Children and Youth … A Prime Concern of the Legion
During those very early years of The American Legion, many veterans must have thought in terms of words of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 as he anticipated the end of the Civil War. He said, “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” In those days, an orphan was any child denied the care and guidance of home life.
The charter convention of The American Legion was in Minneapolis in 1919. Just three years later, at the national convention in New Orleans, the first Child Welfare Committee was formed. In a very real sense, this was a realistic reaction to the murder of four Legionnaires at the 1919 Armistice Day Parade in Centralia, WA. This murder, carried out by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, became a warning that there still were people opposed to the American ideals for which our doughboys had fought. With that realization, the concern of Legionnaires for the future of this nation through the youth became a prime concern.
Those early years of the Child Welfare Committee were dedicating a series of “billets” around the country to serve as homes for the children of veterans who had no home. They came to the conclusion very quickly that this was not the real answer. As early as 1924 the need was recognized that funds were needed to help the children of disabled veterans and the families where the veteran’s life was sacrificed in the war. The 1924 national convention established a goal of $5,000,000 as an endowment fund for this purpose.
The goal for North Dakota was $25,000. North Dakota was not only one of the first departments to meet its goal, but it exceeded the goal by $15,000, raising a total of $40,000.
By 1925, the Child Welfare Division became an integral part of this fledgling veterans group and went on from there. The $5,000,000 raised became the financial foundation for what we know as the Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program.
The early emphasis of the Child Welfare Division was for children of veterans. But that soon changed to a concern for all children. The new motto was: “A square deal for every child.” Under that banner, there was an emphasis on meeting individual needs through the TFA, participating in legislative activities and cooperating with other agencies to make life better for all children. In 1945, a grant of $50,000 from The American Legion and the Auxiliary to a struggling American Heart Association put that organization on the map to stay.
In 1978, another grant from The American Legion made the Special Olympics a viable and ongoing organization. With the beginning of the Persian Gulf War in 1990, the Family Support Network was formed. In addition to time given, over $350,000 was sent to assist families of servicemen.
A number of changes were made through the years. The name became the Children and Youth Commission in 1947.
The Child Welfare Foundation became a reality in 1954. Where the TFA was designed to reach out to individual families, the Child Welfare Foundation was designed to make grants to other groups already in place to help families, and especially children; one was a mental health grant which ultimately led to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The Children and Youth emphasis of the Legion also has been felt in North Dakota. The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo still was struggling to find its place and role in 1989. That’s when the Child Welfare Foundation stepped in with a grant of $22,300 for the “I wish the hitting would stop” project.
The “square deal for every child” emphasis of the National Children and Youth Commission included prevention, information, legislation and financial assistance.
With emphasis on family life, juvenile delinquency prevention, safety program, drug and alcohol awareness and legislative input on programs that affect youth, the Children and Youth emphasis made noteworthy differences in the state and nation.
Through the years, The American Legion Children and Youth Commission has been involved in efforts toward immunization, less violence and vandalism in the schools, reducing child pornography, improving nutrition, research into catastrophic illness among children and drug trafficking prevention, plus numerous other programs to make life better for children and youth. Perhaps one of the most recent was the $25,000 grant which made possible a film warning people through the state and country of the dangers of Ryes Syndrome.
The Child Welfare Program in North Dakota “made the news” at the national level with its over-subscription in the $5,000,000 fund drive in 1925. Other efforts in those early years were geared toward efforts to help purchase playground equipment at the San Haven Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Dunseith; efforts to secure legislation for college scholarships for children of veterans who had been killed in action, and providing help to families of veterans with children. During the years 1927-34, an average of $1,500 per year was provided. This was a good deal of money in the heart of the depression.
By 1938, a total of $6,617 was provided to help families with medical bills, food, fuel and clothing needs, sending kids to summer camps and providing food baskets at Christmas.
During the ensuing years, the efforts were dedicated to: education concerning needs, focusing attention on public institutions to assist children, consultation services available, and an effort was begun on driver education. Methods were established in 1953 to help families and children in need.
1. To provide temporary emergency relief from the American Legion Endowment Fund and other Legion resources for children of veterans.
2. To encourage governmental units and communities to provide means and resources for the care and protection of children.
3. To assist the Legion departments in the organization of child welfare work to the end that the children of veterans in need will receive the necessary service and aid from existing public and private sources.
Nationally, it had been suggested that each department would have a child welfare chairman plus one from the Auxiliary and one from the 40 et 8. They also suggested that each district have the same team. In North Dakota, it was determined that these teams be established on a regional rather than a district level, although they did work toward a district chairman in each district.
