In the almost 90 years of its existence the Ponoka Legion Branch 66 has remained an active community organization.
So active in fact, that while other community Legions struggle to find membership, Ponoka’s branch continues to grow and expand on its programming. It’s all about doing what it was intended for, explained president Barb Olsen. “What the Legion is trying to do is focus on our mandate.”
That mandate is to provide supports and services to veterans and their families. Not much has changed in that regard since the Legion received its charter in May 1928. There is still a community services officer who looks after those very needs.
But so much more has happened with the Ponoka Legion that while its membership is growing older, the ideas continue to flow. The Royal Canadian Legion, seeing its membership aging, loosened the membership guidelines, enabling the organization to continue and thrive, explained Olsen.
For Ponoka that has helped a whole new generation of members provide other opportunities at improving its visibility. From candlelight ceremonies to Remembrance Day ceremonies, the Ponoka Legion has seen strong community interest.
Along with remembrance ceremonies is the Poppy campaign, a major fundraiser for the Legion. Plus, Ponoka has taken part in the Flags of Remembrance for a second year now, which brings Canadian flags to Centennial Park honouring fallen soldiers.
Somewhat recently, the development of Ponoka Secondary Campus’ (PSC) Broncs World Tour Cenotaph project has opened a whole new interest from a younger generation, said Olsen.
She said that has created other opportunities to find ways to engage young adults. The Legion has been hosting darts, cribbage and poker nights and organizers are looking into hosting pool/billiards tourneys. “Part of our work is focusing on youth in the community.”
Besides this programming, the Legion also sponsors the Ponoka Air Cadets through financial and moral support. It’s a relationship that works well for both organizations.
“They in turn support and volunteer at the Legion,” explained Olsen.
All of this wouldn’t be possible without the Legion’s partner organization, the Ponoka Legion Ladies Auxiliary. “They have been integral to the support of the Legion all along.”
The two groups have worked hand-in-hand to ensure programs and services continue. The Ladies Auxiliary used to be the group that provided the meals for the Legion’s Friday night suppers.
Due to an aging membership and increased workload the Ladies Auxiliary have taken to other avenues to support the Legion, but the Friday night suppers continue and have seen growth in recent years.
It’s not unheard of to see 200 people on a Friday night at the Legion. Part of that has to do with the catering services of Bob Hepp and Company being the in-house caterer at the Legion. Indeed, the most recent St. Patrick’s Day was so busy that both the main auditorium and the club room at the Legion were full.
Hepp says he and Deb were ready to retire from catering just under two years ago when an opportunity to work at the Legion came up. They haven’t looked back. “We’ve really enjoyed it,” said Hepp.
“It keeps us involved in the community,” he added.
For his part, Hepp has also enjoyed being able to see residents and service clubs at the Friday suppers.
It’s become so busy, says Olsen, that the Legion has taken to requesting assistance from community service groups to help with serving and cleaning. In turn the Legion pays them for their work. “It’s really been a good two-way street,” explained Olsen.
The groups who help out are the 4-H Renegade Riders, Ponoka Recreation Hockey Association and one of the Ponoka swim clubs, said Hepp.
Olsen reiterated that the Ponoka Legion will continue to promote remembrance. Soon some of its members, along with members of the Edmonton Transit Pipe Band — the same band that performs during the Remembrance Day march — are heading to Europe for a tour of old battle sites.
Vimy Day commemoration:
Mark the calendar for April 9, also known as Vimy Ridge Day, which recognizes Canadian soldiers who fought in the battle of Vimy Ridge in northern France during the First World War.
This year PSC students who took part in the Broncs World Tour will have returned from their trip. They will be presenting their findings to Legion members from 2 to 5 p.m.