and formally signed by the Commander and Post Adjutant. It was also under his leadership that the Post's name was changed from JFK Post 109 to McCulloch-Wagner Post 109 in honor of two Vail area Veterans, and approved by the National American Legion Office on 8 July 1983. The "trail rides" continued to be sponsored and continued to be successful under his leadership.
William C. Warner (1983-1984), another Charter Member became our fourth Commander. It was in "Bills" back yard where the early Executive Committee meetings were held, beneath a few Mesquite trees for shade, and with cool refreshments handy. It was during this administration that the Post was "incorporated" in the State of Arizona. The "trail rides" continued to be successful and provided necessary operating funds. He also served in many other Post Positions over the years, including Post Finance Officer. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Alvis "Al" Laier (1984-1985) He continued to support and promote the advancement of the Post. It was during his administration that the 5 acres of leased land where the Post is now located, was obtained and later purchased from the State. He also supervised the sale of the 5 acres of leased land the Post had in Vail to Elmer "Pete" Cobb. Mr. Laier is the only Post Commander, as of this writing, to transfer to the Post Everlasting while still in office, in May of 1985. The Post Sr. Vice Commander, Mr. George Molera served out the remaining month and a half of Commander Laier's term. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Willard Edwards (1985-1986) Under his leadership, the first Post home, a double wide trailer mobile home was installed and remodeled for Post needs, and we began conducting our Post meeting's here. It was located where the F-4-E is now moored. Our popular Saturday and Sunday "Country Breakfasts" began in this double wide mobile unit during the Edwards administration. This mobile unit was sold in 1988. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Vernon C. Williamson (1986-1987) Has been, and continues to be one of the Post's greatest assets. He has served as Finance Officer several times in addition to being our Commander, and was the driving force in securing our land, license permits and other legal transactions needed to build the Post. He was the driving force behind constructing our first on site building, which housed the post Dining Room, Kitchen and restrooms. The "bingo" operation also began under his tenure. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Douglas McKenzie (1987-1988) His administration continued the ongoing construction, and when ready, moved the Post operations into its new quarters, which at that time was composed of the kitchen, dining and bathrooms only. Tom Laier (son of Comm. Al Laier) was the general contractor with Richard Chermack volunteering his construction supervisory skills. Other volunteers include, but not limited to; Bob La Duke, Will Jansen, George Molera, Virgil Smith, and Bill Warner. Grant Davis did the rest rooms, cabinets and trim. O. B. Taylor donated a sound system. Laier construction also poured the early sidewalks. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
William C. Warner (1988-1989), a Charter Member became the second Commander elected to serve a second term. It was during this time that the Office, and the "Old Bar Room", known to all as the "Green Room" and later became the Auxiliary's room, and then an extension of the main dining room, was added on plus an outside storage unit. But upon its completion, it actually became a storage room. The Green Room Bar/Lounge was later opened for business in October of 1992. It had a short "bar " with four stools and about four tables. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
George Molera (1989-1990), a Charter Member secured much of the Post kitchen equipment. His acquaintance with and knowledge of other area Legion Posts was very beneficial to our Post. The Ladies Auxiliary purchased dishes, glasses, silverware and other items during this administration. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Richard Highsmith ( 1990-1991) Maintained the forward direction of the Post by organizing a "Boy Scout Troop # 770", with Post 109 as its sponsor. The Troop began with 10 new Scouts and today, is still an active Troop sponsored by Post 109. In May of 1999 he played a huge roll in the success of Post 109's American Legion Boys State Program, when for the first time, we sponsored the participation of four local youths attending that years Program, held at NAU, in Flagstaff. Also, he was "named" the Dept. of Arizona Legionnaire of the year 2002, and received his honors at the Fall Conference in Lake Havasu City, AZ 31 October, 2003. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
D. A. "Rocky" Jensen (1991-1992) Secured several tables and chairs and other needed items for the Post, and kept the Post headed in the right direction. Later transferred to Post 7, where he remained active in Post 7 affairs as well as District # 2, becoming a member of its Ritual (Installation) team.
