LAGRANGE – After completing a two-year term as State Commander of the American Legion Department in Indiana, Allen Connelly is happy to have transferred these responsibilities to someone else. This gives him time to focus on his other job, as the LaGrange County Veterans Service Officer.
Ironically, Connelly was only due to serve a year as state commander, but the COVID pandemic has forced state legion officials to stay an additional year. Connelly is the only two-year state commander in the history of the department.
While proud of the job he has done as state commander, Connelly, a native of LaGrange County, said he was happy to be back home, helping local veterans and their families. .
âI really like this job,â he said of the Veterans Duty Officer. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I get to help someone, especially a widow that I can help her stay in her house.”
Connelly became a member of the American Legion, serving in the Army from early 1964 to late 1965. During his service he reached the rank of sergeant.
Connelly has been a member of LaGrange Post 215 for over 50 years. During this period, he served in almost every post-level office, including the Post Commander in 1999-2000. He received the title of Honorary Life Member by mail in 2006.
Connelly ended his command of the state organization on July 11, handing over the office to Mark Gullion of the Speedway Post 500, Indianapolis.
Connelly spent much of his time during his tenure visiting other American Legion posts across the state.
âI didn’t visit them all, but I was able to visit a lot,â he said.
The legion is organized across the state into 11 separate districts, and Connelly said he has attended district meetings in each district. Indiana has more than 380 positions scattered across the state.
A former newspaper production manager, Connelly had volunteered his time to a number of different organizations in LaGrange County. Connelly was a firefighter for the LaGrange Volunteer Fire Department for 35 years; he was a member of the board of directors of the Lakeland School Corporation for eight years, including once the president; served 12 years as a member of the Bloomfield Township Advisory Board and served as a Veterans Representative on the LaGrange County Substance Abuse Court.
Each person who takes the position of commander chooses a special project that they oversee. For his project, Connelly formed a new nonprofit foundation, the American Legion Department of Indiana Legacy Foundation. During his two-year tenure, he raised over $ 200,000 for this charity.
The money will be used to fund programs sponsored by the state chapter, including several children’s programs, Connelly said.
âWe have a flag education program for fourth graders that has been very popular,â he said.
Additionally, a portion of this money will be used to help support Legion-sponsored Boy Scout and Boy Scout programs, and to fund various scholarships that the Legion makes available to high school students in Indiana.
âWe support a lot of youth programs,â Connelly added. âThis foundation has got off to a great start. I am really happy with the donations we have received.
The pandemic has made it more difficult for Connelly to accomplish many of the things that typically happen during a commander’s tenure, such as overseeing the Boy’s State annual conference. The pandemic landed in Indiana about halfway through Connelly’s first year as commander and cut many projects
âWe haven’t been able to hold a Boy’s State for any of these years because of COVID,â he said. “It was a really big deal.”
Connelly once traveled to Washington, DC, just before the pandemic, to lobby officials and senators on issues of importance to the American Legion.
At the state level, Connelly has repeatedly lobbied in Indianapolis, fighting for expanded health care coverage for veterans.
âWe have done a lot of good things for the veterans,â he added.
Connelly called his stint as state commander a great experience.
I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life, âhe said. “It was a great experience, I met so many great people all over the state.”
Connelly threw a homecoming party in his honor last spring, a tradition for a retired state commander. He said the highlight of the event was when Indiana State Senator Sue Glick and State Representative Denny Zent presented him with a Sagamore of the Wabash Award.
âIt blew me away,â Connelly said.