Penny Winston settled into Jim’s shoulder and threw her legs forward as the two found a seat at the edge of the stage.
It wasn’t an uncommon expression of love between husband and wife. After all, the Winstons have been married for 27 years.
But in this setting, beneath an American Legion banner and nearly 100 years of post history, it was rare to see the highest ranking members so, well…
Penny is post commander and Jim her first vice commander, a unique power couple without a hint of a power struggle.
“This was all part of the boys’ plan,” said Penny Winston, who graduated through the post’s leadership ranks and ran unopposed to become its first-ever female commander. “... They saw someone young and willing to do the work. They groomed me.”
Then what’s Jim’s excuse?
In a few weeks, Post 249, a 92-year-old veteran support group, will engage in another first. Penny will hand over commander duties to Jim during the post’s installation of officers. “Now it’s his turn,” she said with a sly smile.
The Winston’s relationship has been a match made in military heaven.
The two met in Mountain View in the 1980s while serving in the Army Reserves’ 229th Military Intelligence company, and their union – and allegiance to country – continues to burn white hot.
Penny, a former company clerk in the Reserves from 1984-1986, is the outgoing commander of Post 249. During a historic two-year term under Penny Winston, Post 249 has witnessed an increase in membership, hall rentals, accessibility and visibility.
“She’s done a great job,” said Post 249 Service Officer Joe Waltman, a 10th year member and longtime Manteca resident.
The old adage “In for a penny, in for pound” holds true with this aptly named dynamo.
Penny has connected existing membership – some too old or too busy to make meetings and events – with a bi-monthly newsletter, and opened the hall to the public and potential members on Monday and Wednesday mornings. The “Open House” features snacks and refreshments, information on Northern California VA clinics and Post 249.
“If we can get information to them – what we’re doing and what’s going on – they’ll see we’re doing something and want to join us,” Penny said. “I want the membership to know what we’re doing down here, so they’re not just a card-carrying member.”
Penny also oversaw a $7,000 renovation of the hall. A major project included removing wood paneling from the interior walls, giving the 75-year-old building a modern look.
One of those walls features another landmark acquisition, spearheaded by member Rocky Wilson: Large memorial walls honoring Manteca’s veterans.
The facility has also become a second home for the Boys Scouts and Charles Palmer troop packing events. Twice a year, the VA mobile clinic visits the hall along East Yosemite Avenue.
“She’s a hard worker. Her kids are grown and she had the opportunity to spend a lot of time doing the work that needed to be done,” Waltman said. “She was instrumental in getting other people to do it, too.
“She worked hard at the Memorial Day (booth) we had at Woodward Park. Usually commanders make an appearance and walk around, but she worked.”
Membership has climbed to 275 in the last two years and the average meeting draws 30-50 members. Waltman and others have marveled at the increased attendance and excitement around the post.
“I need to keep these things that Penny started going,” Jim said.
Penny leaves behind big shoes for Jim, a photo specialist in the Reserves (1983-1989) and a retired Tracy Policeman.
He welcomes the work load and commitment.
The Winstons liken the position to that of a 20-hour-a-week job, complete with administrative duties and grunt work and public appearances.
Jim will experience all three in his first year.
Post 249 is scheduled to host the 2014 Memorial Day festivities at the East Union Cemetery, and there are ongoing discussions with the City of Manteca about a permanent veterans’ memorial along Center Street near the Manteca Library.
“She’s going to be a tough act to follow,” Jim said.
There’s no one better suited, Waltman said. Jim will installed as commander on July 9.
“They do a lot for the Legion,” he added. “They’re an excellent couple for the job.”
To contact James Burns, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.