The core group who rescued Lytton’s Royal Canadian Legion branch are (from l) Ruth Dunham

The core group who rescued Lytton’s Royal Canadian Legion branch are (from l) Ruth Dunham

Lytton Legion digs itself out of a hole

Facing an uphill challenge, several Lytton residents banded together to work to save the Legion.

Bernie Fandrich

About three years ago, Denise Haugen was prodded—over and over again—by the local president to join and become involved in Lytton’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 162.

Haugen is the owner of Lytton’s Suncatcher Crafts, and the popular store on Main Street is “grand central station” for locals who regularly drop in and discuss the latest local events and goings-on in town. The president felt Haugen would be the perfect person to spread the word about the dire state of the Legion’s finances.

A lifelong resident of Lytton, Haugen finally attended her first meeting. It proved to be pivotal for the cash-strapped organization.

“I’ve always had fond memories of the Legion,” Haugen confessed, “especially since my first visit, about 25 years ago, was an exciting one. Everyone was dancing and having a great time, and I saw important people from town in a totally different light after that.

“When I joined the Legion I was shocked to learn that they were $7,000 in arrears in their taxes and had other debt. The BC Liquor store that had rented half the building for decades cancelled their lease and pulled out of town. Not only that, there was about $23,000 that somehow had vanished from the coffers. No one knew where it had gone.”

Also at that first meeting were several friends who were determined to keep the Legion alive, and instrumental in doing so: Betty Charlie, Karen Haugen, and Denise MacIntyre. For many years, Charlie was dedicated to keeping the licensed bar operational. As bartender she donated hundreds of hours of her time, and along with the president loaned money to the Legion to keep the bar supplied and the heat and electrical utilities paid.

MacIntyre’s capable mom, Ruth Dunham, had recently sold her restaurant and had moved to Lytton. She was keen to become involved in the community, and several fundraising ideas were bandied about by the group. First, however, the interior of the building needed painting, cleaning, and some minor renovations. MacIntyre, Charlie, and Karen Haugen volunteered many hours to do the work.

Then monthly community dinners under Ruth Dunham’s expertise were initiated. Because of regulations, these had to be potluck-like dinners for which everyone made a donation to the meal. Money began trickling into the Legion coffers, one dinner at a time. Each one attracted about 40 people who came to enjoy a beverage and a delicious meal, and to socialize with friends.

This fund-raiser, complemented by several others, proved to be a successful community-wide effort. Many other volunteers became involved, such as Rowena Lannon, who regularly drove from Armstrong to help out and visit family on dinner nights. With everyone’s help, the financial tide of the Legion slowly turned.

Then came two huge bonuses:  the estate of local resident Daryl Webster donated $1,000, and Dave Richardson donated $500 in memory of a relative. By the end of the first year the core group had enough funds to pay off the Legion’s debts—all of them.

Today the Legion has no debt, and more than $5,000 in the bank. Additionally, $65,000-worth of major building renovations were recently completed, and an additional $85,000-worth are planned in the next six months.

Part 2 will be in next week’s paper.