Remembering Past ALA leaders and Their Legacies

Past National Presidents Evelyn Starr, Syble Deshotel, and Phyllis (Bachman) Sickmond spent decades dedicated to the American Legion Auxiliary and its mission of serving veterans, military, and their families.

These women devoted nearly 180 years collectively to the ALA mission. The years each one of them spent as both members and PNPs helped guide the organization toward what it is today.

Evelyn Starr, ALA National President 1986-1987

Starr, 91, passed away April 8, 2018, in Duluth, Minn.

She was active in her church and community, but found the highlight of her service to others was through the American Legion Auxiliary, with a focus on ways she could help people in need, especially children.

Starr joined Howard McCarty Unit 290 in 1949 through the eligibility of her husband, Jim, and her father, Ernest Erickson. She served as national president of the ALA during the 1986-1987 administrative year.

Evelyn Starr-c
Evelyn Starr

She held many leadership roles in the Auxiliary at all levels. At the national level, she served on the National Executive Committee (NEC), as national communications chairman, and held 16 national chairmanships before serving as national president, where she continued helping others.

During her installation address at the 1986 National Convention in Cincinnati, Starr told Auxiliary members and delegates that her special focus would be on child abuse prevention.

“Child abuse is a national tragedy that occurs in some degree in almost every community every day,” she said.

She told delegates the Children & Youth Committee would promote a comic book, Secret of Animal Island, made possible by a grant from The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. It was geared toward young people and taught them how to be responsible, independent, and how to use good judgement when faced with decisions about their personal safety. The project was very successful with about 1.5 million copies distributed to ALA Junior members, schools, daycare centers, churches, and other youth groups.

Evelyn and Barbara Bush
Evelyn Starr with former first Lady Barbara Bush, who promoted literacy education in remarks to Auxiliary delegates at National Convention in August 1987 in San Antonio, Texas.

With a focus on service to others, Starr continued that mantra even after her passing. Per her family’s request, memorials were given in her name to the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation.

Starr is survived by her son, Jim, and his wife Lisa; her two daughters, Pamela and Katherine; two sisters; and several grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, James, who died in 1999.

A memorial service is planned for late summer or early autumn in Cambridge, Minn.

Syble Deshotel, ALA National President 1995-1996

 Deshotel’s work with veterans dates back to her early childhood, continued during the 1995-1996 administrative year when she was ALA national president, and endured into her later years.

Deshotel, 88, of Lake Charles, La., passed away unexpectedly April 5, 2018, after suffering a heart attack at her home and died upon arrival at the hospital.

Syble Deshotel-c
Syble Deshotel

She joined the ALA in 1962, eligible for Auxiliary membership through her husband Ignace James “IJ”Deshotel and her brother James Duplechian, both U.S. Navy veterans.

Her first Auxiliary activities were the Poppy and ALA Girls State programs. In the early 1980s, she was the Louisiana department president and started a library on the site of the newly constructed Louisiana Veterans Home.

She retired in 1989 from her career of over 20 years as administrative secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources, vocational rehabilitation.

Deshotel served in many leadership roles at all levels of the ALA. At the national level, she served on the National Security Committee, the NEC, and held national chairmanships.

During her installation address, Deshotel said she wanted to get back to the basic principles of the Auxiliary with a focus on home and community.

“You and I, whatever level we will serve, have the knowledge and ability to make a difference,” she said. “Work with other organizations, your city and state governments, your schools, and other facilities … And never forget to publicize what you do so well. One million members can make a difference!”

Linda Boone, ALA national president during the 1992-1993 administrative year, had kind words to say about Deshotel during her eulogy remarks.

“With her warm personality and management skills, she was able to provide leadership throughout the organization to accomplish the mission,” Boone said.

Syble Deshotel (left) presents a Showcase Award in 1996.

During Deshotel’s year as national president, the ALA experienced several milestones — the organization began exploring technology to put the ALA on the internet; the featured program was the Citizens Flag Alliance, which was working toward a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag; the 50th session of ALA Girls Nation took place; and at the National Convention in Salt Lake City, Deshotel welcomed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and presidential candidates Bob Dole and Ross Perot.

Deshotel is survived by her husband IJ Deshotel; her daughter Madeline Nelson and son-in-law Al; her sister Rita Gail Patrick; three grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

She was passionate about donating her time, talent, and treasure, and requested memorials go to the ALA Department of Louisiana Unit 1 and the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation Veteran Projects Fund.

Phyllis Bachman Sickmond, ALA National President 1996-1997

As national president, Sickmond focused her efforts on prioritizing patriotism and citizenship responsibilities.

She was a 50-year member of the American Legion Auxiliary, eligible through her late husband, World War II U.S. Army veteran Robert C. Bachman. She was a member of the Department of New York.

Phyllis Bachman
Phyllis (Bachman) Sickmond

Sickmond died peacefully at home April 17, 2018, after a courageous battle with leukemia.

She served in many leadership roles at all levels of the American Legion Auxiliary organization, including as 1986-1987 department president of New York.

During her national president installation address, she expressed concern over the “erosion” of America’s values in society.

“Today, more than ever, our nation needs citizens who are more concerned with ideals than with personal gain,” she said. “Our nation needs citizens who care more about what is right than about what is trendy. Our nation needs citizens who are more interested in serving others than in being served. This country sorely needs leaders who will model exemplary behavior at a time when far too many individuals imitate acts of disrespect and aggression.”

A highlight of Sickmond’s term as national president was representing the Auxiliary while attending the inauguration of President Bill Clinton and the Veterans Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C. in January 1997.

Sickmond was an alumna of State University of New York and Syracuse University. She worked over 30 years as an educator, working with students from pre-primary through secondary levels.

Phyllis Bachman with Clinton
Phyllis Backman Sickmond with then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, ALA Public Spirit Award recipient, at the ALA’s Washington Conference.

She is survived by her husband Guy M. Sickmond; her children William Morton, Leslie B. Varner (Keith), Paul S. Brown (Jenny), Michelle B. Anderson; her blended family includes six children; six step-children; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, her family requested that memorial contributions be made to the ALA on Sickmond’s behalf.

 A Lasting Impact on ALA Mission

Just like these past national presidents demonstrated, the American Legion Auxiliary has a legacy of giving back to our veterans, military, and their families. Our members have established this tradition through nearly 100 years of mission-related programs that serve veterans and military, develop our youth, and promote patriotism in communities across America.

Philanthropy and individual gifts have been essential in shaping the history of our organization, and these contributions will have an important role in its promising future. Your actions now can have a profound impact in the life of another person. And you can help contribute to that future by including the American Legion Auxiliary in your estate and other financial preparations.

People of all backgrounds, education, and income levels rely on a variety of planned giving methods to provide for their loved ones as well as support beloved charities, such as the American Legion Auxiliary. In fact, many methods of planned giving ensure that assets that would otherwise be subject to heavy taxation are instead given to dear causes; this means the assets left to loved ones are taxed less. Through planned giving, donors are able to meet their current and future financial needs while providing the Auxiliary with financial support later.

You can change a life by including the American Legion Auxiliary in your will. No matter the size of any individual donation, collectively, every gift adds up to help ensure the Auxiliary is here for generations to come.

To learn more about your planned giving options, visit

We appreciate everything these three past ALA leaders have given to the ALA and the impact they’ve made in this organization for the betterment of our veterans, military, and their families.

This was originally published in the August Auxiliary magazine. To view the full issue, click here.

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