By Mike Pound
Here’s what I think happened: In May of 1932, the wives of Joplin war veterans who had recently formed Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 534 decided they needed to get their husbands organized. The women formed the post’s Ladies Auxiliary to make sure the guys did something besides drink and swap stories.
OK, that may not be true, but I’m pretty sure longtime VFW members will concede that auxiliaries have made and continue to make significant contributions to veterans all across the country.
Teresa Barker is president of the auxiliary at Earl J. Bruton VFW Post 534. She said there are about 140 members in the auxiliary and that its membership, especially since the May 22 tornado, continues to grow.
“We have been adding at least two members every month,” Teresa said.
Primarily as a result of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the membership rolls of the VFW in general have begun to get younger, Teresa said.
“Most ladies don’t know that the auxiliary is not just for the wives (of veterans),” she said. “It’s also for mothers, sisters and children. Any family member of a veteran who is over 16 is eligible to join.”
Teresa said members of the auxiliary are constantly on the go. They regularly visit people at the Missouri Veterans Home in Mount Vernon and several times a year put on a dinner for them.
“They actually get to have a beer, which is nice for them,” Teresa said.
Auxiliary members visit hospitalized veterans, raise money to help veterans, and serve as a sort of clearinghouse for veterans and their family members needing information about a variety of concerns. Recently the women’s auxiliary teamed up with the men’s auxiliary to provide a ramp for a veteran’s home.
Teresa said the auxiliary last March received word that a veteran was in a local hospital by himself.
“He had nobody to visit him, and his birthday was on St. Patrick’s Day, so one of our members and her husband took him some corned beef and cabbage and a cupcake, and they visited with him,” she said. “It just made his day.”
Teresa, of course, is proud of the work auxiliary members do, but she said the response of the entire local VFW after the tornado is something she will never forget. Immediately after the storm, the VFW building at 110 Veterans Way was turned into a distribution center, and members began handing out clothing, supplies and food to storm victims.
“We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day for almost four weeks solid,” she said.
In the two weeks immediately after the storm, the VFW post provided 400 families with food, served more than 2,500 meals to storm victims and volunteers, and — working with the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans — transported 350 people to area medical centers.
The VFW Post 534 Ladies Auxiliary will celebrate its 80th anniversary this Saturday at the veterans hall. The celebration gets under way at noon. All VFW members, members of the women’s and men’s auxiliaries, and family members are invited to attend. The picnic-style party will feature free food and soda. Beer will be available for a small fee.