In 1954, the Department of North Dakota hosted the Area D Child Welfare Conference in Fargo. From that conference, three principle goals were established:
1. To preserve the integrity of the family home.
2. To maintain a “whole child” program with due regard for all the needs of children – physical, spiritual, emotional and educational.
3. To cooperate and strengthen other sound organizations and agencies for children.
“Need A Lift,” the new American Legion handbook on scholarships was first distributed in North Dakota by the Child Welfare Committee in 1958. The Department Chairman of Child Welfare, Donald R. Kuehn, represented the state at the White House Conference on Children in 1959. By 1960, expenditures for child welfare in North Dakota totaled $114,515.66 serving 969 children. Besides that, 2,610 families were aided by service help. Family life, even in North Dakota, had taken serious steps backwards following World War II.
New child welfare goals were established in 1961:
1. Combat juvenile delinquency.
2. Have an active child welfare chairman in every post—North Dakota became the first department to achieve this goal in 1967.
3. Strengthen our physical fitness program. Support the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
4. Review our state adoption laws.
5. Cooperate with organizations to help the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children.
6. Provide assistance to the children with physical handicaps. Support the existing organizations that are helping these children.
For the first time, in 1962, North Dakota won the reporting trophy for 100 percent of its posts submitting consolidated reports. This has continued every year since then – 33 consecutive years through 1994. No other department is close to this record.
By 1965, expenditures in the state were over $157,000 for children and youth. That same year, total national expenditures exceeded $8 million. By the mid-70s, North Dakota’s American Legion posts were spending over $250,000 a year, and the national American Legion had exceeded $11 million.
After the new North Dakota charitable gaming Law became operative in 1977, this source of income provided opportunities for American Legion posts to expand their financial support of youth activities.
Throughout the decade of the 1980s, expenditures by statewide Legion posts averaged an all-time high of $1,437,000 in annual contributions to ward Children and Youth programs, Americanism activities for youth, support of health agencies and miscellaneous community service donations in which well over 6,000 young people each year were the primary benefactors.
That figure represents 93 percent of the aggregate post disbursements for worthy programs and activities. The other seven percent was expended for aid to veterans, contributions for VA Volunteer Services to veterans in health care facilities and disbursements for post uniformed groups such as musical units and ceremonial teams. Altogether, statewide Legionnaires averaged 48,627 volunteer hours per year in delivering these community services during the decade.
On the national level, with 44% of the posts reporting, over $15 million was spent in 1980 for activities benefitting children and youth, rising to over $45 million in 1990 when 55% of the posts submitted reports.
The American Legion and its Department of North Dakota continue to be very strong forces in helping to make our state and nation a better place for children and youth to grow and develop in a healthy manner.
American Legion Baseball in North Dakota Ranks Among Top Programs in the Nation
About 66 years ago, The American Legion’s baseball program took shape in North Dakota. From rag-tag teams often playing on makeshift ballparks put together by Legion posts, the program grew nationally and became the largest organized youth baseball activity in the country.
Legion baseball’s birthplace and year was Milbank, SD, in 1925. South Dakota Legionnaires passed a baseball resolution at their department convention that year. The Department of North Dakota entered the game then also. Each department asked national’s Americanism commission to help develop and support the spreading sandlot activity as an Americanism program to encourage healthful recreation, sportsmanship, citizenship, loyalty, team spirit and self-reliance. It was an investment in American youth, they said.
From that joint entreaty, the national convention adopted baseball as an American Legion national program that since has had more than $12 million spent on it annually in recent years by Legion posts and countless value added by Legionnaires volunteering time and talents. A notable result of the program is that about 70 per cent of the major league players are graduates of American Legion baseball programs. Nearly a quarter of a million boys play Legion ball each summer.
The first national tournament was held in 1926. In North Dakota, competition started in 1928, and the ubiquitous Jack Williams, the state adjutant, was the first department athletic officer. Williams directed the first state tournament that year in Minot. Linton became the first North Dakota Junior Legion baseball champion, as it was initially called.
Various plans have been used in play down to determine state champions to qualify for regional competition. A two class system was started in 1949, modified in 1973 and remodified in 1993 to its present plan, which provides small town teams an equal opportunity to advance to the state tournament.
Eight state Legion champions went on to win regional titles: Enderlin (1930, 1940), Fargo (1933, 1969, 1989, 1992), Drayton (1958) and Grand Forks (1967). Grand Forks, in 1967, and Fargo, in 1969 and 1992, had the distinction of playing in the Legion World Series until they were eliminated.
During the past four decades, between 40-50% of our statewide posts have been active in The American Legion baseball program—this percentage ranks high among the top departments. In that period, post sponsorship of Legion baseball teams ranged from 92 to 121, and the 41-year average (1954-1994) was 105 teams playing Legion ball.
