Oxford American Legion Auxiliary

Unit 376's 90th Anniversary CelebrationAnniversary cake celebrating 90 years of Unit 376's charter.

1924 original charter of Fort Hill ALA Unit 376 signed by Claire Oliphant.On December 1, 1924, just five years after the National American Legion Auxiliary was established, and only four years after the passage of 19th Amendment, one dozen politically active women in Oxford, NY, applied for an Auxiliary charter. Alice McCall, Ruth Eddy, Agnes Manzer, Harriett Cooper, Mary V. Clanchard, Jennie Rumsey, Lucretia Wedge, Harriet Hall, *Bertha Burchard, Laura Hamilton, Helen Burchard, and Winifred Milan became the original charter members of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit of Fort Hill, Post 376, of Chenango County. This original document hangs in the dining hall of Post 376 in Oxford, NY.

[* Bertha Burchard, was made a Lifetime ALA unit member in 1973, by then president Sally Finch.]

The charter was given by the hand and seal of the (fourth) ALA Mrs. O.D. Claire Oliphant the 1924 national ALA president who signed Unit 376's charter.National President, Mrs. O.D. "Claire" Oliphant [photo right], and duly attested by the National Secretary at Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Claire was a politically active woman of the Progressive Era. “Progressive” women were the feminists of their day… gutsy, strong, and outspoken.

Mrs. Oliphant, from Trenton, NJ, presided and toured the nation for one year. Additionally, she was the first Dept. of NJ president, the chairman of the first Women's Patriotic Conference on National Defense, and was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal ribbon --among several honors. The audacious president was noted for starting the wreath laying tradition with poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington, VA.

In a famous speech at the tomb, Oliphant promised, “We pledge you that those things- for which you gave your life- shall live, and we will continue in your memory to serve as you served the Nation we love."ALA members who gathered Dec. 6, 2014 to celebrate 90 years of the charter.

The Fort Hill American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) commemorated their ninetieth year on December 6, 2014, in a special ceremony that included cake and champagne. ALA members and guests gathered at Post 376 to mark the milestone with an honorary NYS citation and a tribute, reflecting on the 1924 national president, past unit presidents, and the organization’s achievements over the years. A special guest shed light on a forgotten children’s camp from nearly four decades ago.

Unit 376 Auxiliary members; Teri Webb-van Almen, Jeanie Petersen, Sylvia Witchella, Audrey Johnson, (in back) Desseray Wallace, Louise Spicer, Nancy Timperlake, and Christine Gregoire, gather to blow out the candles. (Photo by Robert van Almen)

Several of the Oxford Unit’s presidents were recognized. The late past president, Sarah "Sally" Finch started a book fund in 2000 with proceeds from the annual Harvest Dinner, which is continued today. The late Barb Bogie, who held every officer position, was a past president and a continuous ALA member for 61 years.

Shirley Sykora is a past president who now lives in Ohio, and has been a continuous member for 45 years. Shirley could not attend but sent her best wishes and said [she is], “…delighted to hear about the current activities, knowing that those services continue.”

Living Past Presidents for Unit 376 are: Judy Estelow (1973-77), Shirley Sykora (1977-78), Connie Rowlison, Teresa Witchella (2001-02), Phyllis Webb, Roberta Knoll(2006-08), Jeanne Turner (McDonough president), Louzetta "Lou" Page (2009-10), Sylvia Witchella (2011-2012)andCindy Hubschmitt (2012-2013).

American Legion Post 376 Commander Darlene Ardron presented a framed citation given by NYS Assemblyman Clifford W. Crouch. The document recognized the ninety years of the Unit’s charter and stated, “…their worthy endeavors continue to foster the traditions of patriotism, excellence, and commitment which have made our nation strong….”

Sylvia Witchella, who presided from 2011- 2012, helped to light the candles with current president Jeanie Petersen on an anniversary cake decorated with the Auxiliary logo.

Audrey Johnson was a special guest as she grew up in an American Legion family. LeRoy and Elma Spencer, Audrey’s parents, were both members of Post 376, and her mother was Unit president in the 1950’s. When Audrey was sixteen, she was a camp counselor at American Legion summer “health camp” in Sherburne. Today, the camp is a memory for only a few people, but with the help of Rose Wellman, the Sherburne Town Historian, Audrey was able to give an in-depth account with photos. For about forty years, starting in 1936, Chenango County Legion Auxiliaries each sent a limited number of disadvantaged children to camp. The Oxford ALA sent their kids off with new clothing and pjs, and for one week, they slept in cabins, ate together in a dining hall, had a medical staff available, and more amenities. Counselors like Audrey organized games and trips to the pool. There was once a tuberculosis sanitarium there as well. Audrey ended by saying how proud she was to have her son Gregg following in her parent’s footsteps as a Legionnaire officer of Post 376.

President Petersen ended the ceremony with a champagne toast, “To my ALA sisters: We are constant and will continue to burn! Here’s to the next 90 years!”

For ALA info: 843-2121; Events@OxfordNY.com, or visit: http://oxford-ala.chenango.orgTo reach Post 376 call 843-8166.


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