Schmitt-ManeckDonner Post 1630 of Merrill, was among 14 Wisconsi Posts to receive the All-State Award this year.
From among them, Post 1638 Commander John Rathke was selected as Team Captain, signifying that the Merrill Post was judged to be the best of the best in the state for 2015-16.
To be considered for the award, a Post must retain 100 percent membership and be very active in their community. Post 1638 submitted a hefty binder and a scrapbook to the state organization, detailing its many accomplishments over the past year.
The Post hosted the Warrior Hike by providing transportation, paying for hotel rooms and hosting a pot luck dinner for two soldiers who passed through Merrill on a 1,200-mile hike along the Ice Age Trail. The Warrior Hike program helps veterans as they transition from their military service.
Post 1638 took over coordination of the Merrill Memorial Day Event in 2015. Even when weather forced the 2015 event to be held indoors, it was still a success.
The Post 1638 Honor Guard Commander coordinated the opening ceremony of the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo, where four veterans were honored and it was announced that they would be going on the Honor Flight.
On the third Wednesday of each month, VFW Post members gather for a social night, which now includes members of the Auxiliary. Commander Rathke noted that this has set a precedent for the future and has assisted in better communication between the Post and the Auxiliary.
Members of the Post traveled to Congressman Sean Duffy’s office to discuss the VFW Priority Goals and provide inside information to his staff members.
Starting in July 2015, Post members have made monthly visits to Pine Crest Nursing Home to meet with veterans who live there.
“The veterans at Pine Crest look forward to the Post members visiting with them and providing information, crafts, games, movies or our own slide shows from our time in the service,” Rathke said.
Thanks to the efforts of chairs Russell Iwen and Tracy Jopek, Merrill’s Patriots Pen and Voice of Democracy youth programs are among the best in the state. The Patriots Pen essay contest for middle school age students received over 300 entries and the Voice of Democracy for high school age students received an all-time high of nine speeches. Merrill Patriots Pen entries received first and third place at the district level and 10th place at state. The Post and Auxiliary hold an annual awards ceremony for the participants and honor the top 15 places for the Patriots Pen and top three for Voice of Democracy.
The Auxiliary sponsors the Patriotic Art contest for high school students. Merrill artists have done very well at the district and state level in the Patriotic Art contest.
VFW Post 1638 continued with sponsoring the fifth consecutive ice fishing tournament held on Lake Alexander at Tom & Bev’s Bar.
The Post also sponsored a volleyball team, with eight of the 10 members being VFW members from the current war conflict era. The team ended up placing fourth out of 43 teams.
The VFW Post donated the first United States flag to the new Merrill Historical Society museum and the Honor Guard conducted the flag raising ceremony.
The Honor Guard has completed more than 60 funerals for veterans in the Lincoln County area. The average age of the members is 70.
The Marching Squad has participated in 20 marching events, including Loyalty Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, King Day, Memorial Day, Rodeo Days and Veterans Day assemblies held at 11 different schools.
The Post held its annual awards banquet in January 2016, to recognize the winners of the Patriots Pen and Voice of Democracy, and to award annual pins to VFW members.
“The Post realized a lot of our elderly VFW members were not able to participate in the annual awards banquet,” Rathke noted. “So, the Post created a new program to go to the assisted living facilities and hold a special banquet.”
The Post and Auxiliary provided cake and refreshments for those in attendance.
VFW Post 1638 and Auxiliary are working together with Little Lakes Memories, LLC, in raising money to allow disabled veterans and disabled persons to be able to enjoy the Northwoods. The Post has provided use of the Post building for a fundraiser, selling of raffle tickets and a Post member who is certified in firearm registration completed all rifle registration for the LLM raffle.
The Post also participates in the annual Buddy Poppy Drive every May. Chaired locally by Allen & Shirley Olkives, the Buddy Poppy Drive raises funds for veterans and their families in need.
VFW Post 1638, along with Mar-Lin Post 10203, was involved in the annual MASH Blood Drive in Merrill, helping to recruit blood donors and lend a more authentic military atmosphere to the event.
Members of the Post have attended the receptions for every flight of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
As for its membership, Post Quartermaster Michele Rathke noted that Post 1638 does a good job of retaining its members and recruiting new members.
“I think we have a really good mix,” Quartermaster Rathke said. “The Vietman veterans are the most active now as they retire from their jobs. We also have quite a few that served in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have some third generation members.”
Any Active Duty or Veteran who has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, The Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, W.W. II or one of the many Operations where hazardous duty pay, or a campaign medal was awarded, is eligible to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Auxiliary is available to eligible husbands/wives, widowers/widows, fathers/mothers, grandfathers/grandmothers, sons/daughters, grandsons/granddaughters, brothers/sisters of those eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The monthly General Membership meeting is held the first Tuesday of each month, starting at 7 p.m. at 205 N. Cleveland St., Merrill.
Named after the first three Merrill soldiers killed in WWI, the Schmitt-Manecke-Donner Post 1638 was established in 1942 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.