Past presidents of the Ponoka branch of the Royal Canadian Legion gather to cut the cake celebrating 85 of years of service to the community. Assembled are Bob Smith

Past presidents of the Ponoka branch of the Royal Canadian Legion gather to cut the cake celebrating 85 of years of service to the community. Assembled are Bob Smith

Ponoka legion celebrates 85 years of community service

Through gallant military service and dedication to the community, the legion’s commitment to Ponoka is unmatched.

Through gallant military service and dedication to the community, the legion’s commitment to Ponoka is unmatched.

Veterans and legion members, their families and dignitaries, celebrated the 85th anniversary of the Ponoka branch of the Royal Canadian Legion on June. 1. The legion’s charter was granted May 4, 1928.

President Stan Orlesky emceed the quick-paced afternoon of congratulatory messages, reminiscing and socializing.

Hugh Greene, a former Ponoka legion president and president of Dominion Command, recalled when he was president in 1963, the branch still boasted a fair number of First World War veterans as members; today the ranks of Second World War veterans are fairly depleted.

As the legion was rejuvenated after the Second World War with returning veterans, Greene hopes veterans from Canada’s peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan see the value in joining and revitalizing the Royal Canadian Legion for future service to veterans, their families and the community.

Rosalind Larose, deputy district 4 commander, said in 1928 the Ponoka Legion Hall would have been a place for veterans to get together to share their stories and maintain the bonds they formed in the trenches in the First World War. They worked hard to build and expand services to veterans and their families and to causes in Ponoka.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those veterans were here today to celebrate with us?”

MLA Rod Fox, Coun. Loanna Gulka and Reeve Gordon Svenningsen brought greetings.

“The Ponoka Legion should be very proud to have been able to serve the veterans and the community for so many years,” Fox said. “It is a major accomplishment.

“The legion is a vibrant member of the Ponoka community and it will remain so with the commitment of the veterans and their families and the community-minded people who make up the membership.”

Gulka said the legion’s work in the community is recognized by town council but she hopes it is just beginning.

“Please note that your past, present and future service and contributions are recognized and appreciated.”

Svenningsen congratulated the legion on its milestone and presented Orlesky with a commemorative plaque.

Often seen as the “backbone of the legion,” the Ladies Auxiliary looks forward to continuing to work with the legion on future community projects, said president Marlene Ferguson.

Legion historian Dave Spink remembers some of the Ponoka veterans who first started to discuss the need to establish a legion branch in town. Once the charter was granted, the first meeting took place in the auditorium above the old town hall at the corner of 50th Avenue and 51st Street.

He told members it was nearly 20 years later when the legion obtained a building from Merle Gee and moved it onto a foundation on a lot on 53rd Avenue in town. The street is now Veteran’s Memorial Way.

In the 1980s the organization started talking about a new building and in 1990 the present legion hall on Highway 2A south was opened.

Spink said the Legion Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1939, the downtown cenotaph was unveiled in 1961, the famous Legion Pipe Band formed in 1963, sponsorship of the Ponoka Air cadet Squadron began in 1964, and the Legion Arms seniors’ residence opened in the Seventies. Community service continues today with support for a variety of sports, youth, seniors and cultural projects Legion poetess Hazel Rust, granddaughter of charter member W.R. Eastwood, presented an original poem, “The Good Old Days,” and the Robert W. Service classic, “Bessie’s Boil.”

The afternoon concluded with nine legion presidents cutting the anniversary cake.