Ross Petten (right, foreground) of Port de Grave is the new president of the Royal Canadian Legion - NL Command. He is pictured here at a remembrance ceremony in St. John's this past summer.
A Port de Grave resident credited with helping bolster the Bay Roberts Legion branch and received praise for his efforts to support veterans is the new president of the Royal Canadian Legion - NL Command.
Ross Petten, who previously held the post of first vice-president of NL Command, was unopposed in his bid for the top post during meetings in Gander from Aug. 24-28.
He is the first member of Branch No. 32 in Bay Roberts to ascend to the presidency, and only the second "associate member" to do so. An associate member is defined as a Legionnaire with no direct connection to the Canadian military. Some 70 per cent of members are now classified as associates.
"It's a real honour to hold this position in an organization that began its presence in this province more than 87 years ago," Petten told The Compass.
Petten will serve a two-year term, and succeeds Aiden Crewe of Woody Point.
Humbled by support
Petten said he was humbled by the support from his peers, and promised to work hard to address concerns such as declining memberships, the closure of branches and an apparent reluctance by a new generation of military veterans to join the Legion.
Petten joined the Legion 15 years ago because he believed greatly in what the organization stood for, which is to serve veterans and their dependents while ensuring that their contributions to our country are never forgotten.
He said the promotion of remembrance and the support provided to organizations, youth groups and others was added incentive.
"That belief has not changed over the years," Petten said during his acceptance speech.
Petten is the owner of a fishing enterprise, and has been recognized for his contributions to the industry and his community. Most recently, he was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal and was inducted into the Atlantic Canada Marine Industries Hall of Fame.
He has been active in the fisheries union, is a longtime member of the Canadian Coast Guard Association, and serves on harbour authorities in both Bay Roberts and Port de Grave.
Petten served as president of Branch No. 32 in Bay Roberts for five years, during which time membership grew by some 30 per cent, the branch became financially secure, and its reputation throughout the NL Command improved significantly.
But he takes over as NL Command president at a difficult time, and there are many challenges in the offing.
During his speech, Petten bemoaned the fact that Branch No. 1 in Regina, Saskatchewan recently closed its doors. Closures have also occurred in this province, and the overall membership is on a downward slide.
"People are not joining the Legion as they did in the past, whether as veterans or associate members …," said Petten.
The number of branches in this province has dropped to 46 in recent years, from a high of about 65, said Petten. As for membership, the number is now at about 4,300, though the situation has stablized in recent years. It's a turnaround that has caught the attention of the national office, and NL Command has routinely been recognized for efforts to bolster memberships.
But Petten is still not satisfied, stating, "I'd still like to see it increase."
He said a stronger effort is needed to entice veterans of more recent conflicts in places such as Bosnia, Haiti and Afghanistan to get involved with the Legion. He said these people have an important role to play.
"We must make them feel wanted and needed. They have a great deal to offer the Legion and its programs, especially when being asked to speak to our youth. We have to let them know that they do have a place to go and receive the respect and support that they so deservedly have earned and need."
Petten commended a recent decision to hire a part-time service officer, calling it a "very positive step in the right direction to providing them with the support they need."
He also made special mention of his wife, Christina, describing her support as invaluable.