American Legion Peter Wollner Post 288 – 2023 Recipient
Greater Cedarburg Foundation Civic Award in Memory of James W. Coutts
For more than 100 years, the American Legion in Cedarburg has served quietly to shine the light on what’s needed right in our own backyard. With 365 Veterans, 200-plus auxiliary members, and 65 sons of the American Legion all called to give back in meaningful ways, our Legion continues to inspire and demonstrate what it means to be a thriving, engaged, compassionate community.
On May 17, the Greater Cedarburg Foundation will honor the American Legion Peter Wollner Post 288 with the GCF Civic Award in memory of James W. Coutts. The public is invited to attend the GCF Civic Award Celebration, which will be held at 7 pm at the Cedarburg Legion Post, located at W57 N481 Hilbert Avenue. To reserve tickets for the event, which will include desserts and a cash bar, email CedarburgFoundation@gmail.com, or call (262) 204-7387 by May 10. The American Legion has designated Mel’s Charities as the recipient of the cash gift given to the GCF Civic Award winner.
“We are Veterans serving Veterans – but also family to this tremendous community,” says Dennis Jaeger, Commander, Cedarburg American Legion. “It is our mission to take care of each other – with a vital focus on our Veterans who were wounded in combat, along with their families and children. No doubt, we are all connected.”
Maybe you’re a regular at the popular community social known as the Cedarburg Legion Fish Fry. Or you wouldn’t miss the traditional Cedarburg Memorial Day parade, which the Legion single-handedly organizes and sponsors.
You may be the parent of a local Boy Scout, a member of the High School Robotics Club, or donate key supplies for the Legion’s frequent visits to Veterans in need at the Milwaukee VA. If so, then you know the far-reaching impact of the Legion’s mighty presence here that reaches far beyond our borders, including:
● Regular visits to all Veterans in nursing homes in Ozaukee County, supplying anything needed including blankets, clothing, toiletries, and other items
● Financial assistance to Veterans as well as scholarships for their family members
● Annual scholarships to high school students who interview a Veteran as part of their application to promote greater understanding
● 500-plus flags planted around Cedarburg from Memorial Day to Veterans Day, and placed on all Veterans graves in Cedarburg
● Military Honors prepared, as requested, for any/all deceased Veterans in the area for which the service is requested, including the Military’s 3 Volley Rifle Salute (with a flag and Bible presented) to each family
● Boys State and Girls State launch and sponsorship, providing a weeklong camp for government training at all levels for qualified students
● More than $400,000 raised for renovations to the Legion Post including upgrades for handicapped Veterans
● A Flag Box for the County to respectfully burn old flags
● A Legion Post for Student Vets at Concordia, the first College Legion Post in Wisconsin
● Wisconsin’s first Boy Scout Troop sponsorship in the 1920s in conjunction with Trinity Lutheran Church (troop is still active)
● Built the first and second Boy Scout Houses
● Constructed the first band shell in the park which served Cedarburg until 2016
● Provided the first ambulance service to our community
● Monthly visits along with the Legion Auxiliary to the Milwaukee VA, delivering collected clothing, toiletries, books, and gift baskets to distribute to Veterans
● Bell ringing every December for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettles
“The Greater Cedarburg Foundation is such a great organization,” says Jaeger. “We received a foundational GCF grant to upgrade our facility and are so grateful for that support and this recognition – there is synergy between our organizations to serve the greater good.”
Even if you’ve lived here for decades, you might not know that Peter Wollner was the first Cedarburg resident killed in World War I in 1918. While he is buried in France, his legacy lives on where the post was chartered in his name in 1920.
Today, the Cedarburg Legion’s four pillars still stand firm to guide its mission: Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation, Americanism, National Defense, and Children and Youth.
The Boy Scouts have long been part of those pillars – namely Americanism, says Bob Batty, Post Adjutant and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Badger Boys State for the past five years.
“We support the training of young men and women to grow up and actively serve their communities and country,” says Batty. “This natural relationship formed in the early 1920s with the Boy Scouts and the American Legion, and has evolved to include Boys and Girls State.”
Through this initiative, bright young students who are high school juniors spend a week at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to learn about government (from local to national) and participants give stump speeches, elect representatives, write laws, and elect a governor for the week.
“The goal is to strengthen their knowledge about government and teach civic responsibility – how to engage as an informed citizen in their local and national governments, and their local communities,” explains Batty. “We offer scholarships if need be to include students from underrepresented communities. This program has tremendous impact on their lives – whether they go into the military or not.”
Another program of supreme importance is “Buddy Check,” in which Cedarburg Legionnaires contact every member of the Post twice a year to check in on each and every member, according to Jim Lee, First Vice Commander.
“Every spring and fall – at Memorial Day and Veterans Days – the American Legion nationwide does this and now we do, too,” says Lee. “The idea is to reach out via phone, email, or letter to discern where help is needed, whether it be financial, medical, or mental health. It’s amazing how much help is truly needed and given.”
A critical part of this initiative is “Be the One,” a new way to combat Veteran suicide. Lee reports that about 20 Veterans take their own lives each day.
“Our call is to be the one to listen, the one to ask, the one to act if you find that someone’s in trouble,” Lee says, citing “988” as the national suicide prevention number for Veterans.
The largest fundraiser for all these programs is – you guessed it – the monthly Cedarburg Legion Fish Fry. So when you’re gathering with friends, socializing on a regular basis in its hallowed halls, you are doing a great deal to give back.
“On average, we serve 300 to 350 meals restaurant-style with 50 community member volunteers as waitstaff – including CHS students, Concordia football players, and more,” says Batty. “Everyone loves it. They just want to spend time here.”
It’s all part of the community spirit that is synonymous with the Cedarburg Legion – everyone who attends is part of supporting the Legion’s mission.
“If you’re a Veteran,” says Batty, “you’ve been through things that others haven’t experienced. It’s good to be with people who share that road. For years, I hid the fact that I had served. Now I’m quite proud – and it all has to do with the American Legion of Cedarburg.”
Previous recipients of the Civic Award include Gail Ostermann, Merlin Rostad, Carl Edquist, Ralph Huiras, Bob Armbruster, Edward Rappold, Janet and Don Levy, Mal Hepburn, Barbara and Layton Olsen, Jim and Sandy Pape, Jim Coutts, Paul and Philia Hayes, Jim Lee, Dick Dieffenbach, the men and women of the Cedarburg Fire Department, Patty Gallun Hansen, Jack and Susan Hale, Jerry and Alice Voigt, and Bill Wernecke Sr.
Since 2001, the Greater Cedarburg Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $2 million to many valued community organizations and projects that preserve the local cultural heritage, enhance artistic endeavors and support educational, social and community-based services in the greater Cedarburg area.