Legion aiding Buckeye Boys State participants
By Kevin Dye
The American Legion Post 201 in West Jefferson has a long standing tradition of helping to build future leaders. It does so by sending area high school students to a specialized summer American government program whose roots go back 76 years. The list of former attendees include mayors, congressmen and astronauts.
The program is Buckeye Boys State, which is held each summer for those high school male students who have completed the 11th grade. The national Boys State program was created in 1935 by Hayes Kennedy, who was an instructor at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Hayes was also the Americanism Chairman for the Illinois Department of the American Legion and he and along with Harold Card, a junior high school instructor and Department Boy Scout Chairman, developed the program after becoming concerned about youth attending political indoctrination camps in the late 1930s.
The American Legion, Department of Ohio’s Buckeye Boys State program was established in 1936 and it is the single largest program in the nation. Each year close to 1,200 senior high school students attend the program, representing more than 500 Ohio high schools and several home schooled students.
The West Jefferson American Legion Post 201 usually sends around six students to the annual program, but this year they currently only have the available funds to send four students. It costs $300 to send one student to the event. Attendance has been down at fundraising activities like Bingo and fish frys, which helps the organization with its charitable activities.
“We have received donations from two anonymous donors that now allows us to send four students,” finance officer Jim Saunders said. “We are only limited by the cost on how many high schoolers we can send to Buckeye Boys State. We’d like to have as many go as are qualified and want to go.”
Saunders said that Post 201 works closely with West Jefferson High School principal Dave Metz and informs him on how many students they are able to send each year and Metz helps to identify candidates. The post then holds a meeting at the school in March when the committee can meet with the students and inform them about the Buckeye Boys State program and what is expected of them at the event. There is also a test with essays for the students to complete before the meeting.
“From what we observe when we meet with them, what they tell us and what’s on their test, we then pick our final selections,” Saunders said. “I always feel bad for the ones we are not able to send.”
The West Jefferson American Legion has sent countless students to Buckeye Boys State and two were at the post last week to discuss their experiences. John Kile attended Buckeye Boys State in 1950 and Angelo Casa attended in 2012. While the program has changed in the 62 years between the pair’s visit, there were still many similar experiences.
“It was explained to me when I went that it is a hands on study of American government,” Kile said. “You learn how our government works, what makes it click and not click. I love history so it was doubly interesting to me. Since my experience, I have never missed an election to vote.”
Kile said that students who attend Buckeye Boys State form friendships that last a lifetime and become a member of a fraternity. Kile, who is a salesman for Coughlin Automotive, said it has also helped his professional career.
“I can tell you that the fact that I went to Buckeye Boys State has always been on my resume,” Kile said. “It was respected then and it’s just as respected now. People notice that on your resume.”
When Kile went to Buckeye Boys State in 1950 it was held at Camp Perry on Lake Erie, but since 1978 it has been held at Bowling Green State University. Casa found the location a plus and was inspired by his experience.
“I’m going to go to college soon, so it helped prepare me for going to college next year,” Casa said. “There were about 1,200 students there and we got separated into our own cities. I still talk to some of the guys in my city.”
The eight day program helps to develop future leaders by giving attendees hands-on experience in the operation of the democratic form of government, the organization of political parties and the relationship of the two in shaping Ohio government. The goal of the program is to provide a positive educational experience which will help each student to grow as a person and be better educated as a citizen of Ohio.
Casa said that he ran for several government positions during his week and for any position you had to deliver a speech to explain why you were a good candidate.
“I ran for a couple of positions and I ended up as a banker,” Casa said. “For any position you had to get up and give a speech and explain why people should vote for you. I gained a lot of leadership skills from my experience at Buckeye Boys State.”
Timothy O’Reilly attended Buckeyes Boys State in 2005. He also found his experience to be beneficial.
“I’d like to ask citizens of Madison County to help the American Legion send our youth to these programs not only because it will teach them about our state and local governments, but it will also teach them how they as citizens may interact with their system of government,” O’Reilly said. “By role-playing public officials our youth learn our government is made up of everyday people that are trying to do what they think is right. Most importantly they learn from experience that our system of government may not be the easiest system or the most pleasing at times, but it works and it can be changed if need be and ultimately it’s the best system available.”
The West Jefferson American Legion Post 201 is still holding out hope that donations come in to aid the organization in sending more high school students to the event. The deadline for sending in the participation fee is Friday, Feb. 15. The event will be held June 9-17. Last year the post was able to send Casa and Kyle Rollins. The Mt. Sterling American Legion Post 417 assisted in sending Jacob Gregor and Evan Golden.
“Last year we were able to send four students because the Mt. Sterling American Legion Post 417 paid for two students to go,” Saunders said. “This year we just have enough funds to send four students thanks to the recent anonymous donations. We would still like to make it available to send more students if we get the donations. We feel there is no other program like Buckeye Boys State and it helps to build leaders who become future leaders of our state and our communities.”
Some of the past attendees of Buckeye Boys State have now been added to the Buckeye Boys State Hall of Fame roster. They include NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon), former Columbus mayor Greg Lashutka, Ohio State football players Rex Kern and Randy Gradishar, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, U.S. Congressman Micheal Oxley and Ohio State University marching band director Jon Waters.
To donate to help send an area student to Buckeye Boys State or for more information on the program you can contact Finance Officer Jim Saunders at (614) 879-8474.