Labor honors veteransThe women of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 499 are woven together by the threads of patriotism and friendship.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The women of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 499 are woven together by the threads of patriotism and friendship.
Every other Monday, they gather in the Lockman-Jensen American Legion Post in Gordon to sew quilts, walker bags, lap robes, flannel booties and more for wounded veterans.
“We started sewing for the veterans in 1974,” said rehabilitation chairwoman Marge Biscobing. What began as a twice-a-year event grew to bi-monthly meetings. About 20 members, on average, log about 1,200 hours of service each year.
“We have a very dedicated group of ladies,” Biscobing said.
In the past 10 years, they have provided an estimated $38,000 worth of items to veterans hospitals in Tomah, Madison, Milwaukee, King, Minneapolis, Silver Bay, St. Cloud and even Iron Mountain, Mich. Local hospitals that benefit from their work include Spooner, Hayward and Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Facility.
Every item they sew makes a difference to people who receive them.
“We get so much appreciation back from where we send these things,” said Pat Lord, who has been with the auxiliary for14 years.
“It’s something they can hang onto that says ‘Somebody cares,’” said Mary Kuss, a U.S. Navy veteran who serves on both the legion and auxiliary. “I don’t know who it is, but I got this because they care.”
A talent for needlework is not required. Jobs range from precise sewing to tying quilts to ironing and folding items. Members come from as far away as Superior to spend the day serving others. As they work, the women tie together histories as bright and diverse as the quilts they make.
Vivian Lund was a war bride. She married her husband, Jim, before he shipped out for overseas duty in the China-Burma-India Theater.
“I didn’t see him for five years,” Lund said. While he served in the Army Air Corps, she taught high school in Iron River.
Times were different then, Lund said, remembering ration books and bartering to make ends meet.
“Everybody felt the war,” the 91-year-old said.
Shoes, sugar, coffee and gasoline were all rationed. Even at 12 cents a gallon, Lund said, the monthly $5 gas ration didn’t allow her to commute to Iron River from Superior. Men, women and children all had to make due with only two new pairs of shoes a year. Without cell phones or Internet, Lund relied on letters and packages to reach her husband.
“Every day there were long lists of people who were killed,” she said. Too often, the names of students she had taught were among them.
Henriette Meyer, 82, lived through World War II as well. The current recession just doesn’t worry her.
“We’ve been through worse,” Meyer said. “Right, Vivian?”
Meyer, who spends her winters in Missouri and her summers in Gordon, can remember making clothes out of flour sacks. She recalled that the back of her underwear was printed with the words “Pillsbury’s Best.” Her husband, Walter, served in the U.S. Navy during the war and quite possibly fueled the Anola Gay during his service.
Kuss served for 22 years, six months and 21 days in the Navy, most of that time was spent overseas as a submarine hunter. The self-professed “new kid on the block” appreciates the tight-knit, service-oriented group.
“Here, the community pulls together,” Kuss said.
When she was hospitalized overseas during active duty, the veteran appreciated the small, homemade items a local auxiliary had supplied. Family members of active duty soldiers in the area also stopped by to sit with the wounded.
With that kind of caring, Kuss said, “You know you’re not alone.”
The Gordon sewing group includes wives, daughters, mothers and sisters of veterans. They are a small but mighty offshoot of the post’s 125-member auxiliary.
Many are retired. They come for the friendship as well as the work.
“The social time is great,” said Lord, whose husband and son both served in the military. “It’s just one of those things we enjoy doing.”
“It’s a nice bunch of ladies and it’s for a great cause,” said Luella Burdick, another 14-year member.
Lund’s daughter, Elvera “Mimi” Robertson joined years ago at her mother’s request. Despite holding down two jobs, she travels from Superior twice a month to sew beside her.
“I think it’s really important to show my support,” Robertson said. “We’re very proud of what our guys and gals have done.”
The items the group offers has grown. Lund remembers sewing cancer rolls (bandages for the cancer society) decades ago.
“In 1949, they were sewing and we’ve been sewing ever since,” she said. Today, the items include such things as cool ties and cancer turbans.
About 10 years ago member Mary Horn, who had been diagnosed with cancer, asked her friends to sew her a turban.
“She felt the rest of us were there with her,” Robertson said.
Once the war in Iraq started, the women added cool ties to their list. The long tubes of fabric are filled with beads that wick out moisture, keeping soldiers cool.
The auxiliary holds raffles and ticket tosses to raise money for the fabric, thread and yarn they use. Donations are always needed, however.
“If you’re cleaning out your closets, keep us in mind,” Biscobing said.
And there’s always room for another pair of hands.
“Come and join us, we have a lot of fun,” Robertson said.