The only all-women post in Colorado is regaining its foothold after shutting down in 2012.
Terri Shelefontiuk, commander of American Legion Post 206 in Aurora, Colo., said she recognized the need for a Legion presence in the community but wanted to honor the history of the post, which received its original charter in 1957.
“We didn’t want to lose the history of the post,” said Shelefontiuk, who connected with some longtime members as she worked to reinstate Post 206. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh. What is involved with reopening a post and how much work is this going to be?’ And then we started hanging around enough female veterans, and we realized we needed to open this post for female veterans.”
When the post began, it had at least one World War I nurse and several World War II nurses. Now, its 40-plus members include medics, machinists and others from war eras ranging from World War II to the ongoing war on terrorism.
Among the post members hailing from World War II is Aileen Bissing, an Army Nurse Corps veteran and 55-year Legionnaire. “I was tickled to death to learn the post was going to be restarted,” she said.
Pat Wilcox, a 60-year member of the Legion, is another longtime Post 206 member. Both Bissing and Wilcox transferred to Post 206 after joining other posts where some women were relegated to serving coffee and were overlooked for leadership positions.
The all-women post had its own version of an Auxiliary unit, the Vigilantes, who helped organize and run rummage sales so the post could raise money. “They were very important to us,” said Bissing, who was post commander in 1966 and 1994. “Mostly they were husbands. I had my father and brother join — they were both Legionnaires, too.”
Bissing, who grew up in Kansas, has fond memories of the Legion. “My father was a member of the Legion, and I always liked the Legion,” said Bissing, who as a teenager was a member of the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps from about 1935 to 1940. “The Legion feels natural to me. It is a feeling of belonging to me, ever since I was a child.”
The Legion post sponsored Boys State and Girls State, starting back in the 1950s. The members also regularly marched in parades — a tradition which the reborn Post 206 will continue this Veterans Day at the parade in Denver.
“It’s our legacy we’re preserving,” Shelefontiuk said. “When you are a soldier and get out, all you have is the camaraderie and friendship of the friends you made while you were in. We paid extra special attention when we revitalized the post. We did our due diligence. We named the post after the first commander (Helen Osmundson). We wanted to do everything right.
“And we’re still servicing our veterans. That’s why we started up the post.”