Legion Baseball State Champions
North Dakota Class B Champs
B Teams Reclassified Class A in 1973
In 1973, former Class B teams were moved into the Class A division, with just eight of the previous Class A teams in the large cities going into a new Class AA grouping. The new Class A structure consisted of four regions of four districts each, with the regional champs competing in the state finals with four Class AA teams, two from east and two from the west, advancing from divisional competition to the double-elimination tournament to determine the state champion to represent North Dakota in the Central Plains regional meet.
Title Status Reinstated in 1981
Commencing from the 1981 state Legion baseball tournament, the two top Class AA teams from the east and west divisions moved into the state tournament The winners of the four Class A regional events also advanced to the state meet for inter-class playoffs to determine a Class AA and a Class A champion, respectively.
Then a championship three-game series between the Class A and AA champs was played in the home park of the Class AA champion. The team winning two games was declared the state champion and represented North Dakota in the Regional 6 tourney.
|1981||West Fargo Aces|
|1990||West Fargo Aces|
Classification Reverted to Class B in 1993
Beginning with the 1993 season, teams were reclassified — Class A teams to Class B and Class AA teams to Class A, the same as used for high school sports and the same classifications used in the Legion program earlier for three decades in
North Dakota. Separate A and B tournament plans were adopted starting in 1993. The two top teams in each region advance to the eight-team, double-elimination state Class B tournament.
Any Class B team wishing to participate in Class A competition for the opportunity to advance to national tournaments must attend the announced pre-season Class A scheduling meeting and declare its intention to play Class A ball for the upcoming season.
Inkster and Bismarck Clash in ’49; So Did Milligan and McKenna
The end of the 1949 baseball season had tiny Inkster, the Class B champion, challenging Class A champs Bismarck for the right to represent the state in the regional tournament at Aberdeen, SD. But the real battle came before the first ball was thrown.
It was a case of strong Irish personalities clashing between newly-elected Department Commander Edward A. Milligan of Michigan and Department Athletic Committee Chairman James E. McKenna of Jamestown. The dispute centered around adequate playing conditions on the Inkster ball field and accommodations for the visiting team.
After an investigation, McKenna, on behalf of the position taken by the athletic committee, said Inkster lacked the facilities for staging the playoff series and arranged to hold the event at Grafton. Milligan sided with his Inkster neighbors.
McKenna argued for a neutral and better site. Each man was inflexible.
McKenna resigned. Milligan named a new chairman, Einar Wall of Kempton, who was on the athletic committee, as interim chairman to supervise the playoff games, all held at Inkster, concluding state Legion baseball competition for the ’49 season.
Enter a third Irishman, Department Adjutant Jack Williams, who brought Milligan and McKenna back to speaking and friendship terms after the tournament. Milligan demonstrated the “peace treaty” by naming McKenna athletic chairman for the 1949-50 Legion baseball year, after which McKenna was recalled January 1951 for active duty in the Korean War and remained in the Army until he retired Oct. 31, 1965, as a lieutenant colonel.
By the way, Bismarck won two of the three games series. Inkster won the first game, 11-6.
American Legion Baseball Players of the Year
Most valuable players in American Legion baseball have been chosen annually since 1965. They are:
Class A Class B
1965 Mike Norton, Mandan 1965 Neil Kalberer, Steele
1966 Neil Kalberer, Bismarck 1966 Dennis Benz, Steele
1967 Bernie Graner, Fargo 1967 Russ Halvorson, Park River
1968 Rick Fee, Grand Forks 1968 Doug Overbee, Berthold
1969 Dave Johnson, Fargo 1969 Mike Grande, Hatton
1970 Mike Montgomery, Grand Forks 1970 Gary Benz, Steele
1971 Steve Vodden, Grand Forks 1971 Barry Hebl, LaMoure
1972 Dennis Kyle, Grand Forks 1972 Tim Guler, New Rockford
1973 Al Peterson, Williston 1978 Steve Keller, Minot
1974 Dave Rusch, Fargo 1979 Tim Tweiten, Fargo
1975 Doug Hogan, Jamestown 1980 Wayne Hogan, Jamestown
1976 Jeff Fiechtner, Fargo 1981 Derek Solberg, Minot
1977 Kevin Bartram, Minot
Class AA Class A
1982 Patrick Kadrmas, Bismarck 1982 Brent Viger, Edmore
1983 Ladd Bjugson, Fargo 1983 Scott Deutsch, Devils Lake
1984 Robb Atwood, Minot, Co-MVP 1984 Scott Deutsch, Devils Lake
1984 Rob Keller, Jamestown, Co-MVP 1985 Tony Satter, Fargo Bombers
1985 Jim Roaldson, Jamestown 1986 Kyle Smith, Carrington
1986 Clayton Enno, Williston 1987 Tim Sandy, Fargo Bombers
1987 Scott Collins, Minot 1988 Mike Johnson, Hatton
1988 Brent Polum, Fargo 1989 Doug Nelson, Sawyer-Surrey
1989 Rick Helling, Fargo 1990 Mike Birrenkott, West Fargo Aces
1990 Jason Meyhoff, Mandan 1991 Marty McDonald, Munich
1991 Darin Erstad, Jamestown, Co-MVP 1992 Justin Fletschock, Munich
1991 Jon Amundson, Mandan, Co-MVP
1992 Darin Erstad, Jamestown
Class A Class B
1993 Shannon Holbrook, Mandan 1993 Chris Schmitz, Enderlin
1994 Aaron Amundson, Mandan 1994 Shawn Swartwout, Surrey
American Legion Baseball Player of the Year Scholarship
In the mid-1990s the National American Legion and Buick entered into a partnership that led to the establishment of a baseball scholarship trust fund derived from rebates on the sale of Buick cars to Legionnaires.
