American Legion still here in Hill City, works on youth programs

By Jeff Smith

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The preamble to the constitution of the American Legion stresses Americanism and individual obligation to community, state and nation.

As early as 1932, veterans envisioned the American Legion to be in Hill City. 1934 was the year that the organization was chartered under the South Dakota American Legion.

Chuck Trimble, adjutant for the Hill City American Legion post, said more recently there has been a change of leadership.

Trimble said the active members now are more involved in veterans affairs. The Hill City Memorial Day program is the only thing that the Legion is active in as far as community events throughout the year.

“We try to keep up with some of the programs,” Trimble said.

They also try to interface with those in the Veterans Home in Hot Springs.

Marion Fitzsimonds American Legion Post 160 is a small post.

There are 36 members total. Trimble said there are eight that are active members.

They are still working to fulfill the American Legion’s mission, the Four Pillars: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children and Youth.

The largest project the American Legion undertakes is the Veteran’s Christmas gifts program. Donation boxes were around the town this fall where Hill City residents could donate, but for the American Legion it’s a year-round job to collect donations.

Veterans are able to go to a “store” at the Veterans Home in Hot Springs to gather what they need and send to family members.

Over 300 gifts valued at over $3,700 were sent to the veterans in Hot Springs this year from Hill City to be used as gifts for family and friends. Perhaps many of the gifts are for the veterans themselves.

The American Legion recently delivered them to Hot Springs. Everything for that is organized by the American Legion Auxiliary.

An American Legion Auxiliary used to be in Hill City but according to Trimble, members aged out and they couldn’t get people to step up.

The American Legion has been a fixture in the community for a long time.

The post headquarters in Hill City used to be the Museum @ Black Hills Institute. Dances, movies, special events and Hill City school sports activities, along with the volunteer efforts, kept the Post Home there.

“It was the centerpiece of the community,” Trimble said.

Trimble said they couldn’t sustain the structure as time went on. The building was sold in the mid-to-late 1980’s.

Trimble said after that the presence of the Legion in the community took a real dive.

The Post 160 American Legion is living off of the proceeds from the past sale of their property.

Soon they will be working on raising funds to continue to help in the American Legion’s efforts to support the local youth.

The Post is hoping to get people to the Boys and Girls State this year. They are looking for Hill City high school students to be involved in a program and  gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of America’s democratic republic.

Donavon Schoon, Chaplain with the American Legion Post 160, said the program is one that was built years ago. In South Dakota, next year will be the 76th for the Boys State and 71st for the Girls State.

“It allows for students to go and learn how state government is run,” Schoon said.

The website for Boys State says “the citizens of Boys State create and operate their own mythical state government.”

They start by electing their city governments and proceed to county and state government including electing a governor, legislature and Supreme Court. The students assume the roles that they are elected to nd operate at each level of government even trying to produce and create bills as law.

“It’s a very active week, very good for those who participate in it,” Schoon said.

There is also a program for other students called Youth Trooper Academy, which is  a cooperative effort between the American Legion and South Dakota Highway Patrol to increase understanding about the role of state troopers. Schoon said those students will go to a training academy and learn what troopers do.

The post is planning to have their first oratorical contest soon. High school students under age 20 are eligible to compete. Competition begins at the post level and advances to a state competition. Schoon said the higher the students go the more money they will get for college.

Schoon said American Legion members volunteered in the service and now they volunteer in the community.

“To me it’s very important to have in a small community,” Schoon said.

Schoon said communities withouth an American  Legion don’t see what it takes to protect a country.

“We are looking for more veterans to be active in the community,” Schoon said.

The Hill City American Legion meets every month from September to May.

They meet the third Thursday of the month around 6:30 p.m. at the Hill City Senior Center.

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