Queen Creek American Legion seeks a building to call its own

Members of Duane Ellsworth American Legion Post No. 129 in Queen Creek have been selling raffle tickets for a Henry rifle on weekends at Sam’s Club, 2621 S. Market St. in Gilbert, as part of a fundraising effort to acquire a building in which to meet. Manning the table on Feb. 12 were, from left, Commander Rick Wojtkun, women’s auxiliary member Pam Wojtkun and Adjutant Russ DeStefano. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

“We serve veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces. That’s what we’re all about. We all work as a team and as a family.”

Rick Wojtkun explained the purpose of American Legion during an interview earlier this month with the Queen Creek Independent. Mr. Wojtkun is commander of Duane Ellsworth American Legion Post No. 129.
Mr. Wojtkun believes the post’s 51 members could grow and better serve veterans in Queen Creek and the surrounding communities if they had a building they could call home. The post currently has an office and meets in the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce, 22246 S. Ellsworth Road. Meetings are held at 9 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month, according to the post’s website: http://queencreeklegion.com/.

History of Post No. 129

The chamber building is owned by the town of Queen Creek, which provides the space to the post as part of an in-kind services grant offered to local nonprofit organizations.

The post’s space is adequate for an office, and is filled with desks, chairs, filing cabinets and supplies. However, the post commander would like to find an affordable place where veterans can feel free to drop in, socialize and be served.

“We should establish a place where veterans can come to sit with other veterans, a place where veterans can come and feel comfortable,” Mr. Wojtkun said during an interview.

The post was founded in 2005 by Craig Barnes, a Queen Creek resident who served in the U.S. Army, National Guard and U.S. Navy.

That was the year a membership representative from the Arizona American Legion contacted the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce, of which Mr. Barnes was vice president at that time, and said the organization felt the town needed an American Legion, Mr. Barnes said during an interview.

Mr. Barnes said he helped post fliers around the community seeking veterans who had never belonged to an American Legion post. About 40 people showed up to the first meeting. Mr. Barnes was elected to command the new post and he served in that capacity for three years, stepping down to run for Queen Creek Town Council.

He said the early meetings were held at the San Tan Historical Society Museum, 20435 S. Old Ellsworth Road in Queen Creek. The town rented the building for $25 an hour, and the post members would meet once a month for an hour, he said. Mr. Barnes said at one point a town representative stopped coming to open the museum for the meetings and so the post moved to Norton’s Corner, 20835 E. Ocotillo Road in Queen Creek. Members met once a month in the space normally used as a dance floor.

From there, the post moved to The Links at Queen Creek Golf Course, 445 E. Ocotillo Road in San Tan Valley. It moved back to downtown Queen Creek, first to Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant, 21824 S. Ellsworth Road, where it stayed for a while, Mr. Barnes said, and then to Queen Creek Cafe, 22002 S. Ellsworth Road.

The post is named for Duane Ellsworth, a long-time rancher and farmer in Queen Creek and himself a veteran of World War II who served under Gen. George S. Patton, Mr. Barnes said. Mr. Ellsworth passed away July 25, 2005, the year the post was founded, and it seemed appropriate to name the post for the Queen Creek pioneer, Mr. Barnes said.

Mr. Barnes said at one time the Queen Creek post was the fastest growing American Legion in the U.S. and had about 200 members.

He said when he was on the town council, he had suggested the town allow nonprofits to use the town hall, 22350 S. Ellsworth Road, for events and fundraisers. He said the idea was denied several times.

Funding nonprofits

Queen Creek Vice Mayor Jeff Brown serves as chairman of the town’s Budget Committee. He said organizations such as the chamber of commerce and the groups that meet inside the chamber building, such as Post No. 129 and Gangplank, are recipients of the in-kind funding provided by the town to nonprofits.

“The list of great nonprofits in town that provide services is extensive, and I’m proud to live in a town that has such wonderful people providing services and support to so many different groups of people. American Legion is one I’m particularly fond of. I have great respect for and value the sacrifices made by all those who’ve served our country,” he told the Queen Creek Independent.

Vice Mayor Brown said while the town has many worthwhile nonprofit organizations that seek donations, the town has a limited amount of funding it can use to help them.

“There are just so many really wonderful organizations that could use space. That’s the rub,” the vice mayor said. “Even if we had unlimited resources, we have to be very careful that we’re operating within the proper role and scope of government in regard to funding nonprofit and charities.”

Apache Junction veterans center

Mike Ferguson operates the Apache Junction Community Veterans Center. He said he was fortunate to team with Desert Chapel United Methodist Church to use rent-free a building on its campus at 462 N. Palo Verde Drive.

“Once you have a spot where (veterans) know they can come and feel welcome, it opens the doors to more vets talking to vets,” Mr. Ferguson said during a phone interview. “This is a place where they can drink coffee and come up with solutions that weren’t there before.”

The center opened Dec. 14, 2015, to provide veterans a place to obtain assistance with their Veterans Affairs claims, counseling and referrals to other agencies and to be a comfortable spot to gather, share stories, work on computers, get food and clothing and enjoy stress relievers such as reading and watching movies,
The conversations are not necessarily about military service, he said.

“Some say, ‘hey man, you know my roof’s leaking and I don’t have money. I talked to so and so and they’re (fixing it) for half-price,’” Mr. Ferguson said.

Moving forward

Mr. Wojtkun says he is proud of the contributions members of Post No. 129 make to the town. It operates Operation Wounded Veterans, which delivers health and comfort items to wounded, injured and ill service members and their families.

In addition, it funds American Legion youth programs such as American Legion Law Enforcement Career Academy and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State and Boys State. The latter two are education programs that teach children about government and citizenship, according to the national American Legion website: www.legion.org.

At present, Post No. 129 is raffling a Henry Big Boy 357/38 rifle to help raise money to put toward renting or purchasing a new building. Tickets cost $5 each or $20 for five*. The drawing will take place in the fall.

To purchase a ticket or for more information, call Mr. Wojtkun at 480-707-8952.

*Editor’s note: In the print version of this story, the ticket pricing was incorrectly stated as $20 for six tickets. The Independent apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.

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