Polo veterans revitalizing American Legion Post No. 83

Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 Commander Cynthia Reynolds, far right; the Rev. Suzanne Hall Stout, of Pine Creek Christian Church, second from right; and American Legion Post No. 83 Executive Officer and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8455 member James Reynolds recite the Pledge of Allegiance while facing Polo's Color Guard during the city's Memorial Day ceremony on May 29, 2023, in Fairmount Cemetery.

POLO – The lower an American Legion post’s number is, the older it is. With 680 active posts in Illinois, Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 is one of the oldest.

Located in Polo, members of Post No. 83 are active in the community, leading Veterans Day and Memorial Day events at schools, selling “red, white and blue poppycorn” and leading the parade during the city’s annual Town & County Days, creating a flag drop and more.

It’s a long way from where the Legion was a few years ago, when it was in danger of having to surrender its charter and, by extension, its number.

“The number of members had decreased to such a point that we were in danger of losing our post,” said post Cmdr. Cynthia Reynolds, a U.S. Army veteran. “So many times we were told we’d have to merge with another smaller post in order to survive.”

If it wasn’t for the dedicated efforts of Reynolds and other local veterans who stepped up and took on the task of revitalizing Post No. 83, Polo might not have an American Legion.

Along with Reynolds, Post No. 83′s executive committee consists of Senior Vice Cmdr. Becky Davis, Junior Vice Cmdr. Marvin Van Oosten, Adjutant and Finance Officer Marddi Rahn, Sergeant-at-Arms James Reynolds and Past Cmdr. Richard Jacks.

The post has about 65 members, although Reynolds suspects there are about twice that many in the city.

Dan Ford, a U.S. Army veteran and head of Polo’s Honor Guard, remembers what Post No. 83 was like years ago, before it almost vanished.

It was different, in part because younger veterans with children have far more activities for their kids to take part in today than previous generations, and so many don’t have time for the Legion, said Ford, who served as Post No. 83′s commander in the past.

Another thing that plays into less Legion participation is the fact that there are fewer veterans these days, Ford said. He noted that, at 76 years old, he’s the second-youngest member of the Polo Honor Guard.

Seeing how Post No. 83 has bloomed in the past few years is invigorating, Ford said.

“It’s good news is what it is,” he said. “They’re doing a good job at it. It’s really refreshing to see them come in and do what they’ve been doing.”

Reynolds joined Post No. 83 in August 2020, was elected commander in July 2022 and was reelected this July.

I think the main objective was to get out in the public and let them know we’re still here. So many people, when they find out we’re here, they’re like, ‘We didn’t know there was an American Legion still in Polo.’”

—  Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 Cmdr. Cynthia Reynolds

Reynolds said the process of rebuilding Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 began not long after she joined. At the time, she was the adjutant/finance officer.

“The first step was to move out of the location that was charging $150 a month in rent, plus all utilities,” she said. “It would be reasonable if we were making money, but we weren’t.”

Reynolds donated a building she owns – the former Polo theater at 110 East Mason St. – as a space for the Legion to host its meetings and other events. When she was elected commander, Reynolds said she sent out a letter with her goals and initiatives.

The first order of business was to buy uniforms for the Honor Guard.

One of the first fundraisers they held was a brat lunch, alongside a dedication ceremony of a flag drop and a presentation by the Honor Guard so people could see what they do, Reynolds said.

The flag drop is located in the Barber building at 101 W. Mason St. on the side along Franklin Avenue. Flags can be deposited securely within the building and will be disposed of in an official flag-burning ceremony at a later date, said Reynolds, who owns the building with her husband, James.

“The [U.S.] flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning,” according to the U.S. Code Title 4.

But there’s a specific way to go about burning U.S. flags. The American Legion established a ceremony for the disposal of unserviceable flags in 1937.

Other fundraisers toward that goal included the sale of “Red, White and Blue Poppycorn,” which took place during and around Polo Town & Country Days and sold about 100 bags, as well as sales of poppy flower pins for Poppy Day, Reynolds said.

Almost all the Honor Guard uniforms are bought, Ford said. A few remain on backorder, but Reynolds has “done a fine job on that.”

The main goal of Post No. 83′s executive committee members is to increase the Legion’s visibility within Polo, Reynolds said. All these fundraisers and activities help with that, she said.

The Memorial Day parade and ceremony were a huge deal this year, Reynolds said.

“After that parade and speech and everything, people were giving us the feedback that it was the best they’d seen in years,” she said.

This year, the Legion members also went to Polo schools and presented awards during the eighth-grade and high school graduations, Reynolds said.

“What I keep hearing is, ‘This hasn’t been done in years,’ or, ‘This hasn’t been done, period,’ ” Reynolds said. “It’s good to hear this because that is feedback for us. That way we know what direction to take.”

Getting out in front of the community and being part of these large, social events is especially important, she said.

“I think the main objective was to get out in the public and let them know we’re still here,” Reynolds said. “So many people, when they find out we’re here, they’re like, ‘We didn’t know there was an American Legion still in Polo.’

“If our numbers and funds can grow, maybe we can become more permanent.”

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Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.