The Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day hosted visitors March 31, as the American Legion Auxiliary’s national president and other Legion and Auxiliary members were given a special tour.

Kathy Dungan was elected the 99th national president of the American Legion Auxiliary at its 98th convention last August. She is the Auxiliary’s first national president from Mississippi, hailing from the town of Wesson.

Dungan said she is trying to visit every U.S. state to work the Auxiliary’s mission. She has visited 31-32 states so far, and this was her first “official” visit to Oregon, meeting with members of the Ellis Tracy Unit 77 from John Day and Prairie City Unit 106. She said she flew in to Boise, Idaho, and will visit Oregon communities as far west as Bend.

The theme of her visit is “serving heroes,” Dungan said, with a focus on female veterans and the issues and challenges they face. Currently there are 2 million female service members, and big changes can be expected as more and more women volunteer, she said.

Dungan spent more than 20 years working for the Mississippi Supreme Court and has been an Auxiliary member for 40 years, attached to the Legion’s Drane-Prine Unit 79 in Wesson. She is eligible for membership through the service of her father, who served in the Army during World War II. Her husband, son and two grandchildren are all members of the Legion family.

Tour guide Chris Labhart led the two-hour long presentation, beginning at the interpretive center and concluding at the historic Kam Wah Chung building. He left the lights off inside as the group filed inside the cramped quarters and then shined a flashlight around to simulate the first visit to the building in 20 years by a John Day historian in 1969.

This is the American Legion’s 100th anniversary. It was chartered by Congress on Sept. 16, 1919. The Auxiliary was “born” during the Legion’s first annual convention two months later. Within a year, 1,342 units in 45 states were organized. The Legion sanctioned the Auxiliary at its second convention in September 1920.

Today, the Auxiliary has about 750,000 members in more than 8,000 communities. In 2018, Auxiliary volunteer hours had an impact of more than $1 billion through services to service members, veterans and their families and local communities.

More than 4,000 scholarships were awarded last year, $18 million was raised and spent on the Legion’s Girls State program and more than $82 million was raised and spent to benefit children. More than 3 million veterans were assisted, 356,000 military families were served and $189 million was spent on community projects.

The Auxiliary has advocated for veterans rights, including the GI Bill and Department of Veteran Affairs benefits and ending homelessness among veterans. The Legion and Auxiliary have been lobbying Congress to amend its charter to allow veterans who didn’t serve in wartime to become members.

Other American Legion and Auxiliary dignitaries in attendance March 31 included Krisann Owens, state president; Linda Schmidt, District 10 president; Helen Hisaw, past department president; Gea Clausier, department vice president; Ginny Williams, distinguished guest chairman; Linda Hellickson, aide to department president; Phyllis Daniels, volunteer assistant at Wilsonville; Charles Schmidt, past national and state commander; Art Pereira, past district 10 commander; Evelyn Ogilvie, past western division chairman; Ruth Harris, Ellis Tracy Unit #77 president; and Sherry Feiger, Ellis Tracy chaplain.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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