First woman to lead Dartmouth VFW aims to boost membership
For Lacey St. Jean, her parents are her heroes which hold an even more significant place in her heart as she gets ready to take over from her father as the first female commander at the Dartmouth VFW.
In 2004, St. Jean and her father, Vietnam War vet Jerry Marshall, arrived at a Veteran’s Day event hosted by the organization. The Iraq War veteran surprised members when they learned she had served, and after showing the proper paperwork, the pair were welcomed with open arms.
Now, 14 years later, they consider everyone at the organization to be family. Marshall rose to the role of commander, where he’s served for the past four years. But he’s ready to step down, and his daughter was elected to take his place.
“First I get to fill in my father’s shoes, which are going to be huge because he’s done so much here already, and to be the first female commander and be so accepted was just truly humbling for me,” St. Jean said.
Marshall will step down in July. St. Jean’s election to the position was one of the highlights of his year.
“She’ll bring a little more organization and ceremony to it,” Marshall said.
St. Jean had already begun stepping into the position by implementing some of her ideas to further improve membership, which is one of her biggest goals. Marshall also said it’s been hard getting veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars into the post because people associate a stereotype with the place.
“A lot of people when they get back they just want to be away from the military thing, and I don’t know if they associate the VFW with that being military or not but it really isn’t,” Marshall said. “It’s just a place to hang around with people who’ve been through what you’ve been through and talk it out, that sort of thing.”
One way she is working to combat this is by using social media. St. Jean started a Facebook page so the community can see what events are coming up. She said there’s already been an uptick in support and people coming to see what they post is all about.
She is also undertaking a major project. She is overseeing plans to build a pavilion on the property, which will be used for community functions such as its recent Veterans Appreciation Day event.
Outreach with the Dartmouth Veterans Service Officer is also planned to distribute flyers promoting the VFW and how it helps veterans, from veterans benefits, the multitude of offers businesses have for vets and even money for college.
Overall, St. Jean said the post gives members the same sense of comradery and family they had in the service. This was significant for St. Jean, who recently lost a fellow military officer and friend to suicide.
“What do we need to do to get people to realize we’re here for you?” St. Jean said. “We want to help you. We’re not going to judge you. Whatever you’re hardship is part of our mission is to take that on and steer you in the right direction.”