Red Poppies for a Worthy Cause

Written by Teresa Dennard.

Ladies Auxiliary Unit 353

The bright red poppy is a flower that adorned the battlefields of Flanders Field in France during World War I, and was looked upon by those serving as a living symbol of their fallen comrades’ sacrifices. These flowers, distributed in exchange for donations around Veteran’s Day each year by the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Unit 353, are handmade by veterans at the VA Medical Center in Temple. All the proceeds collected go to help the Veterans of Panola County.

Distributing poppies is just one of the many ways the Ladies Auxiliary works together to help the local veterans. If a veteran needs assistance, these ladies do whatever they can to see the need is met. The group, first organized over 50 years ago, has 97 registered members. Vianna Cheshire has been a member for 30 years and has held every office in the organization. “Many of our members don’t come to the meetings because they are confined at home due to age or illness, but they bake or send donations to help with our projects. We’re a very dedicated group of ladies that work hard to take care of our veterans.”

One of the many projects the group undertakes is supporting the Veteran’s Clinic in Longview. Marie Pickett Lusk, a member since 1979, volunteers regularly. Located at the corner of Alpine and Eastman Roads, the clinic sees over 140 patients a day. “We serve breakfast to the PTSD group that comes for their regular meetings and donate clothing when needed. Not everyone can make the trip to Shreveport or Dallas to see a doctor, and they have found that the Longview clinic is a caring and friendly place.”

One project the Auxiliary hopes to complete in the near future is collecting photographs of past presidents and members. “We’re trying to restore as much history of our Unit as possible,” says Vianna. “We want to encourage anyone who has a family member that is a past president, living or deceased, to get in touch with me and I’ll come get the information. We’re creating a photo wall. They’re part of our foundation and we want to show that we still honor and respect them for their service.” The charter members of the Ladies Auxiliary include Naomi Wall, Marian R. Taylor, Barbara Bounds, Betty Duckworth, Julia Martin, Mildred Page, Mary Hull, Mozelle Duke, Marie Brassell, Mary Gholston and Louise Sholmire. If you have information/photos to use for the wall, contact Vianna at 903.227.9426.

The ladies are working on projects all year in order to raise enough money to help veterans and their families, and also to provide scholarships to graduating seniors. Seniors who wish to be considered for a scholarship are required to write an essay on what patriotism means to them. The ladies also put together a cookbook, which they sell for $10. “We have some awesome cooks in our group and they’ve all contributed some of their best recipes for the book,” says Vianna. One local business helped the ladies purchase a Yeti cooler for a raffle. Funds raised in this endeavor are used to buy Christmas presents for veterans in the local nursing homes. Current Auxiliary President Kelley Comer visits each nursing home and finds out what the veterans need, along with their spouses, and purchases several gifts for each one.

Kelley has been a member for 10 years and has a dual membership. She is a veteran herself, and has several family members that are military. “I’ve seen the hardships first hand and know what the veterans go through. That’s why I’m here, to do all I can to support those who have served our country.” Sometimes the American Legion is only associated with being a “bar” which keeps some people from coming to the building. “The men’s unit has the bar to help fund what they do for the veterans. We get no proceeds from it. We do raffles and other fundraisers that allow us to help the veterans. The front doors to the Legion are open for anybody in our community who doesn’t want to associate with the bar.” These ladies are true Patriots – they support the American flag and are committed to helping the veterans and the community.

The Ladies Auxiliary meets the first Thursday of every month at 6pm at the American Legion Hall on the Northeast Loop. Anyone interested in being a part of the organization can call the Legion at 903.693.6212 after 3pm each day or attend a meeting in the Auxiliary meeting room. Membership dues are $25/year. Executive committee members of the Ladies Auxiliary are Kelley Comer, Becky Malone, Judy Dorris, Viana Cheshire, Judy Lawhorn, Andrea Nation, Nancy Beavers, Laronda Dillard and Suzie Johnson. One member stated, “It’s a sisterhood. I never had girlfriends because I had six kids to raise and worked all the time. When I joined the Auxiliary, I suddenly had girlfriends, and now we travel together. It actually saved my life.” 

The ladies would love to have some of the younger generation be a part of their group. Plans are in the works for starting a juniors organization. Getting the youth interested in helping and promoting the veterans is important. The local Auxiliary will be the first Unit in the District with the younger group.

Poppy distribution will be at Walmart on Friday, November 6 and at Brookshire Brothers on Saturday, November 7. Stop by and make a donation and help these ladies raise funds to support the veterans of Panola County. It’s a worthy cause.