Auxiliary magazine, the quarterly national publication of the American Legion Auxiliary, shared the stories of several Auxiliary members and their family heirloom ALA-branded jewelry with a November 2020 feature article. In our Vintage Finds: ALA Jewelry and Its Special Meaning blog series, we share stories of Auxiliary members who found special meaning in the vintage ALA jewelry they acquired at estate sales, auctions, flea markets, bazaars, garage sales, online sale sites, or thrift stores.
First blog in our “Vintage Finds: ALA Jewelry” series, presented in three parts
‘Precious Memories’ of my mom accented by ALA jewelry
Guest blog by American Legion Auxiliary member Mary Hendrickson
My mother and I were immense lovers of jewelry. We shared a special passion for silver items, pearls, and rhinestone jewelry — which later blossomed into a shared love of American Legion Auxiliary branded jewelry. As an only child, I was allowed to occasionally open each small jewelry box in the top drawer of her large bedroom dresser. The 1950s and 1960s were great eras for “bling” pieces. Rhinestone and enamel pins were frequently worn on blouses, sweaters, coats, and hats.
A cold day in early December 1959 would lead us to the wonderful world of ALA-branded jewelry. Our family church was having their annual one-day Christmas Bazaar. At the bazaar, my mother and I gravitated to the “Next to New” jewelry table. This was our opportunity to possibly purchase another pearl or rhinestone piece to add to my mother’s collection. My 13th birthday was looming, and I had hoped my mother would let me pick out one piece for my jewelry collection. I can distinctly remember pointing to a pin and saying to my mother, “There’s a pin on that pin!”
My mother, a multi-year Auxiliary unit president, immediately recognized it as our ALA emblem. We purchased the pin for 50 cents. Neither of us had an inkling that this purchase would lead to our new shared passion — collecting ALA-branded jewelry, which still flourishes after all these decades.
My mother wore her new pin when attending an event at “The Barracks,” as our American Legion post was called by the locals in our community. It was the only place large enough to hold wedding receptions and class reunions in our small town. Auxiliary members usually cooked the meals for these events, so my mother and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen there. One day, a kitchen worker was admiring my mother’s pin. The next time we saw the worker, she opened her purse and handed my mother another ALA pin! It had belonged to her Aunt Inga, and none of Inga’s family had any interest in it.
Via word of mouth, my mother received or was able to purchase other ALA jewelry from families in our area. My mother was a much-loved nurse at our local hospital. After graduating from college, I worked as a teacher in a part of Wisconsin that had many antique and flea markets. Of course, I scoured the tables looking for rhinestone jewelry and ALA-branded jewelry. Estate sales were an excellent source of vintage pieces. On my summer vacations, my mother and I loved going to antique stores and garage sales. We never knew whether that would be the day we found another special ALA piece!
In 2002, I lost my mother to kidney disease and became the caretaker of her jewelry collection. In July 2019, I was honored to be elected as ALA department president for Minnesota. I knew immediately I would wear my mother’s white pearls and a vintage ALA-branded pin on the blue top I had chosen for my official portrait (shown at the beginning of this blog post).
Today, I still keep an eye out for ALA-branded jewelry at antique stores, flea markets, and online auction sites. The early pieces in my mother’s collection will always be special to me. Her favorite hymn was Precious Memories, How They Linger. Finding our first piece of ALA-branded jewelry together back in 1959 is one of my precious memories.
About the American Legion Auxiliary
The American Legion Auxiliary is a community of volunteers serving veterans, military, and their families. Our mission statement:
In the spirit of Service Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace, and security.
Interested in becoming an American Legion Auxiliary member or volunteer? To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org or contact an American Legion Auxiliary unit near you.