VFW Ladies Auxiliary celebrates 60 years of duty

PEPPERELL — On March 31, 1946, with 17 women in attendance, the VFW 3291 Ladies Auxiliary met for the first time at the Beacon Lodge 175 of Odd Fellows. The session was moderated by the organizing chairman, the late Marion Murphy and recorded in “Book Number One” of the group’s records.

According to notes taken by recording secretary pro-tem, the late Mabel Archambault, Murphy spoke about the purpose of a Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and read articles from Foreign Service Magazine about activities of other auxiliaries during the two-and-a-half hour session. A sum of $56 collected for membership applications was placed in the general fund.

On Saturday, May 13, the auxiliary will hold a 60th anniversary dinner dance at the VFW hall in Pepperell. All living members, approximately 75 in all, have been invited. Some of them, such as 92-year-old Ethel Morrill of Mason Street, have been members since day one.

The majority of members come from Pepperell and the former East Pepperell — in the day when the town had two post offices — while other members have come from Ayer, Groton, Shirley, Townsend, and Brookline, New Hampshire.

Of that first meeting, Morrill remembers, “Dave McPherson of the Odd Fellows was the first to speak.”

Morrill said that until the VFW post was built, around 1968, auxiliary meetings were held mostly in members’ homes. When the foundation and walls of the first portion of the new post were in place — the fireplace-equipped first-floor function room which abuts the bar and lounge — the auxiliary held its first dance.

”I asked to hold dances. We charged $1,” Morrill said. “The floor was slippery and the guys put a bit of sand on it. We put a big tarp over the room so it wouldn’t rain on us. And we had the radio for music.”

Like members of the recently-authorized men’s VFW auxiliary, ladies of the VFW auxiliary must have a family member or spouse who served in a war zone. Morrill’s brother was killed in action in 1942, serving with the Army.

”We bring in veterans from the Bedford VA Hospital and from the Scholefield’s veterans home (Chestnut Street) twice a year, and every so often bring Chinese food to the Scholefield’s as a surprise that is always well-received,” Morrill said. “We’re with the veterans for all holidays and we attend the convention in Danvers each June.

”Before Christmas, we all took T-shirts, sweaters and other clothing to our meeting for the Bedford veterans. That table was loaded,” she said as an example of auxiliary activities.

Auxiliary President Laurie Durno, whose father, Peter, and uncle, Phillip, are Vietnam veterans, is a nurse at the Bedford hospital, working with Alzheimer’s patients.

”The auxiliary has adopted sections 62A and B at the hospital,” Durno said. “We take care of whatever they need, particularly toiletries and personal items they would otherwise have to pay for. If I need a bar of soap for a patient, I have to buy it,” she explained.

”We began in 1946 to help veterans of World War II,” Durno said. “We exist today to help all veterans and their families. It has always been that way.”

”I like to do for others,” Morrill concurred, “and so do the others.”

The menu for Saturday’s dinner includes steamship round of beef, baked potato, string beans, peas and carrots, rolls and butter, strawberry and chocolate mousse, pistachio cake, a celebratory cake, cookies, and brownies.

The notes in Book Number One close on October 19, 1949, as written by secretary Marjorie Ingerson. The late Eileen Marshall was president. Plans were made to hold the next meeting “according to ritual to reopen the first Wednesday in November” at Merrill’s Manor on Hollis Street. The general fund contained $28.93 and the relief fund had a $45.69 balance.