Fifty years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States, the Beatles were recording their “White Album” and Blanche Conklin was first taking her seat as the secretary for the VFW Auxiliary Post 2476.
A lifelong Aquebogue resident, Ms. Conklin joined the Riverhead VFW in 1955 when she was 16 years old at the encouragement of her parents who were also members. She became secretary in 1968 when the then-secretary fell ill. Ms. Conklin thought the position would last only a few months. Fifty years later, she retired in June, and dozens of members came to the VFW on Parkway Street Saturday to surprise the soon-to-be 80-year-old with a celebration in her honor.
The regular meeting paused and auxiliary president Keri Najdzion gave a speech recognizing Ms. Conklin’s years of tireless service to the organization that fosters camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts and advocates on their behalf.
“The knowledge Blanche has amassed in the past 50 years is irreplaceable,” said Ms. Najdzion. “She does the work of three people.”
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio then presented Ms. Conklin with a proclamation from the Town Board and designated Saturday, Sept. 8, as Blanche Conklin Day in Riverhead. As a final surprise, the VFW unveiled an engraved bench honoring Ms. Conklin, which will be installed outside the building.
“I have enjoyed my years here,” Ms. Conklin said after the ceremony. “I enjoy the people in this organization and I am happy to have been a part of it.”
When Ms. Conklin first started in 1968, she was tasked with keeping meeting minutes — writing them shorthand with a pen only to return home and rewrite the notes perfectly after putting her children to bed. A decade ago she switched to typing.
“A lot has changed,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve learned a lot along the way.”
Ms. Conklin is currently assisting the new secretary and assistant secretary with learning the proper protocols and procedures that keep the organization running smoothly. She is even printing up a 25-page booklet to serve as a guide.
“She is on my speed dial,” said new secretary Shirley Eliston. “I certainly have some big shoes to fill.”
Ms. Conklin is considered a life member of VFW Auxiliary Post 2476, and she has no plans on leaving the organization. For her, the mission is personal. Her father was a World War II veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after returning home. The VFW became a haven for her family and a place where she could help others.
“I loved the work,” she said. “I like helping and I will still be around to help.”
Photo caption: Blanche Conklin and her husband Perry Conklin sitting on the bench dedicated in her honor. (Cyndi Murray photo)