Veterans' patriotism fuels camaraderie in Parkton American Legion Post 256
By Nelson Coffin
North County News|
Jan 19, 2017 | 10:20 AM
Bill Baker and Larry Entler have stayed closed to their northern Baltimore County roots their entire lives, so helping to run the Parkton American Legion Post 256 with many of their buddies makes perfect sense.
Besides, there's a patriotic factor that also drives Baker, Entler and the slew of other Legion members to frequent the York Road facility and attend its many functions.
So far, what they're doing seems to be working for the organization that boasts a healthy 264 dues-paying members, 150 Sons of American Legion (SAL) participants and 225 friends and family as members of the the post auxiliary.
All told, that's a pretty robust group contributing to a common cause that translates into donations to organizations such as Maryland Special Olympics, the Maryland Line and Hereford volunteer fire companies, the Hereford Volunteer Ambulance Association, the Pine Grove United Methodist Church food bank, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the Casey Cares Foundation.
"Anything that has something to do with kids, the guys are especially pretty soft on," said Baker, the American Legion Post 256 commander for the past four years.
Naturally, contributions to veteran-oriented groups such as the National World War II Museum, Wounded Warrior Project, Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, Maryland Veterans Cemetery, Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery and Fisher House Foundation are also important to the post membership.
Some of the funds are raised from sales of breakfasts (third Sunday of the month for $8) and spaghetti dinners (final Tuesday of the month for $7.50), while other fundraisers include target shooting contests run by the SAL on the 17-acre site.
"The target shooting contests are very well controlled," Baker said. "People aren't just running around with loaded shotguns. The county police are here and we have a range officer. We get all the proper permits from the county."
A bull and oyster feed is slated for March 11, and there will also be a golf tournament at Hickory Heights Golf Club in Spring Grove, Pa., at an undetermined date in May.
Besides donating to charitable organizations, the Parkton post has its own financial obligations, such as paying for utilities, insurance, maintenance and part-time employees.
"We have a good deal of overhead, but do what we can afford," said Baker, who, like the other administrators, works strictly on a volunteer basis. "We budget our way through."
Yet there is no real profit motive other than keeping the organization solvent and making charitable donations.
Entler, the first vice commander who runs the lounge and is in charge of facility rentals, said that the modest prices at the bar ($1.50 for draft beer, $2 for cans and $2.50 for rail drinks) are for the benefit of the members and not intended to rake in a ton of money.
"We just try to keep our heads above water," he said.
Bill Stup, 71, the post adjutant, said that there are many ways that Legionnaires and their friends support the community, which inspires him to constantly seek new members.
"If we see someone wearing a hat that reflects a military background, we ask him if he knows anything about the Legion," the New Freedom, Pa., resident said. "We do good things for the vets and the public."
Stup said that members renewed their memberships at a 90 percent clip for 2017 and that the Parkton Post 256 ranks second in membership out of 36 similarly sized posts (151 to 300 members) in the state.
All told, there are 138 American Legion posts in Maryland and 14,000 in the United States, with a total of 2.4 million members.
"Maryland is one of the stronger states for the Legion," said John Raughter, deputy director of media relations for the American Legion. "Nationwide, our membership varies from year to year and community to community."
Baker and Entler are perfect examples of former servicemen looking to support the organization without much cajoling.
Baker, who enlisted in the National Guard, was a communications wireman in the 1950s, well before Entler went off to Vietnam as a helicopter repair specialist in the late 1960s.
The Parkton post also includes veterans of the Korean War and even a few World War II servicemen.
"Patriotism is pretty much the whole thing for us here," said Baker, who lives in Freeland. "My father (Howard Baker) was a charter member, so I'd always tag along with him when he came here when I was a kid."
Entler joined 31 years ago and was the commander for a couple of terms.
In addition to his other duties, Entler captains the Honor Guard that presents the colors at a variety of Veterans Day ceremonies at area schools and at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Entler, Baker and a multitude of other volunteers also help Ed Hughes, 90, who served on a submarine in World War II, decorate as many as 700 veterans' graves with miniature American flags in 15 cemeteries in northern Maryland every Memorial Day.
"I had three uncles who fought in World War II," Baker said. "They inspired me to help to just to keep it going. It's an honor to do it for those who have passed on."
Just having an organization and a building where like-minded people can come to socialize in the lounge area makes the Parkton post a popular gathering spot.
After all, it has been at the same site since 1951 and in its current building since 1988.
"I love the people," said Bob Clark, 83, a Korean War vet from Freeland. "And the beer's good, too, especially in the summer."
Clark said that because his wife of 62 years is in a nursing home, he welcomes having a meal when bartender J.R. Reaser is serving his popular steamed shrimp for $7.50 per pound during lounge hours on Sundays from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Mondays from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Reaser, a Parkton resident, said that he works in the lounge to honor the veterans and their friends.
"I love the job and the opportunity to be here," the retired postal worker said.
Legion member Wayne Talbot, a 1970 Hereford High graduate who served in Vietnam, also belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Westminster.
"My brother kept beating me up about joining," Talbot said. "The VFW is more geared toward the military, but this place is like home and we're a family — that's the way it is. If anybody here needs help, we all help out. Everybody works together — and that's all there is to it."