A U.S. Army veteran forever changed the lives of Virna Keener Luke, her sister, and her mother. To honor the memory of that veteran — her father Fred Keener — and to help others, Luke joined the American Legion Auxiliary. She has been an ALA member for 10 years.
“I take a lot of pride in being part of this big organization that supports and fights for veterans, servicemembers, and their families and supports children and entire communities. What a great way to pay tribute to my father for how he served his country and how he cared for his family,” said Luke of ALA Unit 316 in Atlantic Beach, Fla. Eligible through the service of her father, Luke originally joined Unit 233 in Ponta Vedra Beach, Fla. She changed units when she relocated to Jacksonville a few years ago.
Before becoming an Auxiliary member, Luke had never heard of the ALA. New to Jacksonville, she visited Post 233 a few times at the suggestion of a friendly neighbor who was an ALA member.
“She invited me on a social level as a way to meet people. It was mostly going to steak dinners, Wednesday night dinners, things that were happening there on the weekends, to hear music — things like that,” Luke explained.
After a while, she found that the ALA and The American Legion Family offered more than a great place for meals, mingling, and music.
“When I joined and finally started going to Auxiliary meetings, I was really moved by just the ritual itself that takes place: beginning with an opening prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Auxiliary’s preamble. I had never been part of an organization that had such devotion,” Luke said.
“I was captivated by those words of the preamble. Every time I hear it, even now after being a member for 10 years, it still moves me. If you really listen, you gain an understanding of true devotion. You see that we still believe in God. And, we still believe in our country,” Luke added.
What inspires Luke even more is seeing the ALA’s dedication — to God, country, veterans, servicemembers, families, and communities — put into action. Her unit and post home often lead or participate in ALA-based mission outreach activities and programs that help or honor those to whom the Auxiliary is dedicated to selflessly serving. For example, Unit 316 in Atlantic Beach plans to provide and serve Thanksgiving dinner aboard USS Roosevelt to servicemembers. The unit is in the fundraising phase of this endeavor.
Even while maintaining a full-time job, Luke contributes however she can toward ALA and Legion Family missions. She handles public relations, specifically social media pages for Unit 316, and for the Fifth District of Florida’s American Legion Riders. She also serves as the administrator of the Facebook page of Legion Post 316.
“I help bring awareness of what we do and our accomplishments within our American Legion Auxiliary, our American Legion Riders, and our entire Legion Family. I promote not only our events, but also why you should be part of us, and what makes us so great. I try to encourage people to see us and want to become part of us,” she said.
A Peruvian-born American citizen who spent most of her life in Texas, Luke said she has always felt welcomed within her ALA unit and among other members of the Legion Family. “I never felt that I was looked at differently because of my skin color, my looks, age, or anything like that. We are welcoming to one another. We respect one another, and we work together. That’s true of our ALA unit and of all parts of our Legion Family that I have interacted with.
“We have a common goal and a common purpose related to our mission of service. Our post doesn’t succeed in its goals if we don’t work together,” Luke added.
About Luke’s father, U.S. Army veteran Fred Keener
Perhaps this is best coming from Virna Keener Luke. Recently, she shared this about her father on her personal Facebook page:
For those that don’t know my world, Fred Keener — an amazing man from Gatesville, Texas was an Oil Man in Iquitos, Peru. He married my mom, and adopted my sister and me to ensure we would be called his daughters. He was a WW II veteran: 754th Railway Shop Battalion, 1943-1945. He is the only father I know. Every day I wake up, I thank this man for giving me the life I have. Cheers to all the men that step up to the call of parenthood!
One of the numerous positive replies to this post came from her husband, U.S. Navy veteran Denton “Denny” Luke:
Thank you Fred. You raised an amazing daughter that, by the grace of God, I was able to meet, fall in love with, and ultimately marry.
Veteran Fred Keener died in 1996. Virna and Denny Luke were married earlier this year. Denny is a Legionnaire at Post 316 in Atlantic Beach, Fla.