Robert Dresslar (1992-1993) Applied for and received the Post Liquor license (Oct 92) and constructed a bar in what became the Ladies Auxiliary room, and appointed a committee to amend the Post by-laws. Several changes were approved by the membership on 6 October 1992, including Article V, Selection of Officers, Section 5, addressing how the elections are conducted; and article VII, Committee's, Section 5d, allowing the Executive Committee to lease/rent any or all the real property of the Post. His administration also set up the barbecue facilities and Del Bedsaul initiated the Saturday Night Steak Fry's and O. B. Taylor began serving fish on Fridays which task was later transferred to "Cowboy" Neil Thrall. Later on, in January of 1998, this fish fry event was turned over to the SAL, and is currently run by the Auxiliary. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Juan Escalante (1993-1994-1995) was the third Commander to serve two terms. He was instrumental in working with Ernie Salazar in procuring the F-4-E Phantom Jet moored at our Post, which has since become an area landmark. He also actively promoted the organization of our SAL Squadron 109. But it never became fully active. He later became the Department Area "A" Vice Commander for the Legion year 1998-1999.
Kenneth Greene (1995-1996) Was elected to, and served one term.
Carl K. Dasher (1996-1997) Was responsible for expanding the Post building, adding on a Bar/Lounge area and east patio. Major construction was done by Carl, Will Jansen, Neil Thrall, Gene Gerhard, Bill Thompson, Jim LaDuke, Ken Greene, George Molera, Virgil Smith and several others. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Richard Highsmith (1997) Was elected by the membership to a second term, but served only four months, resigning under pressure, from a conflict of interest with a small segment of the executive committee, who regularly and intentionally, boycotted the executive committee meetings. The result of these boycotts was that a quorum could not be established, as other committee members not associated with the boycott were often out of town for the summer. The end result was that no formal Post business could be conducted and approved. But he did, on his own, authorize and purchased a steel "safe' which has proved to be a valuable asset to the Post. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
Arthur L. McMahon (1997-1998-1999) a Charter Member, was elected as a write in candidate for Jr. Vice Commander. Following his election, three weeks later he became Sr. Vice Commander after the resignation of the individual actually elected to that office. Upon the resignation of Commander Highsmith, he then became the Post Commander. As a result of all the turmoil, the Post was now without the services of a Sr. Vice Commander, a Jr. Vice Commander and a Finance Officer. But he completed the remaining time of the Highsmith term, and in May of 1998 was elected to serve a full year term of his own. Many improvements to the Post property and programs were initiated during his tenure, including the SAL squadron reactivation, a "Volunteer of the Month" and Year program, the "yard arm" flagpole installation which was dedicated on Memorial Day of 98 to the memory of John R. Browning. A new metal "front gate" was constructed and installed, as well as the new iron fence from the front gate to the south property line plus the south patio and barbeque pit was rebuilt and enlarged and a computer was purchased and installed in the office for Post use, and the outstanding mortgages ($40,000) were retired.
Al Miller (1999-2000) Under his leadership the Houghton Road metal fence was completed from the "new gate" north to the property line. He had air conditioning installed in the Lounge area. Smokemasters were added, and the bar was remodeled to allow the installation of an ice machine. Pennants (flags) representing all the branches of the military were added to the John R. Browning Memorial Flag Pole site. A new PA system was purchased. Al's biggest accomplishment was to have the forsight to recognize the need for an expanded post home building to support the growing community of Corona, Sahuarita and Vail. Al donated the first $100.00 and had his finance officer, Vern Williamson, open a New Building Fund Account. It marked the beginning of a long journey to raise funds, culminating in ground breaking ceremonies on Memorial Day of 2006 during Jeff McIntyre's first year as commander. Following the completion of his term at Post 109, he became Commander of District #2, Department of Arizona for the Legion year of 2000-2001.
Will Jansen (2000-2001) Several changes were implemented during his turn at the helm, first and foremost, citing his own comments that "if we didn't do anything else, we did increase the building fund and over the year deposited $31,000.00 in it." But he did more. Changes in the "Post Volunteer of the Month" award were adopted regarding qualifications for a member to be nomination. The week-end volunteer kitchen breakfast help program was also modified in an attempt to attract more members willing to staff the kitchen for our week-end breakfasts. He was required to make an unpopular (but necessary) decision to stop conducting our annual "Veterans Day Parade". There were several reasons for this, some of which was (a) declining public attendance (b) lack of support, or approval from the County Highway Dept. and the Sheriff's office (c) a public liability insurance increase, which made it financially difficult to justify. Other type's of programs were held on the Post property to celebrate this Veteran's Day event, and they proved to be successful. Under his forceful leadership, membership continued to grow and the Post made its Department goal, for the 10th straight year.