Beginning in 1997, then National Legion Adjutant Robert Spanogle announced that a $1,000 baseball scholarship would be awarded to a player in each Department, selected by the Department, as the Player of the Year.
The Buick name was placed on the scholarship through 1999. Then Buick, following a General Motors strike, dropped its rebate program with The American Legion, after which the trust remained, and the scholarship was referred to as the American Legion Baseball Scholarship.
The scholarship award is based upon leadership, scholarship, character, citizenship and financial need. The amount of the scholarship is determined by the Legion’s national treasurer based on interests earned from the scholarship trust fund.
This scholarship has been awarded to the Player of the Year in North Dakota since 1999. For years 1999 through 2007, the recipients of this award received $1,000 scholarships. Then, due to a downturn in investment income in the trust fund, this award was changed to $500 scholarships for the recipients since 2008.
Named as North Dakota’s Player of the Year in 1999, Mark Trout’s scholarship application was then forwarded to the Central Plains Regional Tournament in Dickinson where it was reviewed for consideration as Regional Player of the Year. The selection committee there also found Trout of Sherwood to be deserving and he was selected for the Gatorade Sportsmanship Award, thus earning him an additional $1,000 scholarship.
Scholarship recipients are eligible to receive their scholarships immediately upon graduation from an accredited high school. Scholarship winners must utilize the total award within eight years of their graduation date, excluding active military duty. The scholarship may be used to attend a school selected by the student providing it is state accredited and above the high school level.
Here are the recipients of North Dakota’s American Legion Baseball Scholarship as Player of the Year:
|2000||Erik J. Knutson||Hatton|
National Legion Baseball Tournaments Held in North Dakota
The high levels of play and event management have brought numerous upper-level Legion baseball tournaments to
North Dakota. In mid-August 1931, North Dakota was host for the first time to the state champions of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the two Dakotas in the regional tournament held at Park River.
Bismarck hosted the western sectional in 1936. Two years later, Post 6 at Grand Forks, was host to back-to-back tourneys, the 1938 regional, then the western sectional. Following WW II, Post 3 at Dickinson entertained the 1950 regional and repeated in 1957.
Post 1 held two regionals, in 1952 and 1954, and the 1955 Sectional C to tune up for hosting the 1956 World Series in the capital city. Then Bismarck Legionnaires hosted three consecutive tourneys, the 1958, 1959 and 1960 regional playoffs, readying for its second national finals, in 1962. Bismarck held one more regional, in 1966.
State title teams met once at Minot, in 1961, to vie for the regional crown. Mandan, in 1962 and 1969, and Jamestown, in 1977 and 1993, each hosted two regionals for this area.
Post 37 at Williston entertained three regionals, in 1968, 1971 and 1990. The 1979 Region 6 at Fargo provided good working experience in preparing for its first Legion World Series in 1983. Post 2 repeated by conducting the 1987 regional preceding the second World Series held at Fargo in 1992.
When Post 2’s ’92 bid was accepted, the national Americanism commission named three rotating sites for the tournament years 1991 through 1996. They were Boyertown, PA, 1991 and 1994; Fargo, ND, 1992 and 1995, and Roseburg, OR, 1993 and 1996.
From 1926 (except 1927) through 1945, there were various formats for the sectional tournament. From 1946 through 1959, the four sectionals were classified as Sectional A, B, C and D. In those years, North Dakota was located in Region 9 of Sectional C. The sectional round of competition, followed by a four-team national championship tourney, was eliminated after the 1959 season. Beginning in 1960, the new format called for the eight regional victors to compete for the national title in the Legion’s annual World Series. Since 1960, North Dakota has been playing in Region 6, also known as the Central Plains Region.
