Story and Photos by Tim Sproles
The American Legion Department of Indiana recently held the 100th Annual Department Convention, July 12th through the 15th at the Marriot East Hotel in Indianapolis. The Department’s State Convention is held annually for Legionnaires from across the state to discuss and vote on Legion business, recognize Legionnaires and local heroes for their service and conduct elections for new Department officers.
The Department held the first of three general sessions on Friday, where many state and local leaders brought greetings to our Hoosier Legionnaires including Governor of Indiana Eric Holcomb and the Mayor of Indianapolis Joe Hogsett.
Senator Joe Donnelly also brought a message of thanks to all Hoosier Legionnaires.
“We are all so proud of you,” said Donnelly. You have done such an amazing job providing leadership for our state. To all of you, we are incredibly thankful for the tradition that you have given us. I am honored to serve as your senator and I will continue to work every day to make the lives of our veterans better.”
The Department Convention is also a time to honor local heroes in the fields of military service, law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services, and educators every year in communities across Indiana.
In the Military Person of the Year category, the Indiana National Guard’s Master Sergeant Christopher B. Knight, who was sponsored by Charlestown Post 335 in the 8th District brought home the National Guard award and Captain Matthew Heil, sponsored by Bloomington Post 18 in the 7th District won for the Active Duty award.
The Department also honors first responders from around the state for their service to their local community.
Jose Morales, who was sponsored by Kokomo Post 6 in the 5th District, was named the EMS of the Year. Chief Steve Stackhouse, sponsored by Kokomo Post 6 in the 5th District, was named Firefighter of the Year. Lieutenant Mark Hadley, sponsored by Boonville Post 200 in the 8th District, was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
In the Educators of the Year Category, Rick Hise, sponsored by La Porte Post 83 in the 3rd District, was named the 7th and 8th grade Teacher of the Year. Legionnaire Mark Gullion, sponsored by Indianapolis Post 500 in the 11th District, was named the High School Educator of the Year. Travis Griffith, sponsored by Post 185, from the 9th District, was named the Kindergarten through 6th Grade Educator of the Year.
“American Legion officers selected Griffith because of his continued work to educate the future of our state,” said 9th District Cmdr. William Scharold. “Unfortunately, our awardee, Travis Daniel Griffith passed away with his loving family by his side in March. He was only 46 years old and leaves behind 4 children and his wife of 21 years. Travis was loved by his students, fellow staff and parents.”
His wife, Amy Lynn Griffith was on hand to accept the award on his behalf.
The Department also honored State Senator Lonnie Randolph and State Representative Jim Lucas with Distinguished Public Service Awards for going above and beyond to work with Indiana Veteran Service Organizations to benefit our state’s Veteran community.
The Fourth Estate Award is presented annually by the Department to a Journalist/Reporter for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. This year’s winner, Kevin Rader, Eyewitness News Reporter for WTHR Channel 13 in Indianapolis for his work covering the story of Glenn Shelton, a homeless Marine Veteran who passed away in 2017.
The Department also took the opportunity to honor some of their own. Lee Berry from New Palestine Post 182 took home The American Legion Rider of the Year award.
The American Legion Burton Woolery Bloomington Post 18 finished the year with 1,266 members, which made them the top post in the entire state. Tenth District Commander, Laurie Bowman from Knightstown Post 152, Ron Patterson from Daleville Post 446, Barry “Scott” Crawford from Madison Post 9 and Past Dept. Cmdr. James B. May from Bloomington Post 18 all received the Gold Brigade Membership Award for recruiting at least 50 new members into The American Legion.
Ron Byrley, the 2017-18 Department Membership Chairman took home top honors as the “Recruiter of the Year” for bringing in 55 new members to The American Legion.
The Department also recognized three outstanding Legionnaires with the highest honor the Department can bestow, The Distinguished Service Award. Walter “Doug” Howard, who is a 53-year member from Van Buren Post 368, Fred Langley, a 32-year member from Kouts Post 301 and Peter C. Van Woerden, a 39-year member from Brunswick Post 485 all received the award for their service to both The American Legion and our Hoosier Veteran community.
After the awards and scholarships were presented, it was time to elect the Department officers for the next command year.
This year, the Department held elections for the Department Finance Officer Jim Tracy, French Lick Post 76, Sergeant at Arms Don Hudson, Carmel Post 155, two Northern Vice-Commanders Don Cole, Wabash Post 15 and Ken Heckathorn, Nappanee Post 154, two Southern Vice-Commanders Ed Giltner, Charlestown Post 335 and Herbert Hoffman, Mooresville Post 103.
Rodney Strong was elected The American Legion, Department of Indiana State Commander by delegates from the 11 Districts throughout the state.
Rodney is a proud member of Byron Cox Post 72 headquartered in Crawfordsville, Ind., where he has been a member for 28 years and served the Post in various positions including Membership Chairman, Hoosier Boys State Chairman and Post Commander.
He is also a 54-year member of the Sons of The American Legion Squadron 72 and served as S.A.L. Detachment Commander of Indiana from 1993-94. Cmdr. Strong is the only person in Indiana to serve as both S.A.L. Detachment Commander (1993-94) and Department of Indiana Commander (2018-19).
His motto this year is, “A century of service and still going Strong.”
“This is an exciting year for us as we are about to celebrate 100 years of service here in the great state of Indiana," said, Strong. "There is a lot of work to do and we need to build on the momentum of what Cmdr. Marty Dzieglowicz was able to do before us. We will work to secure The American Legion for another 100 years."
The American Legion Department of Indiana will meet again during the annual Fall Conference from October 5th through the 7th in Indianapolis. Learn more at www.indianalegion.org.
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