Caroline J. Lake (2001-2002) Post 109's first Lady Commander. During her tenure the Post Color Guard was formed and completed their first "official" duties posting the colors at the Post Memorial Day Services, 27 May 2002. The dinning room was expanded to accommodate 24-32 more diners, and the Post Headquarters Building received a "new roof." A communications company approached the Post seeking permission to erect a "tower" on Post property, which was politely refused. Post 109 also purchased from the VA Hospital, two bricks in the name of our Post namesakes, Fred McCulloch and Robert Wagner. These bricks will be placed in the "Commemorative Park" at the entrance to the new outpatient clinic. For the 11th continuous year, our goal as established by the Department was met. In 2004 Caroline was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. (Transferred to the Post Everlasting)
William L. Eberle (2002-2003) This Commander began by establishing three goals for the year. The were to increase the Post involvement with the local Tucson VA; to become more of a focal point in the community and also to establish a scholarship fund for two graduating students from our two local high schools. All three goals were achieved. The VA participation included increased community funds being donated to the VA specifically for the homeless program; more (20) Post members enrolling as volunteers at the VA; conducting a picnic for patients there; placing commemorative bricks in the name(s) of deceased PPC at the entrance to the new Outpatient Clinic. He conducted several radio & TV interviews to inform the community of the Post activities. Two $500.00 scholarship's were created in January 2003, for 2 of our local high school seniors due to the generosity of 6 Legion members, but due the local school administrations lack of interest, no scholarship funds were awarded. The Post received a request from Cali Knowlden a member of our local "Girl Scout Troop" to restore the Post F-4 "Phantom Thunderbird" aircraft, 66-0294 to its 1973 USAF "Thunderbird" paint scheme. It was approved by the USAF and should be completed in late 2003. For the 12th consecutive year, we have made of membership Department goal. A large TV screen was installed in the Post Lounge as well as new bar stools, and approximately $20,000.00 was added to the Post building Fund.
Arthur L. McMahon (2003-2004) Charter Member became the first three term Post Commander. Some of the more relevant events during this Legion year were (1) the Post Newsletter, the Scuttlebutt became a bi-monthly publication (2) the Post kitchen was closed during the month of August, for the first time, to give all of the Volunteers a break; (3) a Post By-Laws committee was formed and 15 amendments were approved by the membership; (4) a Building committee was formed with the goal of developing a plan for Post expansion. Their plan was submitted to the membership at the May General Membership meeting, & approved (5) Termites were discovered in the kitchen/dinning area in November, and successfully eradicated in December (6) Our front fence, gate and flagpole was repainted; (7) the F-4e "Thunderbird" restoration project was completed in late March. and our Post Memorial Day Service including recognition of this project was conducted 31 May; (8) The Post once again attained its Dept. annual membership goal of 414, ending the year with membership at 433; (9) The Post Public Relations Chairman, Ernie Salazar's PR records book entree at the Dept. Annual Conference won first place in our Post category; (10) Our Post Color Guard (ladies all) competed for the first time in the Dept. of AZ. Uniformed Groups, in Chandler and placed first in our category, and second overall; (11) Dick Highsmith was selected as Arizona's Legionnaire of the Year and (12) Caroline Lake was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame, along with others from throughout our State. It was a busy, successful year, thanks to all our volunteer's who came through with extra efforts!
Al Miller (2004-2005) entered his second tour as Post Commander, directing his administration to continue Post growth in many area's, some of which were (1) re-appointing the existing Post Building Committee chaired by Del Bedsaul to keep up their efforts in planning and coordinating the Post expansion & building program (2) support for programs advantageous to our youth, community and veterans (3) ran another successful "summer sizzler golf tournament "coordinated by Pat and George Soetaert (4) added a new group of members to the Post, the "American Legion Riders", also sanctioned by the National American Legion Headquarters. This is a group of Motorcyclists consisting of legionnairs, auxilliary members and S.A.L. members who assist the Post in many of its program's goals (5) in cooperation with our local fire Chief Bruce Whitehouse, had a new "Fire Hydrant" installed in front of the Post, which was needed for Post expansion. (6) hosted another "Annual Golf Tournament" the most financially successful yet, again coordinated by the Soetaerts. These tournaments are one of the major fund raisers for the Post Building fund, and this year cane up with 5K. (7) the Post again, for the 14th consecutive year exceeded its membership goal, by ending the year with a total of 474 members. (8) the Post Color Guard, now called the "Lady Phantoms" once again demonstrated their proficiency by placing first place in the Ladies Auxiliary Category second in overall points at the Department Convention. It was another busy, successful year, thanks to all our membership and volunteers.
