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Vets, Locals React to Closure with Sorrow, Anger
January 7, 2009 - The state of Indiana's expected announcement that the Indiana Soldiers. and Sailors. Children's Home will be shut down this spring is not sitting well with the American Legion - not here, not at the state level, and not with the national leaders of the wartime veterans' organization.
When news began to spread of the 142-year-old facility.s eminent closure, reaction ranged from sorrow to anger.
The American Legion has been involved with the Home since the Legion's inception back in 1919. From Christmas gifts for the kids to furnishings for the dorms, the Legion has provided the Home with innumerable financial and material contributions over the years. The American Legion provides scholarships to every single student who graduates from the Home, and if they are accepted, their tuition is completely paid by the organization.
Each building has a communal area where all the residents can gather to watch television, surf the internet, study, or just talk. Many of those televisions and computers have been donated by the Legion.
Joe March, the director of public relations at the American Legion national headquarters, said he was hurt by the news that the state would be closing the facility.
"It's just devastating news," March said. "I know the people at the state level in Indiana are working together and they are trying to come up with a plan. This is not something we would take sitting down."
Local resident Bonnie Brewer, the widow of Bill Brewer, Superintendent of the Home from 1962-1990, took the news hard.
"I'm so glad that Bill's not here to see this because he would just be devastated," Brewer said Monday night. "It's very sad because in times of extreme economic hardship, that's when this facility is needed the most. If the economy continues to get worse, more people will need a place like the home, and apparently it's not going to be available any more."
The largest enrollment the Home ever had was in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression, when 1,010 children were living there.
"Unfortunately, I think the decision to close it was made long ago," Brewer continued. "I was told that the governor showed his budget to the Rotary Club today (Tuesday) and the budget didn't even include the home. He made no mention of shutting it down, but his budget didn't provide any money for it either."
Longtime legionnaire Jerry Jordan, who serves as a trustee at Knightstown American Legion Post 152 and is past 10th District Commander, said the local post is very unhappy with the recent news.
"The state is having a task force here tomorrow to talk to the people," Jordan said. "Our main concern is the children of the veterans who are being served by the Home. Those are children who need assistance, and for whatever reason, they are out there right now. That's where they need to be until they can get back on the right track. We're deeply concerned about that."
On the state level, Steve Short, the Indiana American Legion State Adjutant, said government representatives have been giving briefings over the past two weeks while they considered options.
"We've been meeting with the state people on a fairly regular basis," Short said. "Yesterday (Monday) they told us the announcement would be made Wednesday that the facility would close."
Short said the American Legion has committees for various major projects, but the ISSCH committee is "a very large one." He said that committee is formulating plans, and the Legion is putting together a presentation for the state.
"This weekend we will be together en masse because, coincidentally, we have a very large quarterly meeting in Indianapolis," Short said. "This issue has now become a major part of our agenda.
"Ralph Tolen is our state commander and his pet project this year is a $100,000 renovation of some dorms at the Home. That facility is special to us. All of the various organizations, including the Ladies' Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion donate a good portion of their money to the Home.
"We are going to come together in full force and we're going to combine our efforts with those of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Amvets and others to see if we can get someone's attention," Short said. "We'll hopefully change somebody's mind ... you never can tell."
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