The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by the United States Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness for American citizens. They are committed to mentoring youth and advocating patriotism, honor, national security, and continued devotion to fellow service-members and veterans. One of the many programs the American Legion sponsors is a state-wide Youth Citizenship Conference for qualifying young women and young men entering their senior year of high school. In Wisconsin, the conference is called Badger Girls State and Badger Boys State. The conference is held once a year, usually for one week in June. Badger State is an American Legion program, which leads us to a recent meeting in Milltown, Wis.
Milltown American Legion Post #254 and Commander Patrick Hyden accepted a visitor request from Connie Berning and Greg Kier from New Richmond on Dec. 7, an important date in our nation’s history (the start of World War II when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor). This visit was to honor our service people in general and to show appreciation for American Legion support many years ago.
Connie Berning is a member of the New Richmond American Legion Auxiliary, Unit #80 and has coordinated local participation in Badger Girls State and Badger Boys State. Kier has assisted with Badger State selection for several years as a staff member for the School District of New Richmond. Berning and Kier are past participants of Badger Girls State and Badger Boys State, respectively. Berning has also served as an adult volunteer for Badger Girls State through the years.
In recent years, though, interest in Badger State has waned. As ideas were generated to increase awareness and interest, Berning and Kier realized that most American Legion Post members sponsor high school students and never know the impact or benefit of their generous sponsorship to Badger State. This visit was to properly thank everyone.
“Thirty-five years ago I submitted an application to attend something called Badger Boys State,” said Kier, “and I had absolutely no idea what it was about. My guidance counselor told me it would be a great opportunity, so I took it.” Mr. Kier went on to share his experience at Ripon College, site of Badger Boys State, and how much he appreciated being a Badger Boys State member.
Berning also shared her experience: “It was such a big deal when I was chosen to attend Badger Girls State that the president of our school board went to my dad’s work and congratulated him in person! I knew it was a big deal to be able to attend Badger Girls State, and wouldn’t be supporting it all these years later if it wasn’t a great opportunity for our young adults.”
She also shared how important it is to partner with schools now: “Some schools only allow students with very high grade point averages to apply for Badger State. Post and Auxiliary members may want to talk with school officials and remind them that Badger State might be a great fit for students even if they don’t have a really high GPA.”
Members of the meeting admitted that very few people ever shared their experiences at Badger Girls State or Badger Boys State. “It’s embarrassing that it took me thirty-five years to come back and truly thank you for your Badger Boys State sponsorship, but your generosity opened my eyes to democracy, patriotism, respect for those who have served, and being an active community member. Thank you!” Kier said. Both Berning and Kier shared other stories about the difference the American Legion had made in their lives. “Sometimes we forget how just being in the American Legion gains the respect of others, without anyone actually saying anything,” stated Mr. Kier. “You opened my eyes as a seventeen year old and we are here today to spread our appreciation. Thanks again, everyone. Thanks again.”
Discussion then took place regarding ways to better promote programs sponsored by the American Legion. Mrs. Berning then met with the American Legion Auxiliary to discuss ideas and ways to partner for continued success. “Don’t be afraid to contact school officials and even consider offering scholarships [to attend Badger State] to students outside the community, if necessary,” Berning said.
Dec. 7 is a day which lives in infamy, but Dec. 7, was an opportunity for the good of the American Legion to be recognized properly—at least for Post #254. Mr. Kier plans to also meet with Balsam Lake Post #278 and Centuria Post #346 in the near future because of their support in the past. If you are interested in learning more about Badger Girls or Badger Boys State, contact your nearest American Legion Post or your nearest high school office.
Photo and article submitted by Connie Berning and Greg Kier