The American Legion post in Winter Garden, Hugh T. Gregory No. 63, has been in existence for 98 years, and two of its members have been with the organization for nearly a third of that time.
Gary Happnie and John Kostu were awarded their 30-year certificates and pins at the post’s 98th anniversary dinner celebration.
Other were recognized for their ongoing membership, as well: Thomas Blastic and Harold Brothers, 25 years; Orval Riker and Richard Siemon, 20 years; William Brouillard, Gunther Sibuls, Michael Fennessey, Kenneth Kelley and Russel Niday, 15 years; Eugene Bohmert, Michael Brown, John Foster, Larry Rose and George Traywick, 10 years; and Edward Dault, Sean Gibbs, Ashley Jacques, Claude Leslie, William Luke, Kenneth Lyons, Karl Meyer, Betty Michael, Shawn Myers, Stuart Thomas and Matthew Whitney, five years.
Following the dinner, guest speaker Steve Shuga, commander for the American Legion Department of Florida, took the podium. Shuga has visited every post in the state since starting his position last July. He visited Winter Garden last because this is his home district.
Also during the program, First Vice Commander Kurt Gies gave a history of the legion, and Stu Kinneburgh and Tom Powell provided entertainment.
The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness.
When local veterans applied for a temporary charter in Winter Garden in April 1920, the post was assigned number 63, simply because it was the 63rd post to be organized in Florida. The permanent charter was effective in August 1921. John C. Bowyer was the first commander.
The Hugh T. Gregory American Legion Post 63 was later named for Gregory, a Winter Garden resident and first lieutenant in the 3rd Pioneer Infantry of the U.S. Army who was killed in France in December 1920 during World War I. He is buried in the Oakland Cemetery.
The first elected officers were Sam T. Salisbury, commander; W.B. Burch, adjutant; Elwood M. Tanner, treasurer; Vance McCloud, sergeant-at-arms; Leonard M. Gaddy, historian; the Rev. H.C. Harden, chaplain; and Joe McCann, athletic officer.
At that time, there were 45 members.
Meetings were held in locations such as skating rinks, garages and theaters until 1926, when two developers donated land at 271 W. Plant St., in downtown Winter Garden. The post remains there today.
The iconic building, with its red log-cabin design, was used in the HBO movie “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1997, and some residents caught a glimpse of Tom Hanks, who starred in, directed and produced the film.
Kathryn O. Boyer was elected the post’s first female commander in 1999.
Today, the post provides JROTC medals and program assistance, scholarships, school medals to students at eight local elementary schools, students for Boys State and assistance to Matthew’s Hope; and it assists veterans and families through Project Vet Relief and other American Legion programs.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.