Clarification: It appears that Melanie Richards, the Post Commander of American Legion Post # 45 in Hastings who was elected in May, is the first woman commander of the post.
When researching the story, the post history listed Shirley B. Henry as the commander in 1944-45. It was assumed that Shirley was a woman, making Melanie the second woman to lead the post.
Wrong. Back in the day, Shirley was more commonly a man's name, and a caller to the station this morning verified that Shirley B. Henry was a male.
So, Richards, a Viet Nam Era veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, would be the first woman commander of the post. Richards and her husband John, a U.S. Army veteran also in the Viet Nam Era, are Michigan natives who moved to Hastings in 2013. During the 2014 American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Day, when the Legion’s memorial flowers are distributed to the public, Richards decided to get involved at the post.
She and John both like to travel, so visiting and attending meetings as post commander are not a problem. They include visits to the other posts in the county, Post #484 in Hickory Corners and Post #140 in Middleville, the 4th District, which covers much of Southwest Michigan, and two meetings a year at the state level, the most recent in Flint.
The post maintains a combination of new and traditional duties, Richards said. The post, 2160 South M-37 in Hastings, meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. The second meeting “has a less formal feel,” with guest speakers invited to talk about topics of interest to veterans, she said.
A Disabled Veterans unit for Barry County is being developed with election of officers and work on bylaws and a mission statement in October. The new unit will hold its meetings at the post.
“The Honor Guard will always lead area parades and are honored to attend military funeral services for veterans,” Richards said. The American Legion Riders also take part in parades, many veterans activities and some funerals with the Honor Guard, she said.
Riders from the Hastings post and American Legion Post # 298 in Battle Creek recently held a fundraiser for a former marine to help pay for specialized medical treatment, raising $35,000.
Part of the event was raffling off a Harley Davidson “Wide Glide” motorcycle. The winner donated the motorcycle to another fundraiser where it was raffled it off again.
“I hope it’s still being raffled off somewhere,” she said.
The post women’s auxiliary hosts events for members and guests is the recently refurbished lounge. Special events for the public are advertised as they occur. Wednesday night bingo continues, with snacks, coffee and water. Bingo starts at 5 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Richards advises getting there around 4:30 p.m. to get your place set up.
Currently being planned is a bean soup and cornbread supper, a traditional meal for soldiers that goes back to the Civil War, to be hosted on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11.
Photo: American Legion Post #45 Commander Melanie Richards.