Members of Laurel American Legion Post 60, most dressed in Washington Redskins jerseys, watched their team struggle against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Nov. 6. As it became obvious that the Skins would lose, several members, sitting at a round table in front of the large-screened overhead television, started to talk about the group's upcoming annual Thanksgiving dinner at the club.
Sitting in the midst of the members and their spouses, looking relaxed and eating a basket of spiced shrimp, was Post Cmdr. Shirley "Lee" Luby, a Vietnam War-era Army veteran and only the second woman to lead the organization.
"I'm bringing a turkey," said Luby, who has been participating in Legion events for nearly 40 years and joined five years ago after her husband, an Air Force veteran and Post 60 member, died.
Prior to being elected post commander by members in April, Luby was the group's acting commander for six months when the organization's previous leader resigned because of the demands of his full-time job. Luby was first commander when she assumed the leadership position, overseeing the Legion's operations and its Ladies Auxiliary, American Legion Riders and Sons of the American Legion units.
"I never thought I'd be first commander or commander, but when I joined, I became an officer on the House Committee and later ran for first commander because I wanted to be a part of the leadership and decision making," Luby said. "I wanted to see improvements made and move the Legion forward in its programs and in serving the community."
Programs supporting veterans expanded
Since taking over the leadership reins of Post 60, Luby has implemented new programs and expanded others, such as the Legion's events for children, which are now open to the general public and not just for children of members.
"We had a Halloween party, and we had so many children. We usually have 30 to 40 children, but this time, we had about 100 children and had to get more hot dogs and other food," Luby said. "We're looking forward to our Christmas party on Dec. 18 and hope the same thing will happen."
Luby also started a program where the American Legion Riders, the organization's motorcycle unit, greets soldiers at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport as they are shipping out of the country or returning from overseas assignments.
"We get a schedule and the riders have a flag display for the active duty (soldiers), so when they come out past the security check point, our members are there to greet them and take photos with them. We had a dozen in the last flag brigade at the airport," Luby said.
Under Luby's leadership, the local American Legion has also expanded the work it does with the Wounded Warriors organization. According to Luby, they serve dinners with live entertainment twice a month for wounded service men and women receiving treatment at hospital facilities for veterans. They have also increased the Legion's support for the USA Wounded Warriors ice hockey team.
"They have fundraising events; and we sell tickets for them, and promote their events in our fliers and in our newsletter," she said. "We're also a new and permanent sponsor of the Wish of a Lifetime program for aging veterans. On Oct. 18, they brought a group of veterans to D.C. from all over the country to visit the World War II memorial and other memorials. We gave them dinner and had entertainment for them."
Sandy Griffith, a member of the Legion's Ladies Auxiliary, described Luby as a personable and capable commander, whose new ideas and programs are going over well with members.
"She's doing a fantastic job," Griffith said. "She tries to work with everybody and is making lots of great improvements."
Claude Vitali, a retired Marine, joined Post 60 two months ago. He also commended Luby on the job she's doing as commander and the changes she's implemented.
"She's doing a good job and is moving the club in the right direction to better the post for us and the community," Vitali said. "The Wounded Warriors work is great; and although I don't know her well, she's always pleasant and speaks to everybody."
Second Vice Cmdr. Don Worsham, who's been a member of Laurel Post 60 since 1990, agreed, and said the members back Luby and her ideas "110 percent."
"We love her and like the changes she's made," Worsham said. "She's been talking about changing the menu to make it better, and we did a survey and people said we should try it."
The post sells pre-packaged sandwiches that they warm up, pizza, chips and other snacks daily, with full hot dinners served on Fridays and special occasions, such as the Thanksgiving meal. On Nov. 4, for about $8, members were offered lasagna with a salad and garlic bread; shrimp dinners; hamburgers; and hot fish and crab cake sandwiches. Luby wants to provide hearty meals like this for members on a daily basis.
"I want our veterans to have more of a variety of food, and feel that they can come in and have a hot meal anytime, especially the older, single men," Luby said. "I'm working on getting vegetables and other healthy items on the menu."