Jensen Letter Prods Baseball Commissioner Landis
After professional baseball almost struck out in popularity as the “national pastime” because of 1919 World Series players falling to temptation, a North Dakota Legionnaire, a leader of youth, stepped up and presented strong arguments for regaining support for the game by involving the American Legion (then titled) junior baseball program.
Clarence L. Jensen, who was the superintendent of schools in Kensal, succeeded Jack Williams as department athletic officer after the 1928 baseball season was concluded. These two positions provided a solid base from which to observe and analyze youths’ basic instinct to compete with honor.
“No political scandal ever rocked the nation any more than did baseball’s Black Sox scandal of 1919, when players were discovered to have thrown games for gambling interests,” wrote Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in the October 1975 American Legion Magazine “Grown men cursed and children wept over the villainy of their former idols.”
Federal Judge Kenneshaw Mountain Landis, a dictatorial administrator, was appointed baseball’s first commissioner in
1920. His first action to restore the game’s then-waning image of integrity was to ban eight Chicago White Sox players from organized baseball for life. Jensen felt a kinship with Landis and, on March 8, 1933, sent a four-page, single-spaced letter to Landis.
Jensen said he didn’t want to burden Landis “with a Jong discourse of what I think is wrong with baseball, but it is my desire to do what I may to bring baseball back to where it was 15 years ago, especially in the more rural communities …
Baseball must have some definite building program. At present there is no effort being made by any organization but The
American Legion to build up the greatest game of all.”
Jensen believed that organized baseball had to reach out in small communities and do missionary work to increase interest in baseball. He said, “Fifteen years ago every little town (in North Dakota at least) had its ball team. Each team had one or two hired players. Baseball was largely semiprofessional. Great rivalry existed between towns. Practically all that is gone now …
“I really believe that this drift from baseball is one of the reasons for the decrease in attendance in the leagues. The non-baseball playing generation is now coming into being … The great number of colleges and high schools who have dropped the game is proof of this … Why should they be interested in playing baseball when their entire athletic life has been devoted to other sports? … If we are to keep up the attendance in the leagues we must create the fans when they are young. This is not being done today and league attendance will show this in the years to come.”
From his association with the junior baseball program, Jensen told Landis that many potentially good ball players had been involved but there was little opportunity or incentive for them to continue because there were few new ball fields on which they could realize their baseball dreams. Jensen proposed that professional baseball organize in each community a group of semi-amateur leagues with each team composed of six or seven ex-Legion players, with the remainder of the rosters coming from local players.
His suggestion also had two games scheduled each week in ballparks provided free of charge as part of city’s recreation activities. Players and managers would get small salaries as added incentive. Transportation, under his plan, could be donated or paid out of game profits. Jensen believed that “the boys in this ex-Legion league would have something definite to play for: the possibility of going up to a higher league,” which would be watched by Big League scouts. And he suggested that his plan would increase the number of baseball fans because more boys would he playing, which would bring out more parents. “The best baseball fan is the Dad who has a boy on the club,” he said.
Seeing beyond the stinging sensation of the Black Sox incident, Jensen, who himself was inducted into the North Dakota
Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968 and the state Legion Hall of Fame in 1987, said baseball needed a tonic, like his proposal for leagues of ex-Legion ball players, to help revive and rebuild public support for the game.
George Rulon’s Leadership in Baseball Widely Acclaimed
Little did Geoge W. Rulon daydream when he was minimally paid as the public address announcer for the old Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League that his lifetime devotion to youth someday would net him a national directorship and also a unique position among baseball’s great heroes.
A native of Jamestown, ND, Rulon moved to Fargo with his family when he was in grade school. In his early teens, he played American Legion baseball with Fargo teams, and 25 years later became the national director of that pioneer youth baseball program. He retired another 25 years later. Among those attending his farewell banquet in Indianapolis were representatives of the National League, American League, American Association and Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Each one presented him with a lifetime pass — a unique honor: George Rulon is the only person outside of professional baseball to be given such recognition.
Then-National Commander Dale Renaud announced during a retirement brunch at the ’86 Legion World Series at
Rapid City, SD, that The American Legion Player of the Year Award would be named to honor Rulon.
His tireless work in promoting American Legion baseball endeared him to countless thousands of youth baseball supporters in North Dakota and across the country. They felt a deep loss when he died Jan. 20, 1989, at age 67 during a winter trip to Florida.
Following his death, caused by heart attack, Rulon’s widow and two daughters established a memorial scholarship to students preparing for a baseball coaching career. Rulon admired those in the coaching profession and called them unsung heroes.
