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Stardust memories 

Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to swing. The Sons of the American Legion, Savannah Post No. 135, will turn back the clock on New Year’s Eve at 8 p.m. Stardust Memories will be a black-tie gala with music by Sophisticated Swing, a seven-piece jazz orchestra from Jacksonville.

Proceeds from the gala will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. “What makes this event so special is that not only is it very reasonably priced, but when people buy a ticket, they know that the proceeds are going to a good cause,” says Jim Reed, Junior Vice Commander of the local SAL squadron.

(Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, we should inform you that Reed also serves as music editor of Connect Savannah.)

“One of the reasons the Sons of the American Legion exists is to help raise money for a variety of worthwhile charities -- in this case, the new local branch of the Alzheimer’s Association,” Reed says. “Also, the Legion itself is a non-profit organization, with lower prices than most other bars. You can drink and tip well for much less than you’d spend somewhere else.

“It’s also a great way to salute the history of downtown Savannah,” he says. “This building was a very important part of people’s lives here from the 1940s through the 1970s. We’re introducing it to a new generation of folks who never had the pleasure of attending functions here.”

The idea for the benefit came from the post’s’ bar manager, Adrienne Dickerson. “Not long after being hired, Adrienne decided it would be cool to create a tribute of sorts to the type of celebrations that this legion post was so well known for back in the 1940s and 1950s,” Reed says.

“She envisioned a New Year’s Eve gala like the kind she had seen in old, historic pictures from the post’s archives,” he says. “Many people agreed with her, but it wasn’t until this new branch of the SAL was formed a few months ago that there was a group of volunteers in place to actually try and make this notion a reality.”

Rudd Long, the Commander of SAL Squadron No. 135, says the benefit will honor the memories of past members. “At the beginning of each meeting, the SAL members offer a prayer, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and then read the preamble to the Constitution of the Sons of the American Legion,” he says.

“The preamble lists the purpose for the SAL’s existence,” Long says. “One of those purposes is to ‘preserve the memories of our former members and the association of our members and our forefathers together in the great wars.’

“This is what pointed me towards the Alzheimer’s Association in the beginning,” he says. “As I looked further into it, I found that an amazing number of people’s lives have been touched by this disease.”

Long himself has a friend, a World War II veteran, whose wife has been impacted by Alzheimer’s. “So much of life is memory and experience,” he says. “It’s an incredibly cruel disease that takes this away.”

The first SAL squadron dates to 1932, and originally was formed as a group for sons of American Legion members, Long says. “It’s grown and matured since then, and become more of a service organization,” he says.

“Many of the ‘sons’ in our squadron are older than many of the Legion members,” Long says. “We exist for many of the same reasons as the American Legion, including raising money for worthy charities and support for veterans and active duty military personnel. The SAL in Georgia raised several hundred thousand dollars for charities last year, more than the SAL in any other state.”

The organization is now open to male descendants of veterans. “There are some specific eligibility requirements that are listed on our web site at www. post135.com,” Long says.

Potential members are invited to visit any of the group’s meetings, which are held the first Tuesday of each month at 7:15 p.m. at 1108 Bull St. “People can also call the post -- we’d be happy to talk to them,” Long says.

“They should want to do a good turn for others, and be prepared to have a good time doing it,” he says. “We have some ideas for some really fun charity events for the coming year.”

There also is a Ladies Auxiliary, whose members are daughters and granddaughters of veterans. This group hosts its own activities and also helps the SAL.

If you can’t attend the gala but would still like to help, Long suggests buying a ticket to donate to an active duty soldier. “We consider active duty personnel a part of our family,” Long says.

The funds raised by the benefit will be appreciated, says Martha Ray, acting program director of the Alzheimer’s Association in Savannah. Ray also serves on the Coastal Georgia Alzheimer’s Regional Board. “We plan to serve the 15-county area around Chatham County,” she says.

“As a not-for-profit organization, we are working toward providing more in-depth services by staffing the office with one or two employees, as well as continuing to use the volunteers who are helping us now,” Ray says. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that causes loss of memory and difficulties with communication and judgment. “This disease causes people to gradually lose the ability to perform tasks at work and at home,” Ray says.

“This is a long-term disease, often spanning eight to 12 years,” she says. “People lose their memories for loved ones, for tasks such as driving and providing care for others, and eventually for taking care of their own basic functions.

“The stress on the caregiver can be immense as the family tries to maintain a sense of normality in an extraordinary situation,” Ray says. “Many caregivers report physical illness as well as depression and a sense of isolation during the years of care giving.”

Age is the chief risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, Ray says. “In a group of people over 65, one in 10 will have symptoms of Alzheimer’s,” she says.

“Within the last 15 years, research into the prevention of Alzheimer’s and education about coping with this illness have improved significantly,” Ray says. “There is real help and real hope now that wasn’t there when I was dealing with this with my mother.”

Services that are provided free by the association included information and referral, education and training, support group meetings and a program called Safe Return, for people who wander away from home and get lost.

“We opened the Savannah office in September with donated office space, equipment and wonderful volunteers,” she says. “Through the Memory Walk event, held each October, we raise funds to support our missions. ”

The new office is located at 7 Drayton St., Room 313, and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. “A group of concerned citizens formed a local board in April to bring regional services to the Coastal Georgia area,” Ray says. “Until this time, people in this area were depending on the state chapter in Atlanta for assistance with care giving concerns.”

Stardust Memories will help the association provide services. Reed says the event will be held in the Legion’s Grand Ballroom, which recently was renovated, but still contains most original features, including an Art Deco mirror ball that came from the old DeSoto Hotel.

Sophisticated Swing is made up of players from an acclaimed 10-piece group called Florida Jazz Plus. The band’s repertoire includes Broadway favorites and movie hits, Latin rhythms, and some contemporary sounds. But the band’s signature is swing music.

“We were lucky to be able to secure this group,” Reed says. “They come very highly recommended, and they’ve played here in the past for the Coastal Jazz Association. Their blend of Big Band, Swing and torch songs should be a perfect match for the high ceilings and hardwood dance floor of our Grand Ballroom.”

This could become a New Year’s Eve tradition at Post No. 135. “Everyone in our Sons of the American Legion group is assuming this will be the first in a long line of similar benefits,” Reed says. “The specific theme may change a bit over time, but we feel strongly that this will quickly become the most sought-after New Year’s Eve ticket in Savannah.”

 

Tickets for
Stardust Memories are $40 per person or $70 per couple, which includes a champagne toast and deluxe midnight breakfast. They can be purchased at the Post Lounge, 1108 Bull St., or online at www.post135.com. For information, call 233-9277 or 713-8778.

 

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