With more than 12,000 posts and 2 million members, the American Legion is the largest veteran service organization in the nation. And just shy of 50 years ago, Woodbury’s own American Legion Post 501 was chartered. January 11, 1979 marked the charter ceremony, and the post officially began with 36 members. Now, the post has gained nearly 100 members—for a total of 141 active members.
Robert “Bob” Dolan spent 23 years as a Naval officer, the following 30 years in the federal government and the last few years as the vice commander of Post 501, managing its memberships. “I first became a member in 2015,” Dolan says. “They were looking for people who had the desire, willingness and skills to be an officer. I guess I fit the bill.”
Although the post doesn’t have an operating facility, such as a bar or restaurant like fellow posts, Dolan says that’s not a bad thing. Instead, they are able to focus on giving back to the Woodbury community. He says the post donates more than 90 percent of funds they raise throughout the year.
At the end of 2018, Post 501 collected $2,800 from their annual Wall of Thanks Charity Drive, held to honor veterans and active-duty military members by placing their name on the Wall of Thanks at Valley Creek Mall. The funds were split between Woodbury’s Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, the Hastings Veteran Home and the Veterans Campground on Big Marine Lake.
Photo by Tate Carlson
But the post donates to aspiring military members as well, at the Woodbury and East Ridge High School JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) programs. “Last year, we gave out two $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors,” says Pat Dolan, Bob’s wife and communications chair for Post 501. “We’ve been doing it for quite a long time.”
The scholarship funds are raised through the annual Poppy Days, a charity event that honors fallen veterans through selling poppy flowers, the designated flower of remembrance. “We had volunteers from Post 501 and the JROTC cadets,” Bob Dolan says. “They helped us stand in front of about half a dozen storefronts and hand out poppies.” Because of the high number of volunteers, they were able to raise nearly $12,000 during the three-day event in 2019. Dolan chaired the annual event, and even drew up a proclamation for Woodbury mayor Anne Burt. On May 24, 2019, Burt proclaimed the day as National Poppy Day in Woodbury.
Many of Post 501’s members are also part of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the two groups partner on events and share resources.
“We have a similar mission,” Dolan says. Veteran funerals, the Woodbury Days parade, and the annual VFW and American Legion picnic are a few of the partnerships between the groups.
And recently, due to the LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service Act), six million more veterans are able to join the American Legion programs—something that Woodbury’s post is thankful for. “We’re hoping that younger people who are interested in giving back to the community will join,” Dolan says.
He adds, “Not many [people] know that the American Legion is in the Woodbury community. But we’re here. And we’re trying to support military members and veterans in Woodbury.”