Every first and third Thursday of the month at the Jonesville Police Station, the 11 officers and 125 members of the Jonesville American Legion meet to discuss how to next serve the local veterans. Their main priority, however, is conducting military funerals.
“If they request us, we go. If there’s a veteran that needs to be laid to rest, any family that’s requested it I do not believe has been turned down,” Jonesville American Legion Adjutant Gerald Arno said, though he explained that the majority of their funerals are for locals.
The Jonesville Legion puts on approximately 25 funerals per year, for any veterans of the United States military who reach out to them, and they conduct 99 percent of Hillsdale County’s military funerals. Besides the $45 per year dues from their members, most of which goes to state and national legions, the volunteer Legion raises approximately $10,000 a year through scrap drives, raffle tickets at the Hillsdale County Fair, and various other community events. This money is turned back around to support the county’s Veterans Affairs office, or to fund their renowned funerals.
“They do a phenomenal job,” Hillsdale Veteran Affairs Director Renae Shircliff said of the funeral detail. “They’ve got that right down pat.”
Arno explained that the American Legion, which was created by Congress after World War I, is 100 years old this year, though Jonesville chapter was not founded until 1947, by Boyce Carpenter Bunce. The Legion officers,
all volunteer veterans themselves who have served in active duty during a time of war, do not receive payment for their services, and meet in the Jonesville Police Station so as to avoid spending money on insurance and building maintenance that may instead be used for veterans.
“Everything they do is volunteer. They don’t ask for gas cards, they won’t take anything, even a gift certificate for their work,” Shircliff said. “They love doing what they do and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In addition to their funerals, the Legion sells flags, and ranks fifth out of all flag sellers in the country, which Jonesville American Legion Officer Charlie Pfau called “a big deal for a little town.”
Their scrap drives are also a large part of the Legion’s outreach, and each year the Legion picked up a million pounds of scrap, Arno said.
“We’ve raised over $100,000 in scrap metal, which goes to a lot of things we do. It’s been a big project for a bunch of old men,” Pfau said, laughing. “On average age we’re probably about 70 years old, but we’ve got some 90 year olds that tag along.”
The money raised from the scrap drives and raffle tickets go to support many different community veteran efforts, including a regular highway cleanup, spring cleaning for veterans’ widows, and the Hillsdale County Veterans Christmas Package, which sends over 700 Christmas packages to veterans overseas.
“We take ourselves out for lunch on Veterans’ Day, and other than that it’s money raised for these kind of issues,” Arno said.
This week at the Hillsdale County Fair, the Legion will reveal the Legion’s latest project, a monument with the names of each fair’s Veteran of the Year winner since the competition’s beginning, in 1964.
“They’ve put a lot of time and energy and effort into it, and it’s going to look really cool,” Shircliff said.
Shircliff emphasised the integrity of the men in the Legion.
“You couldn’t ask for a more honest set of guys,”she said. “They had a widow whose husband passed away, and she didn’t know what she had, and she told [the Legion] to just take it. But one of the guys said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that, it’s worth too much money which you may need down the road.’ He instead suggested she put it in her auction, and even offered to move it for her, for the auction. I couldn’t believe that, it was really cool.”
For Pfau and Arno and the other members of the Jonesville American Legion, the long hours of volunteer work are a point of pride.
“It’s about veterans, it’s what we are, and we hopefully make a difference in their lives,” Pfau said. “I think the thing that I’m most proud of is the funerals. We’ve touched a lot of families.”