Glasgow VFW Salutes Homegrown State Cmdr. Art Widhalm
While most of the jokes were light, there were a few mentions of gratitude as members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars gathered at the Glasgow VFW building on Saturday evening. It was a fairly casual setting with friendly hellos, handshakes and hugs as many welcomed Art Widhalm into his position as the state commander for the VFW in Montana. He was officially voted in on Sunday, June 15.
Widhalm's wife, Marilyn, told the crowd about how she met Art and how it was love at first sight. The two will be celebrating 46 years of marriage next month, and it seems Marilyn will be doing some travel with Art in his new position. Others like Tom Pouliot, Tim Peters and Connie Hangen spoke of Art's ability to lead and their hopes for a big year.
Several of these members came from out of town, from Whitefish, Helena, Great Falls Sidney and Kalispell to the homecoming for the new state commander. Art's passion for the VFW and what they do has led him through nearly 20 years of volunteer work and service in the organization.
"I'm proud to be a part of the VFW and I'm proud to be representing all of you," Art said to those who attended the event.
He explained that he became partially involved while he was stationed in Germany with the VFW, but he's work and comradery in the organization took off after his wife bought a lifetime membership.
"I dedicated my life for veterans and active duty and educating young generations on why we need the military," Art said.
The organization, he said, was not publicized in several areas for all the good it does in the communities. It generates funds for scholarships for local students, and it allows several groups to serve during their steak fry nights to help pay for trips and organizations like Head Start, 4-H, Catholic Kids Youth Camp, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and more.
They also place flags in the cemetery every Memorial Day for veterans who've passed and serve as honor guard members at funerals for those who served. They also help coordinate the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) vans that travel to and from the VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals. The Glasgow VFW also sponsors the local National Guard Unit and sent care packages while they deployed and helped local family members. Many of those on duty are visited by the VFW, and Art said that several have signed up to be a part of the VFW.
"Our local community doesn't know how much we do, we do so much and people just don't know sometimes, no one talks about what we do," Art said.
On top of all those good deeds, Art will be raising funds to help build a maintenance barn for the VFW National Home located in Michigan. The home houses children of active duty members who deploy, or orphans of active duty members. They also expanded to help service members where maybe both the wife and husband deploy at the same time and the children have no one to care for them.
Art and his closer ranks have ordered several coins in memory of the Vietnam War that they hope to sell for $10 each in order to raise the funds for the new maintenance barn that will house lawnmowers, tools and other equipment needed to take care of the national home. Their goal is to raise $50,000 to help build the barn this year. Each state commander usually has a large project they focus on, this will be Art's.
Before being heavily involved in the VFW, Art served for 30 years in the Air Force. He said he joined in 1964 before he was drafted in. While he grew up on a farm in Valier, farming was just not for him. He deployed to Vietnam in 1966-67 and came home to be stationed at the Glasgow Air Force Base in 1967. The base was getting ready to shut down, but he was here long enough to meet his wife. He left for a second tour in Vietnam and came home hoping to be stationed in Europe.
They went to Germany for four years, then onto Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho for four years, followed by more than nine years stationed in Holland. Art said his first 18 years in the Air Force involved loading bombs. They traveled a lot during their times overseas and fell in love with Turkey. Art was promoted to chief master sergeant there. They spent more time in Germany.
When he finally retired in 1994, they went back to the farm for a short time and once again he decided that farming wasn't for him. They found their way to St. Marie soon after, which was a good fit for the two Montana natives, and for Marilyn, who grew up in Glasgow.
Over the next year they will travel to several conferences and travel to the Philippines for the Western Conference, which covers 18 states and several areas surrounding the Pacific.