Eganville – For three quarters of a century, Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 353, Eganville, has not only been supporting military veterans and their families, it has also served as the hub of community activities and has donated thousands of dollars to worthwhile causes.

Last Friday afternoon, the extended community that has benefitted from that generosity and support for 75 years, said Thank You in great style when the Save Our Legion campaign committee presented a cheque for $83,000 to the humbled Legion officials.

The campaign was launched a mere six weeks ago after the news of the local branch’s financial troubles were made public. A committee made up of members of the public, the Eganville Rotary Club and the Legion answered the call.

The committee consisted of Rotarians Dave Clark and Wayne Gorman, Legion executive members Walter Hobden and Claude Jeannotte, and community members Leader Publisher Gerald Tracey and former Bonnechere Valley Township Mayor Zig Mintha. When they launched the campaign, their goal was to raise between $20,000 and $30,000.

“Good things often come from adverse situations and today is a true example of that,” Mr. Tracey noted in his address to those gathered at Friday’s barbecue at the branch for the announcement.

“When the world was brought to its knees in March, little did anyone know how our lives would be impacted or how many businesses would be affected,” he continued. “Little did we know how organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion would be so negatively affected.”

He said suddenly everyone was thrown into a new world of many unknowns and of unchartered waters.

“Which brings us to today,” he said. “Branch 353, like the majority of Legion branches across the country, all of a sudden found itself with little or no income, yet most of the monthly expenses kept coming in.”

He explained when he interviewed Branch 353 Treasurer Claude Jeannotte back in June regarding a story about the branch’s financial crisis, there were tears in his eyes as he spoke about the dire situation.

“I knew then it was going to take more than a story to save the branch from financial ruin,” Mr. Tracey said. “When I suggested to Claude that we reach out to the community and seek donations, the first hurdle was the branch is not allowed to issue charitable receipts, except only for its Poppy campaign.”

Thinking the Rotary Club might be interested in getting involved, he reached out to Mr. Clark, someone he has known since he arrived as a member of the Killaloe detachment of the OPP some 50 years ago. Mr. Tracey said when he contacted Mr. Clark, he was surprised to learn the Rotary Club was also pondering what it could do to assist the Legion and had already donated to the Branch.

“We agreed to meet and discuss how we might be able to help,” he remarked.

A Goal Is Set

The following Friday, Mr. Tracey met with Rotarians Mr. Clark, Mr. Gorman, and Legion members Mr. Jeannotte and Mr. Hobden.

“We put a plan in place and set a goal of $20,000 to $30,000,” he explained. “A few weeks later, Zig Mintha, a seasoned community fundraiser, joined the committee, and in the next few weeks, we set out to reach our goal.

“But folks, I have to tell, you, you made our job easy,” he added. “The Eganville and much, much wider community, including many former residents and natives of the community, family members of now-deceased Legion members, responded with overwhelming support for Branch 353.”

Mr. Tracey said like the old sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, it was quite apparent, Everybody Loves The Legion.

“The generous support to help Branch 353 survive these times, showed the respect and high esteem people have for the Legion in this community. Most everyone has used the facility at one time or another, and it was heartwarming to hear people share their special memories of their experiences here.”

He said the donation given to Branch 353 will not only help get it through these difficult months, but it will also help establish a sustainability fund for the future.

Grateful For Support

Mr. Tracey said he would be remiss if he did not publicly acknowledge the Rotary Club, which has been in existence for 74 years, one year less than Branch 353.

“And over those 74 years, like the Legion, the Rotary Club has been an ardent supporter of many, many community projects,” he stated.  “This community is indeed extremely fortunate to have the Rotary Club of Eganville and Branch 353 of the Royal Canadian Legion as the anchor organizations that have and will continue to focus their good works on the betterment of the community and its residents.”

He noted 2020 was a big year for Branch 353 as it is the 75th anniversary of its charter.                

He said it is unfortunate the event cannot be celebrated the way it should be due to COVID.

“However, I think it will go down in history as a year that the community came to the aid of the Legion, after the Legion came to the aid of this community for 75 years.”

He acknowledged his fellow committee members, thanking them for their time, dedication and commitment to the cause, adding it had been a pleasure working with each one of them.

“To all Rotarians, thank you for your willingness to endorse this very important campaign,” he stated. ‘To the donors, feel good for helping out. What you have done is truly exceptional. And to Branch 353 and all its members, all the best as you continue to be an anchor organization of the community.”

Started With Donation

When Rotarian Dave Clark addressed the crowd, he eluded to the popular Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi” and the line, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”.        

“That’s a line that resonates in these COVID days,” he said. “What is here today, is not necessarily going to be here tomorrow.”
He said it had only been a short six weeks since a discussion had taken place at the regular Thursday night Rotary meeting (which he noted was not that regular as it was held via ZOOM), about the Legion hosting fundraising barbecues to keep the Branch open. He admitted the Rotary members questioned how bi-weekly barbecues could sustain the operating costs at the branch, let alone the projects and programs the branch runs.

