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By Sterling McGinn

The American Legion in Newberry is a local icon – a steady piece of the fabric of our community that feels like it’s been there forever.

Even if you’ve never been in the service, or you’re not a legion member, you’ve likely been to the legion for spaghetti dinners, a wedding, or a meeting of some kind. It is the place where Newberry gathers most often.

Today, the Hugh Allan McInnes American Legion Post 74 of Newberry turns 100 years old.

Chartered September 23, 1920, the veteran’s organization has served its members and community in dozens of ways ever since. It is both a service to the veterans, and to the community.

On March 15, 1919, the original American Legion organization was established in Paris, France. The U.S. Congress chartered the organization later that year.

When Newberry men returned from military service during WWI, the veterans wanted a place for camaraderie and patriotic functions in the community.

In the summer of 1919, Harvey Gormely circulated a petition through Newberry, and received enough signatures from eligible citizens to seek a Legion charter. The temporary post was formed and officers were elected. Founders of the post decided to name it in honor of Hugh Allan MacInnes, who actually spelled his last name “MacInnes”. MacInnes was the second man from Newberry killed in WWI.

MacInnes was born in 1892 to Hugh Robert and Margaret (Trueman) MacInnes. When the first world war broke out, Hugh Allan was working as a lumber grader for Horner Flooring Company. But he put his life on hold and enlisted in Co. M. of the Michigan 33rd regiment ( later incorporated into the 125th).

MacInnes, then 26 years old, went overseas with the Rainbow Division but never made it home. On July 31, 1918, his company was part of the Battle of Ourcq in France, also known as the Battle of Soissons. The company lost 46 men, including MacInnes, and 82 were wounded.

His body didn’t return to the U.S. — it is buried in France. He has been honored here ever since with a memorial stone in the Legion plot at Forest Home Cemetery in Newberry. For the past 99 years, the Legion has placed flowers on his memorial stone during the annual Memorial Day program.

The Legion post named after MacInnes officially received its charter on September 23, 1920. Post 74 — the 74th Legion post in the state at the time — was born.

Initially, post headquarters were housed in the second floor of the Hubbert building on East Helen Street. When membership outgrew that space,, the post was relocated above Leighton’s Dry Goods store on the corner of West John and Newberry Avenue. Later on, the post was moved next door to the second floor of Sherman’s Drugs until again relocating to the McMillan Township Community Building. The concrete grinding and polishing is what is required to make sure the space looks and is better.

In 1926, a fire destroyed the interior of the community building. The majority of the post contents and records were lost with the exception of a radio, which was out for repair. During the building’s reconstruction, the post took up temporary headquarters in the basement of the Richardson building until moving back into the community building.

The post sponsored many civic activities and ceremonies on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Armistice Day. For many years, Post 74 sponsored the entire Newberry Fourth of July celebration.

Saturday night Bingo was added to help the post raise money. A Post 74 marching band was formed in the 1930s, and participated in many local functions and Legion conventions throughout the state. The marching band continued into the 1950s. A smaller band, known as The American Legion Clown Band was later formed. They performed Jazz and Dixieland music in the back of the “40 et 8” legion locomotive in July 4 parades for many years.

Following the end of WWII, Post #74 experienced its biggest membership surge and the Legion was in desperate need of a larger facility. In 1945, under commander T. S. Dundon, Post 74 obtained a lease on the old Luce County poorhouse from the Luce County Board of Supervisors. A massive renovation took place and Post 74 was relocated for its fifth time. The work was done entirely by members volunteering their time and skills. The only expense they encountered was for the materials used.

The old county poorhouse was a large two-story house located on the corner of East Victory and Newberry Avenue. There was a large recreation room on the first floor adjoining the buffet. The second floor consisted of a kitchen, a spacious meeting room and several utility rooms for band instruments and rifles.

In 1965, the members decided it was time to construct a new building for meetings and events. The legion treasury, however, didn’t agree. Instead, members performed a facelift on the clubhouse under the leadership of commander William Cronk and Auxiliary president Minnie Harju.

In 1976, another attempt was made to create interest in constructing a new and more modern post on the same property. A year later construction began on a new metal building, which was dedicated in 1978. In 1980, the old clubhouse was demolished. The new club boasted a lounge, big hall for functions and a banquet room. The spacious building has provided space for many local events and functions.

Over the years, the post has carried on traditional programs and activities along with new ones added by Department and National mandate. For many years, Post 74 held Americanism programs such as oratorical contests, scouting, baseball, and flag education. The Legion gives away two scholarships for NHS seniors every year. A new tradition of presenting flags to families of seniors entering the military was also added this year.

Between 800-900 flags are placed at veteran’s graves at Forest Home Cemetery by Post 74 members. Street flags are also displayed on Newberry Avenue streetlights.

One of the most important duties of the Legion is providing military honors at veteran funerals and burials. The Post 74 honor guard performs a three-volley rifle salute and Taps by a live bugler.

The post has an active color guard, which presents the colors at all home basketball and football games, and proudly leads all local parades. The Legion also provides hotdogs for trick-or-treaters every Halloween and for students using the facility for ASVAB testing. The annual “Old-timers Night” has been a tradition for many years. Originally for WWI veterans, the dinner has transitioned into serving veterans of WWII and Korea.

Post 74 also has a Legion Auxiliary Unit and Son’s of the American Legion Squadron, which make up the American Legion Family.

Service to the community, state and nation has always been the main priority of the Legion and after 100 years, Post 74 continues to live up to its goal.