It started with poppies and evolved into years of service

Midsummer Days grand marshal recounts years with Auxiliary

Bev Otterness is the grand marshal of this year's Midsummer Days Parade.  Photo by Derrick Knutson
Bev Otterness is the grand marshal of this year’s Midsummer Days Parade.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Growing up in North Branch, Bev Otterness was enamored with the American Legion Auxiliary when she saw its members handing out poppies at Midsummer Days and offering attendees of the celebration an assortment of grilled fare.

“They would be up in the park serving hamburgers and hotdogs and I thought, ‘Maybe someday I could do that.’”

Otterness — the grand marshal of this year’s Midsummer Days Parade — has done that and so much more.

She first became involved with the Auxiliary in the 1960s and quickly took on a leadership role.

“I have held offices on the local unit, and I have been president of this unit eight different times and secretary many more times than that,” she said.

She’s also served as district president on two occasions — once in the 1960s and again in the early 1990s.

She described serving at the state level as a “wonderful experience.”

“I traveled the state of Minnesota, visiting unit meetings and district meetings and veterans homes and veterans hospitals, she said.

She’s also served on the Minnesota Veterans Homes Board, which oversaw the construction of a veterans home in Fergus Falls.

The governor appointed her to a pair of two-year terms on that board.

Both her first and second husbands, Korean War veterans, have served as American Legion district commanders, as well.


Opportunity to serve

For Otterness, there are numerous aspects of the Auxiliary that make it the type of organization one can be involved in for decades.

One thoroughly enjoyable part of Auxiliary for her is the opportunity to serve veterans and their families.

Some of her favorite memories of serving veterans and their families revolve around the Christmas season.

“I got to go to some of the veterans homes or VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals during Christmastime for what we called the ‘American Legion Auxiliary Gift Shop,”’ Otterness said. “Every veteran gets a gift at Christmastime from the Auxiliary.  If they have family, we provide gifts for them to give their family.”

The response she received was heartwarming.

“I’ve really enjoyed working at those gift shops because you get to interact with the veterans and their families, and they’re so grateful, always.”


Scholarships for youth

Perhaps her favorite part of being an Auxiliary member is having the opportunity to change young people’s lives for the better.

She’s judged Auxiliary scholarship applications, with “the most rewarding” part of that process coming in the past three years as part of the American Legion’s National Education Committee.

“I’ve judged scholarships for the cream of the cream of the crop,” Otterness said.

As part of her judging for the Samsung Scholarship, which was presented to the national chapter of the Auxiliary from the Samsung corporation as a thank you for the sacrifices many Americans made while serving in the Korean War, Otterness was tapped for the task of selecting winners from a pool of students who attended Boys State and Girls State, summer leadership and citizenship programs sponsored by the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.

After the field of scholarship applicants is pared down by Otterness and other judges, nine recipients receive $20,000 apiece and the others get about $1,200 apiece.

One year, she was around when the phone call was made to one of the $20,000 scholarship winners.

“Oh, my goodness, you should have heard the screaming,” she said.  “That was exciting.”

Having that kind of impact on a young person’s life has been rewarding for Otterness.

“You kind of always think, ‘I hope I can make a difference to somebody,”’ she said. “I feel like I did with those scholarships.”

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