After nine decades of providing networking and vital services to veterans in Macon County, Franklin's American Legion Post 108 celebrated their 90th birthday on Sunday.
With a beautifully decorated patriotic themed cake, donated by Pam Bowen, adorned with the names of every individual who has served Post 108 as Post Commander, veterans from all over Western North Carolina, community leaders, and citizens gathered together to celebrate the legion's milestone.
American Legion Post 108 in Franklin, NC is part of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, committed to mentoring and sponsorship of youth programs in the community, advocating patriotism and honor, promoting a strong national security, and continued devotion to service members and veterans.
“A group of World War I veterans decided to apply for a charter for an American Legion Post in 1922 here in our beautiful mountains,” said Current Post Commander Larry White. “We are here now, 90 years later, and the post is still going strong helping the veterans, people and children of our community. We are extremely proud of our past heritage.”
The National American Legion was founded in 1919 in Paris, France, at the close of World War I, and Franklin’s post was awarded its official charter three years later in 1922. The organization now includes veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and Grenada periods, Operation Just Cause in Panama, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Global War On Terror.
The American Legion, since its founding, has endeavored to assist veterans, their widows and children, and their fellow citizens. The North Carolina American Legion, with over 40,000 paid members, are proud to carry on this tradition. The success of American Legion Post 108 in Franklin depends entirely on active membership, participation and volunteerism. The organization belongs to the people it serves and the communities in which it thrives.
“It was an honor to be able to celebrate the 90 years of service of the Franklin American Legion Post,” said vice-chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners Bobby Kuppers. “It's a bit staggering to realize that this organization has been in existence and contributing to our community for that long. Ninety years goes back to 1922 or just after the conclusion of WWI and that's impressive enough. What is more impressive though, is that this organization is made up of military veterans and spouses — people that have already given more to their country than many Americans ever will —and yet despite those sacrifices, they were motivated to band together and work together for the betterment of the community they love.”
Kuppers, who served in the United States Navy, spent Sunday's celebration meeting with fellow veterans and learning about the legion's history. “From scholarships, to their contribution to the Veterans Memorial, to their participation in various holiday and festival celebrations and their service to the families of deceased veterans providing full military honors for their loved ones – the men and women of American Legion Post 108 should be extremely proud of their service both in and out of uniform. And we as a county should be grateful to them -- we are fortunate to have such great folks in our midst.”
To commemorate the post's 90th birthday, a history table was displayed to show the post's progress over the years. One display item included a copy of the original application that was filled out to apply to open a post in Franklin. According to the application for permanent charter, which was signed on June 16, 1922, with Joseph Bryson from Cullasaja acting as the post's very first commander, the first post had 23 enrolled members. Holding most meetings in houses of different members, the application states that 15 members paid the $3 membership fee in 1920 and 18 paid in 1921. The application, which was drawn up by first female commander in the United States, Lassie Kelly, who at the time of application was the post's adjutant, states, “We hope to have 50 members enrolled during the spring and expect to have a very active post. It is a rural population to draw from and impossible to do much work except in the summer months towards a membership campaign.”
According to documents on display Sunday afternoon, Kelly, who was born in Franklin on March 5, 1885, to Mark and Eliza H. Kelly, attended Woman's College at Greensboro, N.C., where she studied law under her brother, Sam. Kelly was the first women in North Carolina history to be admitted to the Bar exam.
In May of 1918, Kelly joined the United States Navy and during World War I she became Chief Yeoman while working in the Office of Secretary of Navy Josephus Daniels and Assistant Secretary, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kelly returned to Franklin after being discharged on Dec.8, 1920.
By becoming the second Post Commander of the newly chartered American Legion Post 108, Kelly stands as the first female Post Commander in the United States and is still the only woman to serve as Post Commander of Post 108.
She served as adjutant and on several other post committees including being a charter member of the American Legion Auxiliary. Kelly was also instrumental to Franklin as being a leader in keeping the Franklin Public Library operating. She served as chairman of the board that built the library below the old jail and during her 20 years as an active member of the Franklin Library Board, she also served on the Board of Directors of the Fontana Regional Library which serves Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.
In addition to belonging to the American Legion Post 108 and the Auxiliary, Kelly belonged to Nequassa Chapter 43, Order of Eastern Star, American Red Cross, Member of Episcopal Church and many other civic organizations. When she was not serving as a court recorder, Kelly worked as an active member of the Democratic Party.
Kelly owned and operated Kelly's Inn and Tearoom from 1932 until her death in 1963.
Several of the post's meetings over the years were held in Kelly's home in Franklin before a building was constructed in the late 1920s on West Main Street. In 1990, due to an increase in membership and community events, the post expanded and constructed the new building where they currently operate on 614 West Main Street in Franklin.
In addition to the historical artifacts on display on Sunday, the American Legion Post 108 honored past Post Commanders who are still living and active in the post. The oldest living commander is 94-year-old John Crawford who served as Post Commander from 1954- 1955; Tom McCollum who served from 1995- 1996; Bob Crume who served from 2002-2003; Larry White who served from 2003-2006 and is the current commander; Tom Stinnett who served from 2006-2008; Bob Slicer who served from 2008-2011; and Don Lee who served from 2011-2012.
On behalf of the citizens of Macon County, the American Legion Post 108 presented County Commissioner Ronnie Beale with a plaque for his work in bringing a dialysis facility to the county during the 90th anniversary celebration.
“I greatly appreciate the plaque and am honored to receive it,” said Beale. “But I accept the plaque in recognition of the 32 individuals in Macon County who are currently receiving treatment and have to travel over Cowee mountain to get the care they so desperately need. My name may be on this plaque but it is for all those people who have received treatment and will receive it in the future. Our next step is to get the facility here as soon as we can.”
Beale was thankful to be a part of the legion's celebration. “I want to congratulate the American Legion Post 108 for their 90th anniversary,” said Beale. “The celebration represented the dedicated men and women who have served Macon County and well as their country, and I am grateful to have been apart of the celebration.”
Former Senator John Snow, who is running for reelection in November, was among the distinguished guests on Sunday. Snow met with veterans and their families to get input on ways he can help their community. “It was an honor for me to attend the celebration for the 90th anniversary of Macon County Post 108 of the American Legion,” said Snow. “The Macon County Post is one of the oldest and most active posts in North Carolina and has a strong tradition of providing dedicated service to our war time veterans and in mentoring our youth and sponsoring youth programs like the Boy Scouts in the Macon County area. American Legion Post 108 is truly an asset to the Macon County community.”