Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman
Wellington is a community that is home to many veterans, and one of the primary organizations providing services and representation for those veterans is Wellington’s American Legion Post 390.
When American troops returned home from World War I, the U.S. Congress chartered a new organization, the American Legion, to be made up of and serve veterans who fought overseas in the Great War. Since then, successive waves of veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have found camaraderie and support through their local American Legion posts.
Wellington Post 390 was founded in 2008 by a handful of local veterans, including David Knapp, Tom Wenham, Brian Munsterteiger, David Benedict Schaffer, Peter Granata, Allen Ziker, James Napuli, Thomas Diocson, Thomas Clapp, Dorothy Mitchell, Justin Marcoux, Jeffrey Rhody, Dr. Carmine A. Priore, David Vazquez Sr., William Bischoff and Jamia Webb. David Knapp served as the post’s first commander, followed by former Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham.
A long line of local veteran leaders has worked hard to keep the post going and growing since that time. The post’s current commander is Jay Froehlich, who took over in July 2021.
In the beginning, the group met at various locations including, a local fire station and the old Wellington Community Center. It now meets monthly at the new Wellington Community Center, where it holds meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month.
When its charter was approved, Wellington Post 390 started out with just 24 members. It has since grown to nearly 100, including a strong core of active members, and a larger number of people who join the post for special events, such as Wellington’s annual observances of Veterans Day in November and Memorial Day in May.
“Getting members is not that hard,” longtime post leader John Isola said. “Getting members to do something, that’s where the work is.”
Isola ought to know. For the past 10 years, he has spearheaded fundraising for the group. With a background as a successful fundraiser for an athletic group in New York, the former firefighter knows how to rally the troops. And with all the support that the American Legion provides to veterans, families of veterans and the overall community, an active membership is key.
One popular fundraiser is a golf tournament held in September that typically brings in $6,000 in registration fees and $5,000 in raffles and other income. “I always check out the post’s new members to see if we find any golfers in the mix,” Isola said.
This year, Isola managed to up those figures to $6,700 in registrations and $5,500 in raffles. Of that income, approximately $2,000 is distributed annually among the sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of Wellington’s veterans, firefighters and police officers who apply for the American Legion scholarship through their high school. If you know any graduating senior who may qualify, be sure to let them know.
“So far, in 10 years, the most scholarship applicants we ever had was four. The least we ever had was one. They all got scholarships,” Isola said. “We’ve never really had to eliminate anybody.”
The post’s other primary fundraiser is the 200 Club, which brings in $5,400 and distributes a total of $3,800 in cash prizes annually among those who “joined” the club by purchasing one of the 216 $25 tickets sold. With monthly drawings and winning tickets tossed back in for another chance, excitement among members stays high from January through December. The top prize is $125 per month, upped to $250 for December. But if you to join the 200 Club, get in early. By February, all the tickets are sold.
“We never had any money until I started the golf tournament,” Isola said. “If you spend more money than you make, you’ve got a problem.”
Together with some dues money that comes back to the local post from the state, Post 390 also uses its money to provide medication and housing for veterans, to keep potentially homeless veterans in their homes, to help out the families of veterans, and to support Boys State, where students are sent to Tallahassee to see their government at work.
But not everything that Post 390 does costs money. Current Commander Jay Froehlich is very proud of the post’s involvement in the schools, educating children and youth about keeping patriotism alive. Also crucial is its ongoing services for veterans in need.
“Our main focus is to help veterans get the help they need through the Veterans Administration,” Froehlich said. “We also participate in Veterans Court, where we take over the prosecution of minor criminal action stuff to get veterans back on the right track. We do so many things, it’s amazing. Between the children and the youth — the funds that we disperse to them — the dollar amounts are phenomenal. Through fundraisers, dues and contributions, we’ve been able to help veterans stay in their homes, to help with their medical bills, to help get them going — and we don’t even operate out of a building.”
Some American Legion posts, usually much older posts, have their own buildings with meeting rooms, storage rooms and often a bar. “They can serve dinner,” Froehlich said. “It’s more of a social thing.”
That would be a far-off dream for Wellington’s post, since building a building today would cost millions. Instead, Post 390 keeps its focus on supporting Wellington’s veteran community.
Froehlich also acknowledged the work done by the post’s auxiliary unit.
“It used to be called the women’s auxiliary,” he explained. “But women now serve our country, too. Now any spouse — male or female — and their children, can join.”
Whether or not they are a member of the American Legion, Wenham is seeking out former veterans to get them some of the recognition they so richly deserve.
Banners hung along Forest Hill Blvd. currently honor Wellington veterans with their name and photo in a program called Wellington Heroes.
“A granddaughter of one of our community residents was in a small town in Pennsylvania and saw these American Heroes banners on light poles,” Wenham said. “She took a picture and brought it back, hoping we could do the same here.”
If you are a U.S. veteran or know one who would like to be recognized on a banner, bring a photo of the veteran, preferably in uniform, to Wenham at the Wellington Community Foundation office in the original Wellington Mall.
“Last Memorial Day, we had about 12 to 14 banners up around the amphitheater down by the Wellington Veterans Memorial,” Wenham said. “Since last Memorial Day, we’ve had four or five more veterans apply, and those new banners are ready to be put up this coming Nov. 11, Veterans Day. We’d like to have more so we can rotate them on the poles throughout the year.”
For more information about the Wellington Heroes program, call Wenham at (561) 333-9843. To help Isola with his fundraising efforts, call (561) 795-2721.
For more information on Wellington’s American Legion Post 390, visit www.alpost390.com.