‘He was everything to this place’: Orange American Legion Post 172 OKs name change to honor long-serving member Donald J. Hurtle

  • Members of Orange American Legion Post 172 recently voted to rename the organization after longtime member, Donald J. Hurtle, who died in July. The decision now goes to the national headquarters for final approval. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Members of Orange American Legion Post 172 recently voted to rename the organization after longtime member, Donald J. Hurtle, who died in July. The decision now goes to the national headquarters for final approval. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Arthur “Tim” Herk said Orange American Legion Post 172, whose members recently voted to rename the organization after late member Donald J. Hurtle, is actively appealing for more members as its leadership and active membership ages. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2023 4:27:22 PM

ORANGE — Members of Orange American Legion Post 172 have voted to rename the organization after a deceased comrade, and the decision now goes to the national headquarters for final approval.

Donald J. Hurtle held membership for at least 50 years before he died on July 28 and someone floated the idea at his celebration of life — held at the Post at 40 Daniel Shays Highway — to add his name to the charter to which he dedicated his life.

“He was everything to this place. He was here every day. He always went above and beyond,” said longtime friend Arthur “Tim” Herk, who serves as the Post’s finance officer. “Everybody knew him, everybody loved him. He was the Post. If you knew Orange American Legion Post 172, you probably knew Donnie Hurtle.”

Hurtle, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era, worked as the Post’s bar manager for 35 to 40 years before he died at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield following a brief illness at age 83. Herk said he and others decided to pursue the effort to rename the Post in their friend’s memory after discussing the idea with Hurtle’s next of kin, particularly his children.

“That would be great. I mean, he devoted a lot of his time to that place, and that would be awesome,” daughter Kim Jarvenpaa, of New Salem, said of the plan. She said the Post gave her father a sense of purpose, especially after his wife, Bonnie, died in January 2021.

“[The Post] gave him a reason to get up every day and get out and do his business,” Jarvenpaa said.

She said she is an auxiliary member of the Post, through her father’ service.

“He was all-American. He always told us if we bought a foreign car we couldn’t park in his yard,” she recalled. “I think he meant it.”

Requests for comment from American Legion’s national headquarter were unsuccessful Monday.

Jeraldine Hurtle, who is married to Hurtle’s brother, Howard, said they learned of her brother-in-law’s death while on a camping trip and the news came as a horrible shock.

“We thought the world of Donald and it was a tragic loss,” she said. “There wasn’t a thing he couldn’t do. He was so talented, he could fix anything that was broken.”

Jeraldine explained Hurtle often took care of Howard, the baby of the family, when they were kids.

“Howard, his world revolved around Donald,” she said. “He was Howard’s idol.”

Herk mentioned he mailed paper ballots to all members and the tally was 72-4 in favor of renaming the Post after Hurtle. He said the only dissenting votes came from members who believed another man had longer served the Post, though they never knew how to suggest renaming the Post after that man.

Member Dan Hammock said he can’t think of a better person to have their name formally attached to the Post.

“The guy was there every day. He did it for over 50 years,” he said. “Certainly nobody was more dedicated to the Post and I think it’s an appropriate thing to do.”

Herk said the Post’s scholarship fund received nearly $1,500 in donations in lieu of flowers after Hurtle died.

Waning membership

Post officers are trying to get their organization renamed at the same time it is trying desperately to boost membership. Locations across the nation are seeing sharp decreases in participation, and Post 172 is no exception.

Herk, 79, said the Post’s leadership and roughly 220 members are aging and there are few younger members to take the reins.

“I think they’re just too busy,” he said.

But, he said, membership dues and active participation are needed to keep the Post afloat. Dues are $35 per year. Of that, $28 goes to the American Legion Department of Massachusetts, Inc. Herk mentioned the fees cease after 50 years of membership. Veterans used to have had to serve during a time of war to become a Legionnaire but a 2019 act of Congress changed that. Now, any servicemember or honorably discharged veteran can join, and a local Post covers the annual dues of active service members.

Herk said member meetings are held at 7 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month and typically last between 20 and 30 minutes. There are no meetings in June, July or August. Herk said this time commitment pales in comparison to the years most veterans dedicated to the military.

“Can’t you give, maybe, a total of three more hours a year to ... come to meetings at the Post and decide what’s going on?” he said.

Hammock has been a member for about 35 years and said membership is a way for veterans to continue serving their country as well as their local community without being engaged in battle.

“We’re letting young people know freedom’s not free. We paid for it,” he said.

Legionnaires also pay for a number of projects and services in the area. According to Herk, Post 172 contributed $10,000 to the Pioneer Junior Women’s Club to help buy a new K9 for the Orange Police Department and donated the same amount of money to the Orange Fire Department for equipment washers and dryers and to the Trustees of Soldiers Memorial for a wall honoring anyone wounded or killed serving in the military.

The Post also has given $6,388 toward an ambulance computer system and contributed a $9,500 matching grant for the restoration of the Massachusetts Peace Statue. There also is the scholarship fund and assorted donations to Little League teams, the Orange Community Band, LifePath Meals on Wheels, Ralph C. Mahar Regional School sports team and Wounded Warrior Project.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.


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