When he first joined American Legion Post 1, the main appeal for Jim Baker was social.
“It was easy to make friends and meet women,” said the Korean War veteran, who became a member in 1951 after returning from his Army service.
“They used to have dances and it was a good place to meet gals.”
The gal who made the biggest impression on Baker was the one he eventually married.
Since they met through Post 1, he and Sandy, his wife, have served side by side in various volunteer capacities over 45 years.
Between the two of them, they’ve seen as much of the post’s history as anyone.
Starting this weekend, the Bakers and other longtime supporters will be reflecting a lot on that history, as Post 1 — the oldest American Legion post in the state and the oldest continuously operated one in the nation — marks its 100th birthday.
A planned week of activities begins Saturday with an open house at the Legion Hall, 1120 E. Eighth St.
The open house, which continues Sunday, will be a good opportunity for the community to learn about the post and its history, officials said. Old photos, artifacts and memorabilia will be on display and club officers and members will be on hand.
The post’s actual birthday is Tuesday, June 18.
As for Baker, it’s hard to understate his role in post history.
A member for going on 70 years, he holds the record for most terms as commander at nine. The building itself, home to the post since 1927, was named for him in 2013.
“It’s been his lifeline and mine, too,” his wife, Sandy, said of Post 1. “We did everything together down here.”
Vietnam veteran and past commander Rick Alfaro had no clue when he first joined Post 1 that he’d go on to be a five-time commander.
The original draw, he chuckled, was “cheap beer.”
“The Legion and the VFW. I went from one place to the other.”
But in the process, he recognized the value of the camaraderie. Alfaro, who has two sons who are also members now, said, “The thing about a vet — when you come back (from service), it’s not the same as when you left.”
It takes a fellow veteran, he added, to truly understand the transition.
Alfaro said when he first joined in 1972 there weren’t many Vietnam veterans involved at Post 1. After he became commander, he worked to recruit more and was able to build up the number.
Past commander Gary Wall, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps reservist, said there’s a common misconception that when veterans get together all they do is tell war stories.
They don’t, he said, adding with a laugh that it’s more likely to be “about how bad we did last weekend playing golf.”
But when war stories are shared, it’s a solemn occasion.
“The ones I’ve heard are usually contained to the table, very low key, very emotional,” Wall said. “When it’s (over) we all raise a glass.”
As current commander, Bryan Davis said he’s grateful to be surrounded by “honorable” past commanders such as Baker, Alfaro and Wall.
While the focus this week is on the post’s past, Davis can’t help thinking about the next 100 years, and the continuing goal to help veterans connect and access services.
At 55, the Marine Corps veteran is one of the younger members.
There’s a perception about the Legion, Davis said, “that it’s just a bunch of old people who go down there.”
Davis agrees the post needs an infusion of youth. One of his focuses, he said, is reaching out to the younger veterans coming back from service.
“The biggest thing we need is exposure,” he said. “So many people say they didn’t know we’re here.”
People are also surprised to learn just what all the Post does, he said. He’s especially proud to note that Post 1 helps around 1,500 local veterans annually with food, housing and VA claims through its certified Veterans Affairs service officers.
“The camaraderie is great, but our main mission is service,” Davis said.