From one commander to another

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Military service isn’t the only thing grandson and grandfather Jakob and Dennis Regal have in common. In 2017, Jakob took over for his grandfather as commander of McGregor’s American Legion Post #267. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

As commander, one of Jakob’s goals has been to make improvements at the Legion Hall on Ann Street. This year, Ryan Bacon helped install new siding on the building, while Pat’s Electric completed outside electrical work and Gencor made new signs for the exterior.

Regals share not just military experience, but leadership of McGregor Legion Post #267

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Dennis Regal joined the Army in 1956, while just a junior in high school, serving with the National Guard unit in Prairie du Chien, Wis., that was then a medical company.

“My brother was in the Korean War and he had a friend who talked me into joining the unit over there,” Dennis recalled. His first position was as a litter bearer. He retired with the rank of chief warrant officer four nearly 40 years later, in 1995, after stints in Desert Storm and Panama.

In 2008, Dennis’ grandson Jakob followed in his footsteps, joining the Prairie du Chien unit as a mechanic. Through the same company, he went to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013. In September 2018, he started Active Guard Reserve, working out of Prairie du Chien as an admin clerk.

“I do promotions and demotions and transfers and pay issues and awards,” he explained. “It was important to me to help take care of soldiers, making sure their issues were getting taken care of. Life is strenuous enough without having to worry about, ‘this paperwork didn’t get processed and now my pay is messed up.’ I do that full-time, Monday through Friday, and then I still do my one weekend, two weeks in the summer, like I would have previously. This February, I’ll have 12 years in.”

But their military service isn’t the only thing the two have in common. In 2017, Jakob took over as commander of McGregor’s American Legion Post #267. Who did he relieve? His grandfather.

By then, Dennis had served as commander for 25 years—stepping into the role in 1992 at the encouragement of his fellow Legion members.

“It was interesting, challenging, rewarding,” Dennis said of the position. “As a commander, I didn’t really want to make all the decisions. I wanted to get the information for the people who belonged to the Legion and have the whole post make the decisions.”

But he took a lot on himself too, putting in an estimated 500 hours each year managing Legion activities and maintaining the Legion Hall on Ann Street.

Two years ago, Jakob felt ready to become more involved and take on some of the load.

“It’s really hard to see one person doing everything, and my goal has been to distribute the workload,” he shared. Dennis is still in charge of running the brat truck, which the Legion operates during McGregor’s spring and fall arts and crafts festivals, but someone else has now taken over organizing the post’s chili/soup supper and members split duties bartending at the Legion Hall on Friday nights.

Jakob said it’s reassuring having his grandpa around when he has a question.

“In 25 years, there probably isn’t a situation he hasn’t encountered,” he noted. 

However, Jakob is also paving his own way. One of his biggest focuses has been 22—the number of veterans who commit suicide each day in the United States.

“I did some research on this, and the number is actually closer to 20, thank goodness, but it’s still too many,” he said. “The importance of a veterans organization is many people find, when you go through such a demanding situation, you develop a close bond. And when service members leave the organization, a lot of times they feel they don’t have that bond anymore. So it’s better for them to feel like there’s somebody who has like experiences they can relate to and talk out issues with. Because who better to help you with your problems than someone who has been there and had those same experiences?”

He’s also trying to do more outreach, connecting fellow veterans with resources for everything from medical benefits to heating assistance.

“It’s good to have an organization’s help if you need it,” he said.

Another goal includes attracting younger servicemen and women to Post #267, which currently boasts 83 members. There’s no lack of them, Jakob said, but they’re often not as interested in the Legion’s traditional activities and fundraisers.

“We’re not traditionally into those active 5Ks and fun runs and stuff they can bring their whole family to, so our post is trying to move more toward that,” he explained. “That can hopefully draw on a younger crowd to feel like they can be a part of it.”

“Part of our preamble is to ‘foster a spirit of 100 percent Americanism,’” he added. “When you find people who have a like goal to beautify the community and take pride in where they live, that in itself can be therapeutic and assist individuals.”

Over the years, Dennis said that’s been one of the biggest draws he’s seen.

“For the people who belong to veterans organizations, I think it’s patriotism,” he remarked.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Jakob has also spearheaded repairs to the Legion Hall. Although unsure of its age, Dennis said the building was originally owned by a church from Dubuque who let Post #267, which turned 100 in 2019, use it for many years before the Legion was able to buy it. That was 25 to 30 years ago, he quipped.

“It’s definitely pretty old,” Jakob said. “I’ve been in a constant state of trying to do little tweaks here and there to make stuff a little bit newer.”

This year, after noticing damage to the siding that stemmed from the July 2017 tornado, he solicited the help of Ryan Bacon. 

“He gave us a nice discount, so we could cover the cost of vinyl siding,” he noted. In addition, Pat’s Electric donated outdoor electrical work, and Gencor made new metal signs for the building’s exterior. “A lot of different people were involved in bringing the outside back to looking nice.”

Dennis said the Legion Hall has been updated at different points over the years, largely thanks to members volunteering their time and money. He did all the interior woodworking.

“It’s just, ‘Oh, this needs to be fixed, can someone fix it?’ If it costs them $20 or $30 every four months, they just do it,” Jakob said. “We’re very fortunate to have people who are willing to do that.”

The Legion doesn’t have a budget for building repairs, relaying all its proceeds, including membership dues, back into the community for Boys State, the Avenue of Flags at Pleasant Grove Cemetery each Memorial Day, the flags on McGregor’s Main Street and the large flag at the foot of Main Street. Those flags require regular repair or replacement.

The stars and stripes on the Avenue of Flags have been mostly donated, Dennis said.

“If someone passes away and their family wants to donate, then we buy a plaque and put it in the ground, stating whose flag is flying there,” he explained. “We have so many now that it’s every three years your flag will fly.”

They’re hoping to implement a similar system for the 66 flags on Main Street. The current flags were tattered and faded, said Jakob, so he recently ordered new ones, which will hopefully go up on Veterans Day this year. Unfortunately, it’s depleted the post’s funds for a future flag maintenance.

“We started a program where we’re going to have someone basically sponsor a flagpole. For $150, it’ll cover the cost of two flags, two poles and then we’ll put a plaque up,” he commented. “I’ve already gotten three donations, and we got a large donation in memory of Meda Weller that helped.”

If anyone would like to contribute toward this project, he said they can contact Cheri Leachman at (563) 586-2806.

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