American Legion Department Of New York Leaders Visit Local Post

Leadership of the American Legion Department of New York visited the Lakewood Memorial American Legion Post 1286 on Monday. From left are: Rena Nessler, commander of the Department of New York; Patricia Hennessy, president of the Auxiliary; and William Clancy III, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti

LAKEWOOD — The Lakewood Memorial American Legion Post 1286 was the site of a visit of the Department of New York American Legion Family to Chautauqua County.

On Monday, commanders of New York state’s Legion Family — which includes the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion — visited the local Legion post and later toured the Fenton Historical Society and discussed its Vets Finding Vets program.

The occasion served as the annual joint visitation of department leadership for the American Legion Department of New York, which included: Rena Nessler, commander of the Department of New York; Patricia Hennessy, president of the Auxiliary; and William Clancy III, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. Monday’s visit came in the midst of the commanders’ months-long, 62-county visitation series across New York state, which happens every year when new departmental heads are elected.

The purpose of the visits are to participate in tours and luncheons during which members of posts in each county can meet with the American Legion leadership and showcase programming going on in individual communities. Clancy said there are currently 582 individual American Legion posts across the state.

Nessler was elected to her post on July 22 during the 99th department convention in Syracuse, which drew wartime veterans from across New York. She said now is an exciting time for the American Legion at both the departmental level as well as nationally, as National Commander Denise Rohan is also the first woman to be elected to the post of National Commander. This occurred in Reno, Nev., in August during the 99th national convention.

“I am the first woman commander to hold this post in 99 years for the Department of New York,” Nessler said. “It’s taken us 99 years to get to the point where (women) are now at the leadership level, and that’s pretty exciting. The veterans have been very receptive in the counties that we’ve visited. There have been a few who are resistant, and that’s just the way it is; but overall it’s gone well and it’s been an honor to serve with (Rohan) on the departmental level and represent us in that way.”

Nessler said the American Legion is making preparations for its centennial celebrations next year, and is encouraging all of its posts throughout the state to record their respective histories for display on the national website at

“We want everyone to have access to all the great things we’ve done, as well as what we continue to do and what we’ll do in the future,” she said.

The American Legion, which is America’s largest veterans organization, and its Department of New York were founded in 1919 at the end of World War I. Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the American Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit organizations in the United States.

Membership swiftly grew to over one million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.

The American Legion Auxiliary, also established in 1919, is the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization. Membership is open to female veterans and to the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, granddaughters or great-granddaughters of American Legion members, or deceased veterans who served in the Armed Forces during World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama and/or Lebanon conflicts, and the Persian Gulf War/War on Terror.

The Sons of The American Legion was created in 1932 as an organized program within The American Legion. It is made up of boys and men of all ages whose parents or grandparents served in the United States military and became eligible for membership in The American Legion. According to Clancy, there are approximately 29,000 Sons of the American Legion in New York state.