Barrett hopes to use Legion Auxiliary presidency to promote statewide growth

Fulton's Mary Barrett was recently sworn in as the President of the American Foreign Legion Auxiliary for the State of Mississippi. As president, it will be Barrett's job to guide the direction of the Legion Auxiliary for the next year. She said her primary focus will be growing the membership of units statewide. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Fulton’s Mary Barrett was recently sworn in as the President of the American Foreign Legion Auxiliary for the State of Mississippi. As president, it will be Barrett’s job to guide the direction of the Legion Auxiliary for the next year. She said her primary focus will be growing the membership of units statewide. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Mary Barrett’s goal has been to grow the American Legion Auxiliary since the first day she joined, more than 11 years ago, .

As the patriotic organization’s new statewide president, she’s now in a better position to do that than she’s ever been.

“All [American Legion] organizations are falling in members right now,” Barrett said. “We need to get on the fast track to building them back up.”

It’s familiar ground to Barrett, who was sworn in as president of the Mississippi American Legion Auxiliary during the statewide convention in July. When she and her husband, Ray, became members of the local Legion and Legion Auxiliary more than a decade ago, there were only four members — two veterans in the Legion proper and their wives in the Auxiliary. The youngest member at the time was 70 years old.

“All they did was meet and eat,” Barrett said with a subdued laugh.

Despite the size of the local post and unit (the former refers to the Legion; the latter is the Legion Auxiliary), Barrett and her husband understood the role the organization played in aiding veterans. They wanted to be a part of that and joined.

Established in 1919, the American Legion Auxiliary has grown into the single largest patriotic women’s organization in the country. The organization’s goal is one of support: Not only do they help veterans, but they further the goals of the American Legion proper, which is also to help veterans.

“Everything we do — the volunteering, the donations, the aid — gives the veterans their power,” Barrett said. On the whole, members of the Legion Auxiliary volunteer more hours than members of the Legion proper. It’s the expression, “behind every great man there’s a great woman proved true.

“Whatever they do, we help them do it,” Barrett said.

In conversation, it’s easy to see why Barrett was chosen to represent the statewide organization. She’s passionate about the Legion and the Legion Auxiliary and what those groups stand for. She speaks of veterans and their sacrifices with a misty-eyed reverence. She has previously served as both the unit and district president for the Legion Auxiliary; the presidency was a logical next step.

Mississippi’s Legion Auxiliary has more than 4,000 members, spread throughout 83 units. Barrett’s job as statewide president will be to help these units better serve their area veterans.

As part of her presidency, Barrett was tasked with selecting both a symbol and slogan, which together would summarize her goals as president. She selected well-known cartoon character, The Roadrunner for her symbol. Her slogan: “Beep Beep … On the road for our veterans.”

Like she said earlier, her goal is to get the organization “on the fast track” to growth. Beep beep.

Barrett shows off her personalized presidential pin, which bears the Legion Auxiliary's slogan for the year, "Beep Beep" On the Road for our Veterans. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Barrett shows off her personalized presidential pin, which bears the Legion Auxiliary’s slogan for the year, “Beep Beep” On the Road for our Veterans. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

One month into her presidency, Barrett is already working hard toward that goal. She recently hosted a conference in Hattiesburg to help train district leaders, a sort of boot camp that would help guide area leaders.

“Basically, we trained the trainers,” she said. It’s only going to get busier from here. Without consulting a calendar, Barrett said she won’t see a free weekend until January. But that’s just fine with her. The more time she’s spent in the organization, the more she’s grown to appreciate all it tries to accomplish.

“The more I learn, the more excited I get,” she said. “We have so many different programs; there’s just something for everyone. We help veterans in every area you can imagine … [and] promote patriotism in everything we do.”

When asked if there’s any pressure in being in charge of so many people and responsible for so much of the statewide organization’s forward momentum, Barrett laughed.

“There certainly is,” she said. “And it keeps you busy. But there are so many rewards when you see the veterans and all the good you’re doing.”

Growth will only help the group do more of that good. She’s already seen that.

Eleven years after she and her husband joined, the Fulton Legion post and Auxiliary unit might as well be a world apart from what they once were. With more than 150 members in total, they’ve gone from famine to feast.

Still, Barrett said they’re hungry for more.

“We have grown by leaps and bounds,” she said. “The numbers have made us strong. We’ve come a long way and we’re hoping to go that much further.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

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