Our local Legion: A history of the American Legion Auxiliary, Unit 20

A junior member of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 20 helps a veteran select a gift for his family at Idaho State Veterans Home in Pocatello. The gifts come at no cost to the veterans.

For a century, the American Legion has been taking care of veterans throughout the United States.

Chartered by Congress Sept. 16, 1919, the organization’s focus was on service to veterans, service members and communities. Along with the American Legion came the American Legion Auxiliary, which holds claim to the largest women’s patriotic service organization.

The American Legion Post in Rigby was organized Aug. 9, 1919, more than a month before the charter, according to Pat Scott, author of “The Hub of Eastern Idaho: A History of Rigby.” The post was named “The Lloyd Crystal Post” to honor the first World War I casualty of Jefferson County.

Two decades later, the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) of Lloyd Crystal Post was officially chartered Jan. 3, 1939. It is unknown why it took 20 years from the establishing of the American Legion in 1919 to the formal chartering of a local Auxiliary.

With reported legal action concerning the ownership of the meeting building, the local Legion post had had no consistent meeting place over the years. Members aged, moved or died, yet the post and Auxiliary remained active.

In 1995 existing Auxiliary members met to select Girls State delegates. Little else is known of the Auxiliary Unit 20 history prior to the 2000s. It is reported that a previous president who moved from the area had a box of records from Unit 20, and at her death, a daughter requested the records be held until she could retrieve them. The connection was never made and it is believed that the records were destroyed, including the original Charter and membership roster.

In the 2000s, several members continued faithfully to pay their dues in order to retain the Charter, yet meetings were not held regularly. The Unit was relatively inactive for a time. Secretary/Treasurer Launa Thomas maintained the checkbook to process dues and pay postage or other bills.

The ALA began to be revitalized in the 2010s, when Bird Derrick invited friends Patricia Waddell and Waddell’s adult daughter Marci Benson to become members, which they did. Benson and Derrick worked together to promote the ALA Americanism essay contest in Rigby and Rexburg schools that year. As a result of their efforts, 161 students from Rigby submitted entries and approximately 40 were gathered from the Rexburg schools.

In February 2011, Derrick met with school personnel at Rigby High School and Jefferson Alternative School to promote ALA scholarships, making presentation in four classrooms and sharing applications with the Certified Nursing Assistant program instructor and guidance office personnel. In the same month, an ad was placed in The Jefferson Star for three weeks to try to revitalize interest in the organization and invite current and potential members to meet at Me ‘N’ Stan’s in Rigby.

On February 19, 2011, three interested women met with ALA members Louisa Norton and Bird Derrick. District 7 President LaDene Weise and District 7 Unit Revitalization Chairman Lianne Christesen came to inform and support the efforts to revive Unit 20. As a result of that meeting, Sandra (Sandi) Beckman, her daughter Radene (Rae) Huntsman became new senior members and Courtney Huntsman — Rae Huntsman’s 17-year-old daughter — became the unit’s only active junior member.

According to a 2011 article in The Jefferson Star, Courtney was the driving force behind her mother and grandmother joining the ALA. The ALA requires members be related in some form to a veteran, and since Beckman’s husband was a veteran, all three family members could join.

Unit 20 had become an active unit again, but meanwhile, Cregg-Sloan Dubois Unit 328 had recently lost its charter due to decreased membership. Joann Tavenner, a member of Unit 328, polled members in writing about whether they would like to transfer their membership to Rigby. Connie Barg, Eileen Bennett, Lauralee Ercanbeck, Nancy Frederiksen and Joann Tavenner approved the transfer.

On April 16, 2011, Unit 20 members met at Crown of Life Lutheran Church after being welcomed by Dave Schilling, the church’s minister. The unit also welcomed Tavenner to the meeting. During the meeting, the unit kicked off one of their first service projects since becoming active again, preparing 50 Easter cards for residents of Idaho Veterans Home in Pocatello. The cards were mailed a few days later on April 25.

In 2019, the Unit 20 roster claims 21 senior and three junior members. Membership includes those from Dubois and Mud Lake, who have been absorbed into the unit. Unit 20 members continue to be active. Each year they recruit delegates to Girls State, with 14 girls from Rigby, West Jefferson and Clark County High Schools having attended this year in June. Members also participate in the annual food convoy to Idaho State Veterans Homes in Pocatello and Boise.

Former Unit 20 members have since gone on to live in Utah, western Idaho and Washington. Some earlier members have let their membership lapse. Meanwhile, three current Unit 20 members have been with the unit since joining in 1955, 1969 and 1972.

As of 2019, all male and female veterans honorably discharged from any branch of the military after Dec. 7, 1941 are eligible to join the American Legion. Eligibility for membership to the ALA can be found at alaforveterans.org. Call 208-520-4710 to join Unit 20 in Rigby or for additional information about youth programs, scholarships and contests.