Despite Veterans Day Parade success, committee in turmoil

Despite Veterans Day Parade success, committee in turmoil

The organization that puts on Albany’s annual Veterans Day parade went through a difficult leadership transition in 2022 — and is still mired in infighting after what all players agree was a fabulous parade.

A clash of personalities in various veterans groups has resulted in a power grab for leadership, complicated efforts to gain nonprofit status and fueled disagreements over what to do with excess funds.

Attracting thousands of people each year and claiming to be the “largest veterans parade west of the Mississippi,” the Linn County Veterans Day Parade is an event that requires a lot of planning and volunteers.

The 71st annual Veterans Day Parade was held on Friday, November 11th in downtown Albany.

Kylie Graham Mid-Valley Media

But after the last group that ran the event in the days before the pandemic lost its tax-exempt status and disbanded, new parade organizers are essentially starting over in 2022. Some community members were upset that the 2022 parade didn’t it would happen.

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Despite a two-year hiatus and that difficult leadership transition, however, the Linn County Veterans Day Parade drew thousands of people and thousands of dollars, pulling in a surplus of about $20,000.

But success did not create satisfaction.

In several meetings after the parade — representatives of the Mid-Valley media were able to attend in person — event organizers disagreed on what to do with the remaining funds. They also argued over who was to blame for a delay in achieving nonprofit status for the new organization, and a power struggle unfolded over who would lead this year’s parade.

At one point, an entirely new organization was formed, consisting primarily of American Legion members from the local Post 10. That group has since disbanded and the American Legion has withdrawn from the Veterans Day Parade Committee.

The parade is now in the hands of a third group, although the main 2022 organizer is back.

“It’s a mess. There’s a lot of animosity on both sides,” said Karen Force of the American Legion.

Excess money

The parade committee, which operated in 2022 under the umbrella of the American Legion, included about 25 people, said Christine Ferguson, chief organizer of the 2022 parade.

Flush with surplus funds after the event, Ferguson had hoped it could be redistributed to help disabled vets. However, this did not sit well with others.

“We started with zero this year and I don’t see any reason why we can do the same thing next year,” said Mark Lamberty, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 584, who also wanted to send the money to groups of veterans. care for disabled vets.

Lamberty said he was upset that some members of the American Legion hadn’t even considered the idea. He felt veterans in the community were struggling financially and this was a tangible way to help.

Ferguson believed the charity drive could set a precedent to help others in the community and give the parade an overarching mission.

When the topic came up at a Nov. 30 meeting, a motion to donate the excess funds was dropped, led by American Legion members who favored keeping the funds in a separate account to set aside for the next parade. .

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Because the funds were donated specifically to support the parade, they should only go toward the parade unless donors are told they can be directed elsewhere, said Milton Farley, who said he consulted the IRS website.

The pot of money would not be touched until it could be turned over to the new parade committee for 2023, American Legion Commander David Solomon said at the November meeting. A group that strives to achieve non-profit status will then have access to funding.

Conflict in leadership

The group that formed in early 2022 to organize the parade never made much progress in getting the nonprofit status that everyone agreed it needed.

By the time the parade was over, a new slate of officers was chosen to launch the non-profit organization that would run the next year’s parade. Four out of five of those were affiliated with the American Legion, Lamberty said. As the VFW representative, he was the only non-member.

These are the members of the second, short-lived committee in charge:

Milton Farley, a member of the American Vets Post 1919, which assembles at the American Legion, would be president. Lamberty would be senior vice president. Charlie McCarthy would be vice president. Al Severson, an American Legion member and the only organizer who stayed on board from the parade committee’s pre-pandemic days, will be treasurer. Solomon would be the secretary.

Solomon disputes Lamberty’s claim that the latter was the only non-American member of the Legion.

The members represented different veterans groups, he said, such as the VFW and American Vets Post 1919. Some of them may also be part of the American Legion, he said, but what was important was that they represented different veterans groups.

“The Veterans Day parade should be made up of veterans,” Solomon said.

Solomon was part of the first group that formed in early 2022, but he said at the time, it was difficult to recruit veteran volunteers. At that time Ferguson joined and took on many leadership responsibilities.

