Following a yearlong national search, American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters has named Kelly Circle, J.D., Ph.D., as its new executive director.
Circle joins National Headquarters from Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo., where she served as Dean of Instruction. She graduated with honors from Northwest Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas School of Law, and completed her Ph.D. in education at Saint Louis University.
An American Legion Auxiliary member of ALA Unit 153 in Olathe, Kan., since 2006, Circle joined the ALA to honor the service of her father and mother who met while serving in the U.S. Navy. Her responsibilities include management of National Headquarters staff and operations, fiscal management of assets, working with the governing board and its chair, and building external relationships.
Read on to learn more about Kelly Circle.
You’re eligible for American Legion Auxiliary membership through the service of your parents, both veterans of the U.S. Navy. Tell us about your mom and dad.
My mom, Twila, and my dad, Bart, met while they were in the Navy in the early 1950s. Mom worked as a photographer’s assistant in Pensacola, Fla., and got pictures of John Wayne when he was on base filming a movie. Mom finished her four years of service and became a homemaker. I have three older brothers, and I’m the only girl, so I was a bit spoiled! Mom and Dad owned a scuba diving shop in Savannah, Ga., (where I was born). They divorced when I was quite young, and when I was 7, Mom and the kids (plus the dog and the cat) moved to Maryville, a small town in northwest Missouri. The Karr family farm (Mom’s family) was about 30 minutes away, so we went there every weekend to visit my great-aunt and great-uncle (brother and sister) who still lived there. I was blessed to grow up in a small town with those benefits, but also, the university was located there, so I was exposed to international culture as well. On the weekends when we would visit the farm, I was able to experience farm life circa 1930. The house didn’t get electricity until 1977 and still doesn’t have indoor plumbing! We collected eggs, played in the creek, caught lightning bugs, and ate squirrel that my Aunt Una shot (it tastes like chicken!).
I remember going swimming every day in the summer, and when it was time to go home, I’d walk across the street to The American Legion post where they let us kids play songs on the jukebox in the empty dance hall until Mom got off work to pick us up. I have a feeling she might have stopped on the bar side for a tasty beverage before letting us know she was there, but what do I know?
In 2007, my mother passed away unexpectedly, and The American Legion Family was there to support my family. After the funeral, we just needed a place where family and friends could gather together to relax and share stories. I called the local American Legion post (James Edward Gray Post 100, Maryville, Mo. — the post across from the swimming pool) and asked if we could reserve some tables in their bar area. They did one better and cleaned out a large storage room and set up tables there so we could have some privacy. We stayed there for a while and then asked if we could move out into the public area. Once word got around and people saw Twila’s picture, veterans came out of the woodwork to share stories of how they knew my mother from years ago! It was wonderful to learn about my mother from a different perspective and all the nice things they had to say about her. The American Legion Family put the “fun” in funeral for us!
I’m proud to be an ALA member to honor my mother and her service to our country.
Tell us about your professional background and what you did prior to coming on board at National Headquarters.
Most recently, I was Dean of Instruction at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver. I’ve spent the last 25 years in higher education, which led me to earn a Ph.D. in Education. My dissertation topic was, “College choice of veterans: Variables affecting and factors veterans consider in choosing their institution of higher learning.” Through this research, I was able to learn more about veterans’ needs and become better able to advise veteran students.
One of my proudest accomplishments at RRCC was to partner with two local fire departments to start “Camp Ember,” a summer camp for high school girls interested in a career in the fire service. Like the leadership growth we see in participants at ALA Girls Nation, we saw similar growth in Camp Ember girls as well. Many went on to become first-generation college students on scholarships!
Prior to my work in higher ed, I was a regional business manager for an air medical transport company, an HR manager for a computer consulting company, and briefly served in the Peace Corps in Moldova, located in Eastern Europe. I taught health science classes to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students speaking Romanian. I left Peace Corps early to come back and marry my husband, Russ, who is a member of the Sons of The American Legion and American Legion Riders. He served in the U.S. Army and is now eligible to join the Legion as well. He is looking forward to joining a post here in Indianapolis.
What are some ALA activities you’re most excited about experiencing?
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and behind-the-scenes at National Convention!
What are your goals as National Headquarters’ new executive director?
My goals are to increase membership and sources of revenue for our organization. I plan to do this through the following activities:
- Building partnerships with local and national community groups
- Helping grow leaders at all levels of the organization
- Getting our message out to the public at large
- Fostering a positive and collaborative culture for our members, staff, and Legion Family partners
What does the ALA’s mission of serving veterans, military, and their families mean to you?
It means providing support to those who make the commitment to serve our country. It’s not something I could do, and I admire anyone who can say, “I’m willing to give my life for my country.” I have the utmost admiration for the family members who stand behind their servicemembers and are there for them no matter what. The personal strength and conviction of servicemembers and their families is a source of inspiration for me, and I want to do whatever I can to help them.
What are some traits about you that people may not be aware of? Any hidden talents?
I was a “good do-bee” on Romper Room in 1972 and I have the certificate to prove it. I love to sing and can carry a tune, but my first public solo was only three years ago.
Anything else people should know about you?
I love Christmas and Broadway showtunes! I see the glass half-full almost always, so yes, I’m really this cheerful and positive, especially in the morning!