One year after the American Legion was founded nationally, Tehachapi American Legion Post No. 221 held its first charter meeting on Aug. 1, 1920. One hundred years later, the post continues to thrive with a strong membership and an enthusiastic new commander.
Outgoing Cmdr. Kay Phillips was the post's first woman commander to date. On July 1, Kevin Davey was installed as this year's commander.
Davey, who has been a Tehachapi resident for the past 16 years, served in the Army as a sergeant. Prior to being installed as the post commander, Davey served two years as its first vice commander.
The original charter roster is included in the post's archives, and featured 39 members, including Thomas Downs, who was its first commander.
"At first, it was a dual post with Mojave for nearly 20 years until Mojave chartered their own post: The Golden Queen Post," said Pat Gracey, local historian and member of the Ladies Auxiliary since the 1980s.
According to Gracey, the first American Legion Hall was built by the Legion and located at 213 E. E St. The building was later sold and a new building was erected in 1939 by workmen of the Works Projects Administration (WPA) at 125 E. F St. This building was constructed with adobe bricks, and was damaged in the 1952 quake and subsequently torn down.
Said Gracey, "The Legion, unable to finance a new hall, arranged a sale with the county of Kern in which a new Veterans Memorial Hall would be built on the same location by the county of Kern, but would allow the veterans access to it for meetings and all social functions."
The third Veterans Building was finished in 1953 and today remains in use as a veterans' meeting place.
On June 27, 1932, the Tehachapi American Legion Auxiliary Unit 221 was chartered with Carrie Downs as the first president.
Said Gracey, "Mrs. Downs was the mother of the first Legion commander, Thomas Downs. The members deemed it appropriate to have her as the first unit president."
Serving as president of the Ladies Auxiliary for the past three years is Linda Carmichael.
"I think the most rewarding thing about being the Auxiliary president is being able to help veterans who are having financial challenges," said Carmichael.
In addition, Carmichael said the Auxiliary organizes welcome home celebrations for active duty personnel who are returning to the states.
Said Carmichael, "It feels so wonderful to be able to welcome them back into town and participate in the parade that we have, and to let them know how much they are appreciated."
Today, the Tehachapi American Legion has three different factions: The American Legion, the American Legion Riders and the Sons of the American Legion, who are male children of members who serve.
As the commander, Davey says he oversees day-to-day post operations and different factions.
"We also do all these service projects for elderly veterans. We go out and weed eat their homes, do home repairs, bring them groceries and stuff like that," said Davey.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the post also held Bingo fundraisers every Friday night.
"With the money that we make, we give out scholarships to the high school," Davey said. "Every year we also send three boys up to the capital to run a mock government at the state level."
According to Davey, the pandemic has actually aided in membership meetings, which are now held on Zoom. Some of the 180 members who are unable to attend meetings in person are now able to view meetings from the comfort of their home.
Asked what he sees as his biggest challenge for the upcoming year due to COVID-19, Davey said, "We are not able to use our building because the county has locked it down. We had to reconfigure, which is actually good because we have been able to reach out to some of the elderly members."
Once COVID-19 restrictions lift, Davey said, he is going to attempt to incorporate the community in as many of the post's events as possible. In addition, the American Legion has changed past membership requirements.
Said Davey, "Many people who applied in the past are now eligible for membership, even if they have a family member who served. So, I really hope we increase our membership, especially with all of the racial equality that is going on today. There is more racial equality in the military than anywhere else because you end up serving side by side with people of all nationalities. The American Legion is no different than that. We all consider each other brothers and sisters, and we all help each other out... It is a place of refuge."