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."
'Best times of my life'
Luby is originally from Peoria, Ill. She joined the Army when she was 18, partly as a way to serve her country, but mainly as a means to continue her education after high school.
"My family was not financially able to send me to college; and my sister, brother and I went in the Army at the same time," she said.
"I didn't go out of country but took medical training and took care of wounded men, mainly at a rehabilitation hospital in Denver. I loved taking care of the soldiers, interacting with them and helping them resume their lives. It was one of the best times of my life and helped me to grow up quickly. It shaped my life of what I am today."
Luby served in the Army for three years. When she left the service, she worked for a time in an Iowa hospital, before moving to Laurel in 1974 with her husband, Jack Luby, who worked for the National Security Agency.
After the move, Luby enrolled at Prince George's Community College and studied nursing. She has worked full time as a nurse for an orthopedic practice in Silver Spring for 36 years.
"I work full time, but I come here every evening, except Wednesdays. This keeps me busy, and I love it. The responsibility is huge, but I have great officers, members and volunteers to back me up," she said.
Post 60 has 1,800 members and last year, the group received an award at the American Legion's state conference for exceeding the previous year's membership numbers. Luby's goal is to have all members pay their dues by January to qualify for a $1,000 award from the Maryland American Legion that will help with the group's bills and add to its available funds.
"We're paying our bills and are not in debt, but we're strapped for cash," she said. "We're trying to raise $100,000 for a new roof because it leaks horribly, and we've just been patching it with Band-aids."
Leaky roofs and finances aside, Luby is enjoying her term as post commander as she and the group's various units expand their work with the Laurel community and veterans of all ages.
"There's nothing like the American Legion," Luby said. "We've all served our country, and we're a family. I love doing what I do here."
Laurel American Legion Post 60 is located at 2 Main St. Membership is open to all current active duty military personnel and their families as well as spouses, children and grandchildren of prior military who served during eligibility dates. For membership information, call 301-725-2302 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.