Teens Taking Charge: The Young Leaders of Leland VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary
There aren’t really statistics to prove this, so I can’t say it definitively, but there’s an excellent chance that 17-year-old Rose Seltzer is the youngest lady ever named president of a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Ladies Auxiliary. On top of that, one of her best friends, 18-year-old Melissa Standaert, is running the show with her as senior vice president.
Seltzer was installed in May as president of Leland VFW Post 9408’s Ladies Auxiliary. Why it happened is simple: If she didn’t do it, there would be an Auxiliary no more.
“It was either one of us take over, or the Auxiliary wasn’t going to exist anymore,” says Standaert. “It’s a big responsibility.”
Membership is lagging as currently so few people locally are personally affected by our military’s effort in the Middle East and forget that we have fellow Americans in harm’s way overseas.
No Auxiliary? Impossible. Seltzer stepped up. It’s sort of in her blood. Her father took over command at the post when Seltzer was a child, and he became an All-American Commander. Her mother first organized this Ladies Auxiliary and served three terms as president.
The role of the Auxiliary is to offer that touch to caring for veterans that only women can provide. They send care packages to active-duty military and offer support services to their families. They do all in their power to help veterans lead normal lives when they return from duty. They remind people what soldiers are doing to ensure our safety and freedom.
Standaert remembers her father returning from war when she was in sixth grade. He wouldn’t drive for a month and for months after that, he was still obsessed with searching the sides of roads for IEDs — improvised explosive devices, the things that our enemies overseas are using to detonate U.S. military vehicles. Their explosions are so violent that if you survive, they’ll still give you brain damage.
To leave Leland veterans without the Auxiliary’s support, the girls felt, was unconscionable.
“They’re killing themselves for us,” Standaert says. “How do you not help them?”
“They’re trading a comfortable life in this country they love to go to a place where nobody loves them,” Seltzer adds. “Nobody there wants them to survive. They want them out. I can’t imagine being somewhere [where] everybody hates me.”
That’s the Auxiliary’s specialty: Loving those who protect the country we love. These girls couldn’t just let that die.
Seltzer is 17 years old, a senior at Brunswick County Early College High School. One day she hopes to be a broadcast journalist. Standaert, 18, is a freshman at Brunswick Community College. She wants to be a medical assistant.
They’re ambitious girls. This leaves little time for extracurriculars. Seltzer recently gave up several extracurricular activities to focus on the Auxiliary. As teenage girls the highlights of their week, when time permits, includes spending time at the beach with friends and, of course, boyfriends.
It’s not easy, being president. “Still getting used to it,” Seltzer wrote in an email when we were hitting some speed bumps while setting up this interview. Things get hectic. It’s why nobody else could do it. Life is just too busy.
It’s a luxury teenagers have that adults simply do not sometimes, the freedom to drop one thing for another. That Seltzer is willing to do it, and Standaert with her by her side, is not only admirable but atypical. And it’s making their parents proud.
“These girls truly know what it means to serve,” says Seltzer’s mother, Susan Seltzer.
Seltzer’s duties involve setting up the monthly meetings — every third Thursday — and organizing fund-raising and community events, such as the twice-annual Buddy Poppy artificial flower drive at area supermarkets and retail stores. They’re also cobbling together plans for many, many future events.
Standaert’s duties involve helping Seltzer get her duties done.
The two met a few years ago through the Auxiliary. At first they didn’t care much for each other, but eventually they realized that it was mostly because they were so alike. They’re both strong personalities, both very take-charge types. They were competitive, always trying to outshoot each other at turkey shoot competitions (Selzer usually won).
In time they embraced rather than fought each other’s strengths, and now they’re using that to its full potential.
They don’t know for sure if they’re the youngest VFW Auxiliary leaders ever. Seems they could be though. Seltzer was installed when she was just 16 years old. They’re pretty certain they’re the youngest president-vice president combo in the state, and when someone told them of a “young” president they knew of elsewhere in North Carolina, the woman was nearly twice their age.
Not that such things really matter. Lord knows, the job’s not about glamour. They’ve had much written about them in area newspapers and such, but it’s definitely not about fame, either. Nor is it about status or prestige or being better than anybody else or popularity.
No, when they’re headed off to a meeting or on an errand and one of their fellow teenagers asks them what they’re doing, and they say, “Something for the VFW,” the usual response is, “Something for the what?”
So yeah, for some teenagers, vanity is a great engine, but look at what these two have given up and what they have to do — and what they really stand for — and it’s easy to see that these girls aren’t doing this for vanity.
What drives them is those men and women coming home lost or hurt or both. What drives them are memories of their fathers, who’ve served in several branches of the military and seen enough war for several men. What drives them is bigger than them.
Seltzer decided to run when the rest of the Auxiliary was sitting around talking about who could possibly be the next president. “I’ll do it,” she said. The women looked at her wide-eyed and shocked and giddy. “Wait, really!?”
And so she is president. And next year, when she leaves for college — probably bound for East Carolina University in Greenville — Standaert will fill her shoes. They hope by then they’ll have inspired more people closer to their age, or any age, to join the Auxiliary.
Don Miller, the bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz, wrote in the book that he didn’t like jazz music for a long time because it never resolved. Then, outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night, he saw a man playing the saxophone. “I stood there for 15 minutes,” Miller writes, “and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”
If things go the way Seltzer and Standaert hope, people and maybe even their peers will see what they see and at least care enough to get involved, and maybe even fall in love with it as they did.
If you want to get involved with Leland’s VFW Post 9408 or its Ladies Auxiliary, you can learn more at www.lelandvfwpost9408.org.