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Spirit of America
the White Cloud VFW Post 2053
Soldiers and Sailors Reunions
One of the most unique events ever to be held in
the early days of White Cloud was the "Soldiers and Sailors Reunion". This was
an annual activity, once it got under way. It actually started in the village of Newaygo
in 1883, but quickly caught on and other communities began participating in similar events
each summer. The festivities usually lasted a full week, ending on a Saturday night. The
final evening was a let down for everyone.
People came from far and wide. Whoever could possibly leave home,
even for a day or two, did. They came by horseback, wagon, and on foot. Many brought
entire families and any relatives that could be pried away from home. Many came the day
before the reunion opened in order to obtain a comfortable campsite. Tents were pitched
all over the city campground on Wilcox Avenue across from the high school. Weather was of
little concern. If rain came, these people who were here for a good time knew they could
bear with good spirits anything from mother nature. They came, they stayed, and enjoyed
every minute of the week. Children and youth felt free to roam wherever they wished. Men
tried to out-tell one another of their great feats in the great north woods, and women
loved to sit around, visiting with friends and making new ones. It was a great time for
There were baseball games, balloon ascensions, races of various
kinds, rides, horse shows, nightly dances, and eating. This was an event never to be
ignored, for the tables that dotted the park area were spread three times daily in in a
giant potluck. These women had cooked baked, and prepared for days in preparation for this
week, and now they could enjoy their labors and watch everyone else do the same. They had
everything from wild turkeys to chocolate cake to eat plus drinks of all kinds. Clifford
Branch told of how a young man, grown up enough to date for the first time, could come to
this affair with one dollar, meet his girl friend who had brought a well filled basket of
food from her home, offer to buy ice cold pop or coffee for a nickel to go with the meal,
and manage to eat his fill, then have jingling money left over! It wasn't all work and no
play for these hardy pioneers.
Civil war veterans were there, in full dress uniform anxious to
put on their show for friends and neighbors. They would parade around the grounds to the
sound of marching music played by a band that was always an added attraction. Every eye
would be on these men, some very old at the time. Adults enjoyed these parades, but it
made them sad knowing that some of these men would not be back next year. Youngsters
admired their strength and agility.
Usually there would be a few opening remarks by the town
dignitary, a reading from the bible, then a prayer, followed by the main speaker who would
choose a patriotic theme for his address. After this formal beginning, the fun would
start. This was a simple yet great thing for the people. They were gathered together for a
sociable time after a long time of working together for the common good of all. They liked
being together, they accepted one another, they helped one another in time of trouble,
they had a common bond these soldiers and sailors. Bonded by the rigors of war. Now, they
were the lucky few who came back to enjoy the company of each other and their families.
They would not let this time go to waste.
These veterans continued to meet, and after World War I, which
came along soon afterward, it was decided to create a veterans organization that would
organize to help other Veterans and their families. So began the Veterans of Foreign Wars
and the American Legion organizations.
These WW I veterans were the founders of the White Cloud VFW,
organized under the name of "Sergeant Bowman Post 2053" in March of 1931. The
first meeting place of the post was the Odd Fellows Hall. About 1938, the post purchased
the hall on the corner of Wilcox and Barton Street which had formally had several previous
owners, including a Blacksmith shop and a truck assembly plant where the Hendrickson truck
was designed and assembled. The truck plant later moved to Chicago where the Hendrickson
Truck Co. became a serious contender in truck manufacturing.
The building was also the auditorium and stage where shows were
put on by traveling entertainers. Dances were held there to the tune of famous dance bands
of the 1920's and 30's. The famous WLS Barndance company from Chicago entertained there
too. The dance floor was also used for roller skating, and rented out by the VFW for other
By the 1980's the building was approaching 100 years of age and
was condemned and burned by the fire department in 1990. Because of the deteriorating
condition of the hall, activities were discontinued at the hall and the VFW membership
began to fall to the point where many members transferred to the Newaygo post that had a
nice new hall. Soon there were no members showing up for meetings. So, the District 12
leadership decided on drastic action. They decided to start a new post in White Cloud. It
would be called the White Cloud Post # 10770. They would meet at the Fire Station and its
first Commander would be Leonard Brown, an ex-police officer. Other officers were D.
Lynnes, Sr. Vice Commander, P. Bird, Jr. Vice Commander, George Haines, Quartermaster, Ray
Larson, Adjutant, and Carl Hult, Chaplain.
The post started out with 25 new members. After meeting with the
District 12 Officers, the old Sergeant Bowman Post 2053 decided to consolidate with the
new post. It was decided to use the new name White Cloud but use the numbers 2053 from the
old post. So, the new "White Cloud Post 2053" was born.
All this happened in December of 1989. By the time 1990 rolled
around Commander Brown had to resign because of poor health, so Sr. Vice Commander Donald
Lynnes too over. Perry Bird moved up to Sr. Vice Commander. When election of officers
rolled around in April of 1990, George Haines was elected and Sr. Vice Commander, Dale
Ditlow was elected as Jr. Vice Commander. Joseph Kukal was elected as the new
Quartermaster. All other officers remained the same.
Three Trustees were also elected, Virgil Houle, Robert Camburn,
and Harry Bills. This remained the lineup for 1991. In 1992 Haines dropped out as Sr. Vice
and Dale Ditlow moved up to that position. Larson appointed Robert Burke as Assistant
Adjutant. Thomas Phillips was elected as a new trustee. Various committee chairmen were
appointed each year by the commander to run the various community projects such as a Poppy
Chairman, the Raffle, the Arts & Crafts, both of which were started by Larson for a
post income, Drug & Safety, Voice of Democracy, and Youth Essay in the school. On July
10, 1992 our trustee Thomas Phillips passed away. A sad day for the post.
In 1993 Larson decided to run against Lynnes for Commander, as he
thought a lot more could be done for the post, including selling some of our antique
machine guns and 1884 rifles. They had been in the basement of city hall for years
gathering dust, but were valuable. Larson won the 1993 election and took over adjutant. A
new member, Bill Archer joined the post. New committee members were appointed. Also a
Desert Storm Veteran, Dennis Clark joined the post. Because of a heating problem at the
fire station meetings were transferred to the Lions Club. Larson removed the machine guns
from city hall and has stored them in another place. In spring of `94 Larson arranged for
the sale of two machine guns in the amount of $3500.00.
Larson was re-elected for commander in 1994-1995-1996. The White
Cloud VFW became involved in many more community projects. We now enter a float in the
Newaygo Logging Fest each year and we are running the VOD and Youth Essay contests at the
local school. Officers of the post attend all quarterly District 12 meetings, including
state conventions and planning meetings. Post 2053 became very visible in local, district,
and state VFW activities. Including the National Home at Eaton Rapids.
In 1995 Bill Archer was appointed as Adjutant. Larson & Archer
both obtained life membership in our National Home. Archer became a great asset to the
post, attending all district meetings with the Commander. In March 1996 the post
celebrated its 65th year. This year we moved our meetings to the Newaygo County Senior
Center in White Cloud. Most posts elect a new Commander each year. After serving as
Commander for four years, Larson thought it was time for a change. After much arm twisting
Larson finally convinced Archer to run for Commander in 1997. He was elected, and Larson
agreed to act as Adjutant until we could find a qualified replacement. Archer has done a
fine job, and now in the spring of 1999, he was again elected for a third term. A new
member, Sean Torongeau, has come on board, and was appointed by the Commander as Adjutant.