But in the group’s second iteration, Ferguson was not asked to join because the group was to be made up of veterans, Solomon said, and she is not one.

Lamberty said he wasn’t sure why Ferguson wasn’t asked to be part of the 2023 parade as she had a year under her belt and did an “amazing job”.

After the formation of the second group, in December, those who had been included in the original 2022 line-up, sans Solomon, held their meeting and elected Ferguson as chairman.

Robin Nygren, president of the Linn County Veterans Memorial Association, the group that puts on the annual memorial at Timber Linn Memorial Park, presented Ferguson with a challenge coin, a military tradition designed to indicate membership in an elite group.

It was her organization’s way of showing gratitude, Nygren said. When Ferguson first sought support, her organization recognized her as someone who aligned with their mission, Nygren said.

“For those of us who agreed to support him, we were making good on our promise,” she said.

With two competing groups trying to organize this fall’s parade, something had to give.

After a meeting on Wednesday, January 11, Farley announced that the second parade committee, mostly members of the American Legion, would not proceed with the creation of the non-profit organization. All documents would be destroyed.

“When we first started working with the nonprofit, there was a lot of disagreement about it,” Farley said. “My reason for coming tonight is to let the committee know that the five people I work with have decided not to.”

Solomon, who was not at the Jan. 11 meeting, said later in a phone interview that the decision was ultimately based on a personality conflict.

Taking a step back

For the 2022 parade, the American Legion provided security, offered its meeting facility, cars for dignitaries, pulled permits, did bookkeeping and provided food continuously at the end of the parade, Solomon said.

Solomon served as vice president, while two other American Legion members, including Force, held leadership positions. But the Force left early, before the parade, because it felt proper meeting procedures had not been followed.

Now the American Legion members have no leadership on the parade committee. The Legion would still help, however, if asked, Solomon said.

The money remains in a completely separate bank account, but still under the control of the American Legion, Solomon added.

“We will give it to the right people according to the IRS and the guidelines,” he said.

He wanted to do everything with strict adherence to the law and proper documentation so that the money was only used for the parade, Solomon said.

“The 2022 parade was the biggest and best Linn County has ever seen. And I hope it’s just as big or bigger,” Solomon said.

Moving forward

Officers in charge of the 2023 Linn County Veterans Day Parade were made official at the Jan. 11 meeting. Ferguson will retain her position as chief organizer with the title of chairman, while Kathy Baker will serve as treasurer; Jennifer Martin is secretary.

None are veterans, although Martin is the spouse of a veteran.

Christine Ferguson is leading the new Veterans Day Parade committee after the last nonprofit organization disbanded.

Kylie Graham, Mid-Valley Media

Subcommittee positions have not yet been decided and will soon be in the works to pursue nonprofit status, Ferguson said.

Despite the initial hiccups, Ferguson is confident that next year’s parade will hit the streets and have more community participation than last year.

“I am really optimistic. “Last year was a big learning curve and I learned a lot,” she said. “This year I hope to have even more community participation outside of Albany and include all of Linn County.”

Ferguson’s late husband served, she added. She said he was suffering from the negative effects of Agent Orange and also from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s her experiences with him and other veterans that have made her passionate about the cause, she said.

Nygren said she understands Ferguson doesn’t have a lot of experience, but she had shown courage and her leadership matched the theme of the parade, even if she’s not a veteran.

“This is a community-sponsored event and that’s what it’s traditionally been,” she said.

With community members involved, such as Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker and various other veterans groups and organizations, Nygren believes the parade is in good hands.

The event is a treasured community event and at the end of the day, it’s about honoring veterans, Nygren said, many of whom she believes are still feeling the aftereffects of their service — some physically, some mentally.

“It’s a nice way to honor veterans. It never ends for them,” she said. “Even though there’s disagreement, I think it comes from a place where everyone can agree that this is something we want in our community.”

Solomon also believes the parade will continue to march, whether he’s behind the scenes or not.

“Regardless of the conflicts, the community will not suffer and will have the best parade,” Solomon said. “There is a strong presence of love about this parade.”

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