ELLSWORTH — Peggy Haake, the national president for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary, made a stop in Ellsworth on Aug. 16 at the VFW Post 109. Haake was welcomed with a luncheon and greeted by a group that included members of the Ellsworth VFW Auxiliary and the Ellsworth VFW.
Since being elected on July 24 at the 106th National Convention in Orlando, Fla., Haake has begun her primary job: traveling to all 50 states to meet with local VFW auxiliaries. This is the fifth state Haake has visited since she began traveling on Aug. 4.
This national tour has already brought Haake from one side of the country to the other, as she is the first national president to hail from Hawaii. In her hometown of Kahului, Haake is a life member of the Wilbert Wah Hu Tom Auxiliary 3850, according to her bio on the National Auxiliary’s website. When asked what this kind of cross-country travel has been like so far, Haake acknowledged the fast-paced nature of her trip, but called it “a lot of fun.”
The VFW Auxiliary was founded in 1914 and is the oldest organization to serve veterans, according to the website. Teri Peaslee, media chairwoman for the Office of the State Historian, who was in attendance at the lunch, said the Auxiliary’s origins can be traced back to when service members returned to U.S. soil after wartime and needed assistance with obtaining veteran benefits and resources.
Since its establishment, “the Auxiliary has united Americans from all walks of life with a common purpose: to improve the lives of veterans, active duty service members and their families and our communities,” according to the National Auxiliary’s website.
The Auxiliary has grown to include over 470,000 members nationwide. Members have volunteered millions of hours in hospitals, facilitated youth scholarship programs, supported VFW scholarship programs, advocated for veteran-focused legislation and organized many other community initiatives.
Scholarship contests include essay competitions and art projects for students ranging from grade school to high school. According to the VFW website, the “Voice of Democracy” contest is a chance for high school students to write and record an essay based on the year’s patriotic theme. Winners receive a $30,000 scholarship toward the cost of their college or trade school and finalists from each state win a paid trip to Washington, D.C. Students do not have to be personally affiliated with the VFW or the VFW Auxiliary to participate.
Haake expressed enthusiasm for these scholarship programs and the chance they provide for finalists to travel to the nation’s capital. Kim Baldwin, the current junior vice president for the Ellsworth VFW Auxiliary, echoed this enthusiasm for the scholarship programs. Baldwin served as president for the Maine VFW Auxiliary from 2016 to 2017. During that time, she traveled to Washington, D.C., and escorted scholarship finalists onstage in recognition of their accomplishments. Looking back at this experience, Baldwin said “it was my favorite part” of her time as state president.
In order to be eligible to join the VFW Auxiliary, members must have a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling or child who is “eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States,” according to the National Auxiliary website.
The acting president of the Ellsworth VFW Auxiliary, Sylvia Holmes-Tainter, said the Ellsworth group currently has 61 members, four of whom are men. The Auxiliary started out as a women-only organization and now allows male membership. Holmes-Tainter described how this reflects the changing nature of the military and how there are women serving in combat who have male family members who want to support VFW Auxiliary efforts.
Several of those in attendance at Friday’s lunch discussed how membership for the VFW and VFW Auxiliary is in all-around decline. Despite the decline, Peaslee spoke to the Auxiliary’s relevance in today’s society due to its commitment to “drive legislation and prevent legislation to protect veterans.”
Harvey Stradley, senior vice commander of Ellsworth VFW Post 109, also voiced the need for new membership. Dressed in his neatly pressed uniform, Stradley noted the importance of perpetuating VFW and Auxiliary efforts and how strong representation provides an effec