Compiled by Edward Kalchbrenner
In February, 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., in an effort to boost troop morale, proposed an organization of veterans. The first organizational meeting took place in Paris, France, in March, 1919. A temporary constitution and the name, "The American Legion”, were adopted at this meeting. The second organizational meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in May, 1919. The constitution was completed and plans were made for a permanent organization. Congress granted the Legion a national charter in September, 1919.
At the meeting in St. Louis, plans were made for the organization of the American Legion in all states. Five men from Florida were authorized to organize the American Legion in the state of Florida. Sumter L. Lowry was commissioned to serve as Chairman of the Florida group and J. T. Wigginton as Secretary. These men were instructed to return to Florida and to organize the Department of Florida. The Florida organizational meeting was held in a Pullman car by the Florida delegation. The Florida group, at the time, elected General Albert Landing as the first Commander and Captain Sumter L. Lowry as the first State Adjutant. The Florida delegation, upon returning to Florida, elected additional officers.
The first Florida Department Convention was held in Jacksonville, Florida on June 10-11, 1919.
Venice's first American Legion, Post 44, was also formed in 1919. Except for a few newspaper clippings preserved in the Archives housed at City Hall, Venice, little information is available about Post 44. With the collapse of Venice's founders, (The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers), the Post folded in 1929.
In 1932, the Kentucky Military Institute decided to make Venice its winter headquarters. Rooms were leased at the San Marco and Venice Hotels to house the cadets. Classes were held in what is now the Venice Little Theater and the Venice Centre Shopping Mall. The parade grounds are now the parking lot between Venice Avenue and Tampa Avenue.
The Kentucky Military Institute provided both an economic and social impact on Venice and its development. In 1970, the Kentucky Military Institute closed its winter quarters in Venice and in 1971 abandoned its military heritage and became coeducational.
During World War II, the Army established an Air Base in 1943 at what is now the Venice Municipal Airport. Hundreds of men were trained in the maneuvering of P47 and P51 fighter planes. These pilots contributed greatly to the war effort.
A little-known fact is that an all-Chinese, the 14th Air Group, was formed and trained for combat at the Air Base after a personal request to President Roosevelt from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
In April, 1946, the Venice Air Base reverted to civilian use.
At the end of World War II, NO-VEL Post 159 came to life. Fifteen charter members applied for, and received, a temporary charter on April 20, 1946. The name NO-VEL was chosen by using the first letter of each community from which the membership was derived: Nokomis, Osprey, Venice, Englewood and Laurel. On May 25, 1952, the permanent charter was received.
The first meetings, under the newly obtained charter, were held upstairs over the Movie House on Venice Avenue where the Barnett Bank now stands. The first money making project was popping popcorn and selling it for five cents a bag to movie-goers.
NO-VEL Post 159 is the oldest civic and patriotic organization in Venice. Members of the Post purchased and maintained the first, and for a long time, the only ambulance for community use.
May 30, 1947 was the first poppy day for Post 159. Eight hundred thirty-nine (839) poppies were sold for a total of $154.33.
At a meeting of Post 159 in August of 1947, plans were made for a Labor Day celebration. Scheduled was a beauty contest, contestants had to be single and between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. Prizes of $50, $25, and $15 would be awarded to the winners. Also scheduled were quarter horse racing, a softball game and dancing in the evening. The Legion's Labor Day celebrations became the highlight of the city'sand area's activities.
May 30, 1954, three hundred people turned out to witness the dedication of a monument honoring America's war dead. The dedication was held on the Kentucky Military Institute parade ground. The inscription on the bronze plaque reads,” In the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in service of their country". The memorial was presented to the city by Commander Robert Arnall and accepted by Mayor James Kiernan.
In 1959, J. Leighton (Count Cornwall), who was retired from the Attorney General's Office, Washington D.C. and a signer of the charter, was awarded the first life Membership of Post 159. This same year, the Post sponsored a rodeo on the grounds where the abandoned Ringling Bros. circus arena now stands.
American Legion Award Winners - Circa 1940
June 14, 1969, a one hundred twenty-one (121) year-old version of "Old Glory" with only 30 stars was unfurled by Legionnaires William Trahan and Gordon Kelz during Flag Day ceremonies.
The Flag, made between Wisconsin's admission as the 30th state in 1848 and California's statehood in 1850, was donated to the Legion by Gordon Kelz.
Due to the fragile condition of the Flag, it remained at the top of the staff only briefly. In 1973, another addition to the Post Home produced the Post meeting hall which is the building where Post meetings and public functions are held.
On July 4, 1976, Aldine Chenault, charter member of NO-VEL Post 159, placed the history of Post 159 in a time capsule sealed in the northeast corner of the First National Bank, 200 Nokomis Avenue, S., Venice, Florida. The time capsule will be opened July 4, in the year 2076.
NO-VEL Post 159 was recognized by the U.S. Congress for its outstanding "Four Chaplains" programs, and the recognition was recorded in the minutes of the 102nd. Congressional Record, U.S. Senate on January 22, 1991.
Post membership is comprised of United States veterans who served their country during World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, Armed Forces on duty at the time of the Lebanon, Panama and Grenada crises. A new eligibility date was added beginning August 2, 1991, (the Persian Gulf Conflict) until the cessation of hostilities is declared by the authority of the U.S. Government.
Due to wear and tear on the existing structure, and lack of parking places, it was determined by the members to seek a different location for our Post Home. It was decided by the Building Committee to acquire property East of downtown Venice, still staying within city limits. In the year 2002, contracts were signed to begin construction and building permits were obtained. In addition, an architect was retained as well as a contractor and lawyer. After many months of reviewing and previewing ideas, blueprints and cost factors, dreams of a new Post Home became a reality. The new address is:
The American Legion NO-VEL Post 159
1770 East Venice Avenue
Venice, Florida 34292-3190