A love of sports came easy to George. He coordinated American Legion baseball on the national level over a quarter century. As the national director, he had contact with numerous prominent people in major league circles. That association helped many former Legion ballplayers advance to the big leagues. At the time of his death, about two million boys had enjoyed the thrill of playing Legion baseball.
Rulon interrupted his college education to enlist in the Army in 1943. He served in three European campaigns and was wounded twice. He earned the Purple Heart with Cluster, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Presidential Unit citation.
After discharge with the rank of first lieutenant, he returned to North Dakota State University, receiving a bachelor of arts and science degree in 1946. He was a recipient of the university’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1982.
Rulon loved to get as close as possible to baseball without actually participating.
He worked as a sports reporter at The Fargo Forum. From 1948 into 1954, he cranked up F-M Twins fans from inside the announcer’s cubicle at old Barnett Field. His pay was a buck a game. The pay was even less when he was the athletic officer for Fargo’s Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2.
Rulon’s American Legion career, which also included vocational rehabilitation, covered more than 40 years at the state and national levels. On July 1, 1946, he was named director of membership expansion and stabilization for the North Dakota American Legion, officed at state headquarters in Fargo. In February 1947, he was appointed department service officer and served over a decade in that position. In 1958, his leadership abilities gained him the position of director of membership and post activities at national headquarters in Indianapolis. Utilizing Rulon’s interest and expertise, national headquarters named him director of American Legion Baseball in 1961, a position he held more than 25 years until retiring in December 1986.
Truly, his Legion baseball work was a labor of love that spilled over to other nationwide baseball activities. In 1978, he served on the task force that helped establish the baseball program for the National Sports Festival, a pre-Olympic training program. He coordinated travel for six festivals and, in 1982, served as the national governing body coordinator for baseball at the sports festival held in Indianapolis.
He served on the board of directors of the US Baseball Federation, the National Council of Youth Sports Directors, the American Baseball Coaches Association, the Intercollegiate Baseball Writers Association and was on the baseball games committee of the US Olympic Committee.
Rulon was credited with being a key figure in getting baseball included in the Olympic Games. He was honored for being the travel coordinator and business manager of the first US baseball team in the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles.
Following that achievement, he was named the deputy baseball commissioner for the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis. It was with particular pride that Rulon supervised the Legion World Series held the first time in Fargo in 1983. At that tournament, he told the story behind his faithful “lucky old shoes,” a pair of elk skins discolored by grass stains, moisture and dirt. He joked that, with those shoes on, there had been only two rainouts over his long career. His record covered some 240 regional and World Series tournaments.
His every-day broad smile spread ear to ear is not hard to remember. It was there in full force when he was inducted into the North Dakota American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Among other honorees that year was Roger Maris.
Jack Williams Memorial Leadership Award Established
By adopting Resolution No. 45, the delegates to the 1967 national convention at Boston, MA, authorized the establishment of the Jack Williams Memorial Leadership Award. Since the 1968 World Series of American Legion Baseball, this award, one each, has been presented annually to the manager and to the coach of the national championship team, as representative of the adult leadership Williams stressed during his lifetime.
Williams was the veteran department adjutant (1919-1967) of the North Dakota American Legion. Prior to his Army service in World War I, he was manager of the Fargo Athletics amateur baseball team. Williams assisted Frank McCormack of South Dakota and Dan Sowers, director of the Legion’s national Americanism commission, in gaining 1925 national convention acceptance and endorsement of The American Legion Baseball program.
Williams organized and conducted the Legion Baseball program for the initial 1928 season in North Dakota and remained a lifelong booster of this outstanding program. Legalization of Sunday baseball in North Dakota was another of the achievements largely credited to Smiling Jack. He saw to it that petitions were circulated for an initiated measure which would bring back Sunday baseball.
N.D. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame
The North Dakota American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 1976 to recognize individuals who have contributed to the advancement of The American Legion baseball program in the state. The honor includes those who have participated in Legion baseball and have gone on to excel in the field of baseball or other endeavors. One or more have been inducted every year since 1976, except 1994. The induction of John P. (Jack) Williams, posthumously, of Fargo as the first member of the Hall of Fame was a highlight of the 1976 department convention at Bismarck.
Williams was adjutant of the North Dakota American Legion from 1919 to 1967, was a founder of the national Legion baseball program and was department athletic officer for the initial 1928 Legion baseball season in North Dakota.
He died in 1967. Pictured below holding the Hall of Fame plaque picturing Williams as the first inductee are, left, Cliff Nygard, chairman, department athletic committee, Bismarck, and George W. Rulon, assistant director of the national Americanism commission in charge of Legion baseball, national headquarters, Indianapolis, IN.
