Iowa member passionately committed to volunteerism

Posted On: Wednesday, 21 February 2024

For Ann Crawford, volunteering in service to veterans is as familiar as breathing. A member of the American Legion Auxiliary since she was born, Crawford can’t remember a time when she wasn’t involved in The American Legion Family.
As Crawford puts it, she was distributing poppies by the time she was able to walk. Not too many people in the small town of Cushing, Iowa, where she grew up, could resist the 2-year-old as she handed out handmade red crepe poppies in support of veterans. “I had the run of the town,” she recalled with a laugh.
Decades later, Crawford, currently a resident of Onawa, Iowa, continues to be passionate about her commitment to volunteerism in honor of the servicemembers and veterans in her family. She has been consistently active at various levels of the Auxiliary, including Iowa department president in 2013. She also served on the ALA Iowa Girls State staff for more than 30 years, and as an ALA National Executive Committee member for Iowa.
Although she retired from life as a full-time employee — including 15 years as general manager of the Monona County Fair and 17 years at the local library — Crawford, who is also a seamstress, continues to volunteer for both organizations. 
But the core of her volunteerism is in service to veterans. She devotes dozens of volunteer hours monthly to the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS). The initiative was formed in 1946 by The American Legion Family along with several other veterans service organizations, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under VAVS, Crawford and others like her serve as a supplemental workforce of volunteers at VA hospitals and other facilities, ensuring veterans are receiving the care and support they need.
To maintain that commitment to VAVS, Crawford regularly drives to Sioux Falls, S.D. — two hours each way, three times a month — to support the VA hospital there with various duties, from office work to recreational and chaplain services. And about twice a month, she drives an hour each way to the Omaha (Nebraska) VA hospital to volunteer in a similar capacity.
About 12 years ago, she added volunteerism for the Quilts of Valor Foundation to her list, becoming a district coordinator through the American Legion Auxiliary District of Iowa. She also regularly participates in the Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Sioux Falls.
Crawford’s deep appreciation for the military came naturally. 
“I’ve been surrounded by veterans my entire life. I just grew up knowing you’re supposed to give back,” Crawford said. “Both of my grandfathers served in World War I, my dad and mom both served in World War II, and then my dad later got recalled to serve during the Korean War.” 
All were members of The American Legion Family.
Military life permeated her early years so much that Crawford, whose first husband was a Vietnam War veteran, recounts milestones in her own life based on them. 
“We lived on the Air Force base when I was a toddler. The same month my dad, a B-29 flight chief, got out of service from the Korean War, I started kindergarten,” she said. “And when I was in high school, my dad received a notice that he may get recalled for Vietnam.”
Crawford also remembers playing the flute for veterans at the Sioux Falls VA hospital, where her grandfather was a patient. 
“I’ve been going to the Sioux Falls VA since the 1960s,” she said.  
The family tradition of military service expanded through more generations, with her son-in-law and two grandsons having served in the Air National Guard. All of them — including uncles who are veterans — are members of The American Legion Family. 
Crawford’s volunteer activity easily equates to a full-time job.
Why does she do it? 
“Veterans have served us, so we need to serve them,” she said. “We live in a nation in which we have total freedom to do what we want. We need to thank our veterans for that. We must honor their service.
“It breaks my heart when our veterans need something and we can’t provide it,” she added. “I feel like whatever I can do to serve them, I will do it.”

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.