“As a club, we decided to issue an immediate financial relief with a cheque for $2,500,” he explained. “Some members wanted to give more, so we decided to table the topic for the next week and we were going to think about what we could do.”

The answer to that question came just two days later when Mr. Tracey called him, suggesting the Rotary form a fundraising committee that would include members of the Legion and the community.

“The fundraising project was called, ‘Operation: Save our Legion’,” he said. “It sounded military and it sounded urgent.”

Mr. Clark noted an announcement regarding the campaign was in the following week’s edition of the Leader and included a financial appeal to the community to help save the Legion.

“We set a lofty goal of $20,000, maybe $40,000,” he remarked. “The community responded immediately and generously.

“Individuals and business donations started rolling in from everywhere, far and wide,” he added. “People told people, who told people.”

He said with the donations came letters of encouragement and little anecdotes why the donors felt they needed to support the campaign.

“So, we’re here today, to say with our hearts, and we’ve said with our wallets, that we need Branch 353 Royal Canadian Legion to remain a part of our community.”

Mr. Clark said everyone realizes the birth of the Legion was about the veterans and the country’s military past.

“So, in military parlance, Operation: Save Our Legion, objective secured. Bravo Zulu community; job well done.”

Support Strong

Mr. Mintha, a community volunteer on the committee, said although he wasn’t at the initial meeting, he immediately wanted to get involved when he heard about it.  

“And am I ever happy I did. You couldn’t work with a better bunch of people. There were no heroes. They all did what they had to do, and they never let down one minute.”

As a former mayor of the township, he knew what the Legion has done for the community, citing the contributions for Fairfields and the donation of the hall for worship services when Grace Lutheran Church burned. 

“The hall was here for nothing for a year,” he stated. “So, folks, if this community could not show the gratitude and thankfulness for even those two items, and there are many, many more.

“And they’ve shown the gratitude 150 per cent,” he added.

Mr. Mintha pointed out the street bordering the Legion was renamed Veteran’s Way several years ago to honour the Legion.

“Let’s make sure it’s going to be here for a long time to come,” he said.

The Last Word

Before the unveiling of the cheque, Mr. Tracey introduced two men who have given much of their time to Branch 353 and who were members of the campaign team. He said over the storied history of Branch 353, there have been hundreds of people who have committed immense hours to the organization, from the time it was established in the old George building until the first hall was built at the present location and then expanded.

“We could stand here all night and rhyme off names and still not include everybody,” he said. “In modern times, two people I have really enjoyed working with over the years, are Claude Jeannotte, treasurer, and Walter Hobden, past president and deputy zone commander.”

Mr. Hobden said most of the previous speakers had stolen his thunder, pointing out almost everything starts out with a word. He said Comrade Barry Watson had suggested hosting some fundraising barbecues to help the financial situation at the branch.

“Branch 353 is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and we were preparing to have a great celebration and suddenly a word, ‘pandemic’. Then we moved on to the barbecue, then with Claude crying at the Leader office, we came up with a fundraiser, ‘Save Our Legion, Now’.

“And that’s the word, ‘now’, which you people have come through, and we really appreciate that,” he added. “It’s just amazing. I can’t thank the Rotarians enough because they have stepped up and helped us out.”

Mr. Hobden said Branch 353 has a proud history of giving and giving, then suddenly, they had no money to give.

“And that really hurts us,” he said.

He said as deputy zone commander he visits all branches in the area, noting no other branch gives as much money back to the community.

He said it had been a privilege to work with the other committee members, noting when Mr. Tracey puts his mind to something, it always gets done.

He thanked the Rotary Club and everyone who has helped at the barbeques.

Mr. Tracey concluded by noting a Memorandum of Understanding had been created by Mr. Gorman between the Legion and Rotary Club, stipulating how the funds were to be used and the document was signed by Legion President Dieter Stehle and Lorna Byers, president of the Rotary Club.

Mr. Gorman said there was a lot of money involved, so some guidelines were established under the Memorandum of Understanding.

Following the official signing, the cheque revealing the amount raised of $83,000 was unveiled to a standing ovation amid tears of joy from those gathered.

After the formalities, Mr. Jeannotte said the committee felt quite positive they could achieve their goal.

“Then, the more we met, it was going beyond our expectations. We were very, very happy.

“I’m surprised by the support the community has given us,” he added. “It is a surprise, but we knew the community would come through for us. They knew we were in trouble.”

He said it was hard not to get emotional over the success of the campaign, noting the branch had started to dip into its GICs to stay afloat.

He said the money they received will help pay their regular monthly expenses.

“Hydro doesn’t come cheap. Even when it’s not on, they still charge us” he said.

Mr. Jeannotte noted McCarthy Fuels in Killaloe also donated 1,000 litres of propane to the branch as their contribution.

“All our tanks were completely dry, and they filled all four up,” he said.

In addition, he said other businesses have contributed supplies for the barbecues. “They’re always willing to help us,” he said