Legion Education and Scholarships Program
When the citizen soldiers who had won “the war to end all wars” came home and organized a group of veterans to associate together, they had noticed that one-fourth of the men drafted into WW I service were illiterate.
Therefore, while The American Legion was still in the business of getting organized, an emphasis on education was begun in 1921. Today, we take for granted that a week in November is set aside as American Education Week. Many people are not aware that The American Legion was a co-founder and has co-sponsored this annual observance for more than seven decades.
Much more was done, however, than just to sponsor a week emphasizing education. Over the years, there has been a strong emphasis on education in many areas, including the Flag, the United States Constitution and 1he prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. Because of a firm conviction that an educated citizenry is of vital importance, the Legion has placed strong emphasis not only on primary and secondary education but also on higher education and opportunities for scholarships.
In the early 1950’s The American Legion began publishing Need A Lift, a scholarship summary resource handbook. This annual guide is perhaps the most complete resource on education and scholarships, as well as financial aid and career information, published anywhere. The book catalogs all higher educational opportunities available, and all scholarships available, nationwide — in every state and in every field. Students may complete an application ordering a comprehensive computer search for all scholarships and financial aid offerings through CASHE (College Aid Sources for Higher Education).
The American Legion’s processing center for CASHE is located at Gaithersburg, MD. A nominal processing fee ($16 in
1994) is charged, comparing favorably to the customary $50 or more assessed by other search agencies. An application blank for CASHE search is contained in the Need A Lift book sent to all high schools.
North Dakota officially began its own Education and Scholarships program in 1954. That’s when a director was appointed to help promising students seek post-high school education by effectively using the Legion’s newly-developed Need A Lift publication.
The first step was to make known to eligible students the sources of scholarships by distributing this new handbook to all public and parochial high schools in North Dakota and, concurrently, mobilizing Legionnaires at the post level to engage the cooperation of their local school officials to acquaint college-bound students about this guide to seek financial assistance to continue their education.
Distribution of Need A Lift was expanded to include guidance counselors at statewide colleges and universities, public libraries, county veterans service officers and Job Service counseling personnel to advise college-age people about scholarships and financial aid information. Since 1985, the Legion’s national headquarters has direct-mailed Need A Lift to all high schools in the nation, with the state organization continuing to provide this handbook to others as listed above.
An analysis of consolidated reports, completed annually by ND Legion posts, for 1985-90 revealed that combined expenditures for that six-year period averaged $99,496 in support of education. That figure is broken down into these three areas of support: $39,082 for 179 scholarships each year, $12, 150 for 190 school medal awards yearly and $48,164 for financial assistance given each year by posts for other facets of education.
To encourage development of qualities of Courage, Honor, Leadership, Patriotism, Scholarship and Service, The American Legion began its School Medal Award program in 1926 to recognize those ideals of Americanism and citizenship among young people. These awards are provided by local Legion posts to the achieving boy and girl in the senior high school graduating class; some posts also sponsor these awards at the elementary and junior high school levels.
In 1986 the national executive committee approved a resolution supporting “Project Literacy U. S.” At that time federal studies estimated that as many as 23 million adult Americans were functionally illiterate. The Legion’s national headquarters developed an “Adult Literacy” brochure furnishing guidelines to posts and Legion members for organizing and conducting a volunteer literacy program locally … aimed at providing individualized instructions for adults and teenagers in basic reading, writing and math skills.
Department Adult Literacy Program Director
Harold Carnahan, West Fargo …… 1988-91(Thereafter, became a portfolio of the Department Education and Scholarships Director)
Through the years, Department of North Dakota Americanism committees worked diligently with National Americanism programs. From time to time, the committees also took on special programs tailored to North Dakota. One of these was the North Dakota American Legion Highway Safety program, which began in 1937 with Milton G. Kelly of Devils Lake as chairman. For the next 10 years, this was a fairly low-key effort, although the emphasis on highway safety continued.
Following WW II, traffic accidents and fatalities increased at alarming rates as motor vehicles became principal carriers of products and people seeking R&R havens. The concerns of Highway Patrol officers and Legionnaires came together in utilizing the Legion’s Americanism committee.
Beg inning in the 1949-50 year, a number of programs became a part of the committee’s framework, which included gathering and reporting statistics, urging more safety education and strongly encouraging school safety patrols.
In the mid-1950s, the primary effort was on erecting “Protect our Children” highway signs. During these years, the committee urged every post to have at least one program per year on highway safety. At least 50 posts had traffic safe ty programs in 1957.
Don Sloan of Lakota (1957-5 8 director) and Ole R. Gunderson of Turtle Lake (1958-60) followed up on a suggestion from earlier years: greater emphasis on behind-the-wheel training for high school students. Gunderson noted that only 3,900 of 38,743 eligible students – – about 10 percent — had that training in 1959.
