By Whitley Pleas Inside their home on McKinley Road on Columbus Day, the members of McKinlock Post 264 of the American Legion began their monthly dinner with the Pledge of Allegiance, which has echoed throughout the hall during countless events since they moved there in the 1930s. After the pledge, laughter and chatter reigned.
Post 264 is 100 years old this year – sort of. While it was technically started in 1919, the American Legion re-chartered the post in 1921 due to administrative complications. Post 264 celebrated its 100th anniversary in both 2019 (with a banquet at Dickinson Hall) and this year with a community sponsorship initiative.
Veterans George Kouba (left), David Lipinski and Steve Rickmeier gather at Post 264's headquarters on McKinley Road. Neil Lynch, commander of Post 264 and member of the U.S. Navy for 33 years, leads the Legion in its initiatives. Post 264 sponsors local Boy and Girl Scout troops, serves at funerals and wakes for veterans, provides scholarships for students in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, and - most notably - puts out flags on national holidays such as the recent Columbus Day and raises funds during Lake Forest Day.
“Lake Forest Day is our main fundraising event,” Lynch said. “It’s a fun summer event that brings the community together.”
Lake Forest Day was started by the Lake Forest Woman’s Club in 1908. They ran the event – which included a cutest baby contest -- until 1921, when the newly founded Legion took over.
While Post 264 continues to see steady membership, other Posts have seen steep declines. According to Faith Bottum of the Wall Street Journal, the American Legion has seen a drop-off in membership from 3.3 million in 1946 to an enrollment of 2 million today. Post 264’s commander acknowledged that numbers are lower nationwide, and he reflected on why this trend may be occurring.
“I work at Great Lakes, and I know that we get 43,000 sailors coming through every year,” he said. “During World War II, we had hundreds of thousands. So there are fewer people going into the service, which means fewer people in the American Legion as well.”
While the Legion welcomes younger members that help keep enrollment steady, he recognizes that their time commitments prove challenging. “We are getting more younger members,” he said. “But it’s hard for them because of the time commitment. It’s difficult for growing families.”
Nonetheless, Lynch noted that Post 264 remains proud of the community. “We really appreciate all the generosity of the Lake Forest community and how patriotic and supportive they are. All of the veterans are appreciative of how welcoming the community of Lake Forest is.”