Jeff McIntyre (2005 -2006- 2007) Jeff made major strides in making the new building a reality. Ground breaking took place on Veteran's Day 2006 after years of fundraising by the post and 2 years of work by Del Bedsaul working with city planners, architects, builders, pavers, landscapers and more. By the end of his second term, the new building was finished on the outside and tied into the old building by a covered patio, both buildings were painted red, white, and blue in keeping with our color scheme for the F4-E Phantom, the parking lot was paved, striped and landscaping was in progress. New lighting was installed around the F4-E illuminating it from both approach directions from Houghton. In 2005 the post broke the 500 membership ceiling for post legionnaire members thanks to active membership drives and community outreach. In August of 06, during the monthly shut down of the kitchen, volunteers removed the equipment and totally renovated the inside of the kitchen: new tile walls, new concrete finished flooring, built in drawers and cabinets. The equipment was throughly steam cleaned and reinstalled. A new stove hood fire suppression system capped off the renovation. The Post reached another milestone In 2006, obtaining 100% membership by 31 Dec for the first time in recent memory. Jeff ushered the post into a new technological age--new computing and copying equipment, high speed broadband internet, a hi-fi portal for members to use anywhere on post property, ATM machine for membership and security equipment to reduce financial losses. Jeff procured the capability to download membership from the National data base via the AIM system provided by the American Legion bringing in new technology for the post adjutant and modernized our web site by joining the National Legionsite.com sanctioned websites. In addition, the ALR installed a computer in the lounge for members to use free of charge. ALR membership has soarded to over 50 in 2 short years. The "Lady Phantoms" continued to improve their drill and ceremony, garnering first place once again in the Ladies Auxilliary Category at not only the Department Convention, but at the American Legion National Convention held in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006.
Lance Hurst (2007 -2008 - 2009 ) who also served the Post as 2nd Vice Commander (2004-2005), 1st Vice Commander (2005-2006) and for over 4 1\2 years (2002-2007) as the Editor for the Post newsletter, the Scuttlebutt.
Under Commander Hurst's tenure, one of the "notable" accomplishments during his tour of duty included the completion of the "Thunderbird Lounge". Following the completion of the exterior portion of the new building, he took on the task of finishing the interior portion, which include instalation of lighting, the walk in cooler, HVAC, acid staining of the floor and considrable work on the grounds, and finally made it to the finish line and conducted the "Grand Opening" on Veterans Day, 9 Nov 2008, and were open for business on a daily basis on 15 Nov 2008.
Additionally, during the winter months of 2008-2009, a renovation of the our original older building began by removing the wall between the old bar and dining room as well as the office. New floor tile was then installed in the area of the old office, plus the old wall and pool table area, and an accordian style wall was installed. The building's air conditining system was also upgraded to provide air conditioining to the entire building.
A retaining wall on the south side of both building's was constructed with the help of Mike Stebbens of the UP Railroad, who obtained 250 railroad ties for the wall, and constructed professionally by several Post 109 members.
Under Commander Hurst's leadership, Post 109 successfully made its Department membership goal both years, and at the end of his terms our Post Membership stood at 637. This means that for 17 years in a row, Post 109 has posted a 100% + membership record..
Following his tours of duty in elective office's for Post 109, Lance was elected in 2009 to serve as a Vice Commander for District # 2.
Tom Andrews (2009 - 2010 )
Jackie Salter-Miller (2010 - 2011 )
John Suhay (2011 - 2012)
Denny Deatherage (2012 - 2013)
John Suhay (2013 - 2014)
Abner Garris (2014-2015-2016) continued the work of previous Commanders and ultimately completed the installation of the Post kitchen’s walk-in refrigerator and freezer. This allowed for consolidation of all of the Post entities meal preparation assets and the reduction of power consumption. This was to be one of many changes in the Post’s operating procedures and business practices over the two years.
Under Commander Garris’ tenure, one of the notable accomplishments during his time as Commander included the institution of employees at the Post and the establishment of financial best business practices. This action brought the Post within the legal limits of Federal and State Labor Laws and it helped to ensure that the Post could withstand scrutiny of audits and investigations. These business practices will help to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have an American Legion Post home in the future as well as protect the Post from future law suits as seen in previous commands. Future visions of Post 109 in future years began as a conversation and eventually became plans and drawings which would expand on Post 109 grounds and assets.
Commander Garris ushered in a time of not only supporting Veterans and their families but also helping the Post to focus on the community and its youth. The Post continued sponsorship of Boy Scout Troop 770 by providing a Troop home and supporting Scout and Eagle Projects. The Post began sponsoring and supporting the Cienega JROTC program with mentorship, activities, funding, and involvement of the JROTC Cadets and leadership in Post activities. All of these activites will help to ensure our Nation and Military will have well trained and mentored future leaders.
Following his tours of duty as Commander of Post 109, Abner was elected in 2016 to serve as the Vice Commander for Post 109.
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