A new program came in 1964 after much research in 1962-63 by director Herbert A. Mitz of Drayton. Returning director James J. Brodigan of Fargo worked closely with the National Safety Council, the Highway Patrol and oil and insurance companies to implement the Legion’s Safety Running Light program. This effort appears to have carried over today to the emphasis on driving with headlights on all the time. Soon, all new vehicles will be equipped with running lights that stay on whenever the engine is running. Cooperating with the Highway Patrol and gasoline dealers across the state, The American Legion Safety Check Month began in May 1965. The last department report on highway safety was in 1966. Apparently this program lasted about 30 years. Traffic safety statistics from those years indicate that this North Dakota American Leg ion program did save lives.
American Legion Adopts Special Olympics
Created by the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, the Special Olympics program made it possible for the mentally handicapped to fulfill their unrecognized dream : “Let me be what I can be; Let me do what I can do.” For the first time in the history of The
American Legion, the national executive committee passed a resolution urging all Legion posts, districts and departments to offer assistance to Special Olympics in whatever capacity they would choose.
National Commander Jack Carey and National Auxiliary President Maxine Bigalow presented Eunice Kennedy Schriver, president of Special Olympics, with a resolution of support approved by the respective membership at their 1978 national conventions.
The Department of North Dakota, at its winter conference at Dickinson in February 1979, pledged support to the “Special Olympians” who reflect the attributes of courage, skill and love. The North Dakota Special Olympics program became a year-around, well-balanced series of events under the auspices of the children and youth committee; Marlo Brackelsberg of Mohall was the 1979 chairman. Events included in the program provided something for everyone, such as basketball, with run, dribble and shoot skills plus team competition; bowling, done locally with scores mailed in to the state organization; track and field; gymnastics, swimming and diving. Frisbee and soccer skills contest competition was opened to all ages in the state. Approximately 2,000 participated the first year.
Recognizing the serious need for such a program, the state Legion and the Auxiliary both made special drives to raise funds. The 1979-80 financial report indicated total receipts of $14,419. On-site expenses provided for the Special Olympics delegation participating in the ’79 international summer games at Brockport, NY, including knapsacks for each participant’s personal belongings, amounted to $9,336. A $2,000 donation also was made to Special Olympics for the 1980 track and field meet and to assist with expenses involved in holding Special Olympics sports training clinics and coaches’ clinics.
The on-going campaign for Special Olympics continued in 1981-82, with a goal of $5,000 to fund o n-site expenses for the next international games at Baton Rouge, LA, in 1983. A $12,000 budget was set for the ’83 games. In 1983, the department executive committee meeting during the winter conference at Jamestown, approved $2,000 for state Special Olympics for summer training camp rather than for awards and spring games and clinics. This amount was set for 1983 and 1984. The committee also committed remaining funds toward expenses of delegation to the 1983 international games a t Baton Rouge, LA, in July of that year.
At the 1984 winter conference, the department executive committee (DEC) approved an on-going drive to raise $6,000 a year in donations to fund transportation expenses for the state Special Olympics delegation to the 1987 international games. The estimated cost for this event was $24,000.
During the 1985 winter conference, the DEC was told that the Special Olympics organization had established a source of income on its own, which relieved the state Legion of the commitment to raise $24,000 for the 1987 summer games. The DEC then approved $2,000 for the 1985 and 1986 summer training camp to be held at Metigoshe State Park each year.
With the advent of gaming money being supplied to the Special Olympics through their own charitable gaming sponsorship, the donations from posts and individuals dried up. Donations in 1986 amounted to a mere $25, but the department continued to accept donations from a variety of sources each year.
In 1987, the DEC approved giving $1,000 to help fund the 1987 American Legion Special Olympics summer training-international athletic camp. In 1993, the department set a goal to raise $3,500 to sponsor 40 Special Olympians to summer camp. This goal was achieved. From its entry year in 1979 through 1993, statewide Legion posts and Auxiliary unit s contributed approximately $39,100 that has been expended during this period for the aforementioned Special Olympics activities.
While the Special Olympics program was created by the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, The American Legion in North Dakota is indebted to Marlo Brackelsberg for his tireless efforts in chairing and promoting this program during the first four years of Legion support of these sports and recreational activities for the mentally handicapped in North Dakota.
The Spinoza Buddy Bear Project was launched during the 1996 Winter Conference by the Department Children & Youth Chairman, Don Weible of Wilton shown holding one of the bears along with Commander Kime. Explaining the project during a Joint Session was project director Beth LeMasurier of St. Paul, MN. Mandan Post 40 Commander Mark Forster presented a check for $131.50 which will put one of the special therapeutic bears in the hands of an ill child.