Wheaton American Legion’s first female commander accustomed to facing challenges

Army Veteran Lisa Mattingly of Winfield was honored during a Veterans Day program at Geneva Middle School North on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

Wheaton native Lisa Mattingly is no stranger to standing out from the crowd.

Raised by her mother, a homemaker, and her father, a highly decorated World War II U.S. Air Force veteran, it was 1974 when Mattingly felt her own call to serve and joined the Army.

“I was working at a fast-food restaurant and couldn’t see staying there, so a cousin’s husband who was a recruiter helped me enlist,” the 1972 Wheaton North High School graduate said.

After enlisting, Mattingly went through the Army’s rigorous basic training.

“Quite a few don’t make it through,” she said. “But my mother was a pretty tough mother, so I thought basic training was easier than dealing with her.”

Soon after, Mattingly began military police training.

“Back then, women could get out easier than now if they got pregnant or something, so they made it through training but then a lot didn’t complete their commitment,” Mattingly said. “So I outlasted a whole lot of women in my time.”

After serving her tour in Germany from 1974 to 1977, Mattingly returned to the Wheaton area to begin her career, spending her first several years at the E-G Home Center in Carol Stream before joining the U.S. Postal Service, where she spent 29 years.

In the latter position, she again would outlast many of her female co-workers.

“The postal service was a very hard place to work,” Mattingly said. “When I first started, it was run by the ‘good old boys.’ There was a bad attitude toward women and so many of them said, ‘I’m not putting up with this’ and would quit or transfer to another office. Then it became more diverse and things got so much better. There are a lot of women mail carriers now, but not really when I started.”

For her, reading a book about the difference in communication styles between men and women helped make the job more manageable.

“When I learned that, it was a whole lot easier to deal with them because I could understand it wasn’t about me. It was about the way they think. That’s what helped me last,” Mattingly said.

In 2003, she joined Wheaton American Legion Post 76. Almost two decades later, she became its first female commander.

Mattingly said she enjoyed the yearlong role and her time with the post, but it wasn’t without its challenges.

“It’s really hard, even today, in my life being a woman and serving in men’s type organizations because no matter how hard you try, there’s still a lot of controversy about us. We think we’ve come farther as women than we have actually,” she said. “But we have to stand on our own two feet because a lot of people don’t accept us.”

Bob Mischler, a member of Post 76 for two decades, including seven years as commander, lauded Mattingly’s dedication to the organization.

“I have seen Lisa filling many roles,” Mischler said. “She held sergeant-at-arms, junior vice commander and senior vice commander before becoming commander. She was always willing to volunteer for any of our events like our ham and turkey shoots, parades and weekly bingo. She was also very active in arranging a resource fair at our post for veterans.”

Mattingly also holds dual membership. She is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 76, where she held the role of president for several years, Mischler said.

One of Mattingly’s favorite initiatives by the post is the annual Memorial Day parade, which includes a display of flags at the Wheaton Cemetery representing the veterans in the community. Local Boy Scouts help with the display.

“It’s the most humbling and wonderful experience you can have seeing all the different people that have been lost,” she said.

Post 76 was founded almost a century ago. Like many similar organizations across the country, the post has seen its membership dwindle as older veterans die and younger veterans opt not to join.

Mattingly said there is a misconception about what members of veterans organizations actually do.

“I think a lot of people think all we do is sit around and drink. But our guys would much rather have chocolate chip cookies and I love to tell people that,” she said.

Mattingly knows firsthand how difficult the transition from military to civilian life can be.

“As a veteran it can be hard to fit back into society and the more avenues you find as a veteran – knowing people better and having places to go and things to be involved in and feeling like you’re a part of something – the better it is for you,” she said.

She hopes to see people get involved with Post 76.

“If anything, I would just love to get more people who want to help out, even if they don’t want to join,” she said. “It takes people to get things done.”