HIBBING — The Hibbing American Legion Post 222 Color Guard is turning 50 this year. Older than that, the Hibbing American Legion Post 222, its auxiliary, the Hibbing VFW Post 1221 and its auxiliary are all turning 100.
These groups are for veterans and their families, while the color guard is the group that presents the American flag. This specific group, the American Legion Post 222 Color Guard, present the colors at all girls and boys varsity hockey games held in Hibbing.
Sitting down Thursday, two active members, Barb Hemenway and Bill Kochevar, discussed the various groups.
“It is an honor for me to be involved in everything that I am involved with,” Hemenway said. She added that they recognize that the work they do on behalf of veterans and their families is important. “Plus, it is fun.”
Hemenway is the first female member of the Hibbing American Legion Post 222 Color Guard. She is the president of the American Legion Auxiliary, chair of their house committee, secretary of the VFW Auxiliary, 8th District secretary for the VFW Auxiliary and an active member of the DAV.
Kochevar is the lead of the Color Guard and an active member of the American Legion.
Both Hemenway and Kochevar are active in some well known events such as ringing holiday bells, the pie social for school staff and faculty, and selling of poppies.
The color guard was started 50 years ago by Al Johnson, a dedicated veteran and retired deputy sheriff. Johnson served for over 40 years on the color guard, rarely missing a varsity hockey game.
In 1969, Johnson started the color guard as part of the VFW Post 8510. A few years later it was turned over to the American Legion Post 222.
“One day they were one short for the color guard,” recalled Kochevar, “and I was asked to step in. After two minutes of training, I was on the ice.”
Half a dozen more times that season Kochevar filled in. “Al said that if I wanted to do it next season I would have to join the American Legion. It is something I should have done many years earlier.”
Johnson died on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2017, but his memory is strong with the current color guard members.
Kochevar was a member of the Army in 1961-1963 as a payroll specialist at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. “It was a little hairy when I went in,” he said. “The Berlin Wall had just gone up and we were looking at the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
It was these years of service which qualified Kochevar to join the American Legion.
“I started with the color guard because I heard Bill say at a meeting that they were short,” recalled Hemenway. “I said, ‘Can I do this?’” When the answer was yes, she said she would help by filling in. “Filling in has turned into fulltime and it is great.”
The color guard members for the 2019-2020 hockey season will be Kochevar, Hemenway and Jim Fairchild.
The Color Guard is proud that they get to help teach and show pride in America.
“As far as we know we are the only color guard in Minnesota doing this for all boys and girls home varsity games,” Kochevar said. “We are out on the ice to focus attention on our country and flag.”
Following pre-game warm ups, each team lines up on their goal line. The starting lineups are announced and when everyone is on the blue line, the national anthem and color guard are presented, with military precision.
Hemenway holds the flag as she is flanked by Kochevar and Fairchild, each with a rifle.
“As far as I know,” said Kochevar, “no one has fallen on the ice in the last 50 years.” However, he has started to wear cleats on the ice. “There have been a few times I’ve almost fallen.”
The color guard is expected at every Hibbing game and the few times they can’t make it are noticed.
“Sometimes the team doesn’t know what to do,” said Kochevar explaining that the skaters stay on the blue line until the color guard is off the ice.
The color guard has become such a part of Hibbing Hockey that photos and murals of them can be found at the arena and in the high school.
Hemenway joined the American Legion Auxiliary, as part of the junior auxiliary program, at the age of 10.
“My mother was the president of the American Legion Auxiliary for many years. My dad was a post member. And I was president of the juniors,” recalled Hemenway. “Back then, parents got the younger ones involved.”
Hemenway’s father, Gene Sundberg was an Army veteran.
Over the years, Hemenway has kept her membership up. “When I heard that the auxiliary was going to lose its charter I decided to step up to the plate and do something.”
Like her mother, Jane Sundberg, Hemenway is now the group’s president.
“It is an honor,” said Hemenway, looking away to hide the emotion welling in her eyes with the memory of her mother. “I started with the auxiliary at such a young age. I never thought I would be president of the auxiliary, or involved as much as I am.”
With a smile she continued, “It is an honor to do everything that we do to help veterans in need. All a veteran needs to do is to let us know what they need...They have given their life and limb for our country. All we can do is help and thank them.”
Attend a meeting
The Legion and auxiliary invite people to attend a meeting and become a member of the American Legion, VFW, DAV or any of their auxiliary groups.
“It is wonderful that we have lasted 100 years,” Hemenway said. “We should last another 100 years if we can get more and younger members.”
Become a member as your 100th birthday present to these important groups.
These groups are located at Memorial Building in the Servicemen’s Quarters and all meetings are held there.
The American Legion Post 222 and Auxiliary meet the first Monday of each month October-June, at 7 p.m.
The VFW Post 1221 meet the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.
The VFW Post 1221 Auxiliary meet the second Wednesday of each month at noon.
The DAV Chapter 3 and Auxiliary meet the first Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m.
For more information on these groups, the public is encouraged to attend their monthly meetings or contact Barb Hemenway at 218-263-7960 or Bill Kochevar at 218-263-3196.