by Jim Boyle
Brian Gardner gave little thought to joining the Elk River American Legion when he moved to Lions Park Apartments in the mid-1990s.
“I thought it was just a drinking establishment for old men,” he recalls. He himself was a recovered alcoholic, so the Legion had little appeal.
He’s now the commander at the Elk River post.
So what changed?
He found out at an Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo that the Legion was not just a bar. And now, one year into his first two-year term, he’s working to let the community know what the American Legion can do for veterans and their families.
“It’s there to help support the veterans,” he said. “I want people to know what the Legion can do for them.”
Gardner joined the Legion in 2008. At 43 years of age, he’s the youngest member. He fears the perception he had is the same thing that keeps other veterans away. By the end of his time as commander, he would like more vets to know about the programs and activities the Legion sponsors. They include but are not limited to Friday night dinners and Saturday morning coffees. Elk River Mayor John Dietz brings a guest once a month to the coffee program.
“That’s a really good thing for people to know,” Gardner said.
The Friday night dinners are a great time to get to know people in the community and enjoy a good meal, he said.
One of Gardner’s goals is to identify soldiers going overseas and see if the Legion can help the families who stay behind to hold down the household.
“We’re here to help people out,” he said.
Gardner is a 1987 graduate of Osseo High School. He moved to Elk River while he was a senior in high school, and after graduation he joined the Army.
He injured his knee in basic training. It didn’t keep him from continuing in the service, but eventually it caught up with him and he is now a disabled vet because the arthritis that set into the joint has worsened.
While in the service he was a diesel mechanic. He’s going to school for broadcast journalism, thanks to the Veteran’s Administration.
He enjoys sharing stories — past and present — over coffee at the Legion. “But we need some younger members,” he said.