By Past Commander Bob Wefald, 2001 Chairman of Open Your Heart for the 2004 – 2015 Campaigns
I enjoy history and I wanted to learn more about how Open Your Heart got started. For years the story was that it was started in 1929 when natural gas came to Bismarck. It was said Legionnaires collected the coal left in the coal bins of homes and distributed it to those in need, which turned into Open Your Heart. I didn’t have time to learn the whole history of Open your Heart as I just jumped right into my first two campaigns as Chairman in 2004 and 2005, but when I mentioned this story to my wife, Susan, she said MDU had observed in the summer of 2006 the 75th anniversary of natural gas coming to Bismarck, which would have been 1931. So when I got some time in my schedule in the early fall of 2006 I spent several afternoons in the archives of the State Historical Society. The staff was very helpful in getting me to the microfilms of The Bismarck Tribune as well as The Bismarck Capital which was published every Tuesday and Friday for many years.
A thorough review of the papers for December 1929 revealed lots of coverage about Bismarck’s annual Christmas activities sponsored by the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Salvation Army, and the Association of Commerce, but there was nothing about Open Your Heart. Given the front page coverage given to these Christmas events, the obvious conclusion was that Open Your Heart could not have started in 1929. With a little more research for December 1930 it became clear that Open Your Heart was created and begun in 1930. It was well covered in both papers. It was front page news in The Bismarck Tribune on Thursday, December 4, 1930, with the second headline declaring “Legion Launches ‘Open Your Heart’ Drive.” The left hand column of the paper right below this headline with the lead-in to the article stated: ASKS CITIZENS TO ASSIST IN MAKING CHRISTMAS CHEER Will Supplement Work Done By Other Organizations in Coordinated Campaign SEEK SMALL CONTRIBUTIONS List of Items Sought Include Services, Food, Fuel, Toys, Candy, and Money
The announcement was made by American Legion Lloyd Spetz Post No. 1 Commander A.D. McKinnon, 1931. Commander McKinnon said this was “merely a part of the organization’s plan of service to the community.” He said the Legion entered into the field of Christmas activities “to solicit the help of those persons who might not care to assume a large responsibility but who can help a little.” And he noted that “we feel we can supply leadership for the general public in a work which enlists the sympathy of everyone.”
“This year - as every year - there are children in the city and county who are none too well cared for. There are little hands which get blue from the cold; little toes which feel the frost too keenly because they are not protected by good shoes and stockings; little tummies which may be shrunken a little because the family larder is none too full - homes where a mother and babies shiver a bit because the coal pile isn’t what it might be.” “The Legion plan is one of the most comprehensive the city has ever seen and it is devised with the idea of permitting everyone to help a little. ... But there has been no concerted effort in the past to enlist the aid of those folks who cannot assume a large responsibility but who would like to help to the full extent of their means. It is to this group, which includes a large share of the public, that the Legion makes its appeal.”
Commander McKinnon appointed Milton Rue as the first chairman of Open Your Heart. Past Commander Rue, 1936, remained involved with Open Your Heart for the rest of his life.
Lloyd Spetz Post of the American Legion, Bismarck, North Dakota