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Legionville Safety Patrol Camp celebrates 75 years

The Legionville Safety Patrol Camp is celebrating its 75th year of instructing young school patrollers to assist other students in safely crossing streets around a school.

Campers spend a week on the Legionville grounds on North Long Lake between Merrifield and Brainerd learning proper school patrol techniques and safety. In addition to pedestrian safety, Legionville provides instruction in first aid, swimming and canoeing.

This is the only camp in the United States that is run by the American Legion and designed to provide safety patrol instruction.

However, Legionville provides more than just safety patrol instruction to the children who attend.

“A lot of them go away with a lot of leadership skills and team-building skills,” said Eryn Ebinger, the program coordinator.

Besides their continuing legacy of safety instruction, the Legionville staff is excited about the new training center building that will be completed for the summer of 2014.

“For us, it’s a big thing to have this here, especially on our 75th year,” said Roy Kruger, the camp manager.

“If you do the math, it doesn’t add up to 75 years, but what happened is that two years in World War II they canceled Legionville because of the war,” Kruger said.

Instruction began in 1936, but the years of 1942 and 1943 were skipped, making 2013 the 75th year of instruction.

“It’s really 77 years that we’ve had a relationship with the highway department to teach it,” Kruger said.

Safety patrol instruction took place at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds and Camp Ripley until 1956 before moving to the current property on North Long Lake.

Minnesota state troopers teach the pedestrian safety classes. Several troopers alternate weeks of providing instruction. This summer, troopers Jesse Grabow, Curt Mowers and Jackie Sticha are taking turns teaching safety skills and spending time with the campers.

“These aren’t the regular highway patrol troopers. These are the public relations troopers,” Kruger said.

In addition to teaching at Legionville, these troopers speak on safety and provide information to the media about the State Patrol’s activities.

On the weeks they teach, each trooper does something special with the campers. On a recent week when Mowers was teaching, he arranged for the North Memorial helicopter to land at the camp and give rides to the campers.

Legionville runs for eight weeks.

“Every week it’s a different city that usually comes here. They come from the whole state,” Kruger said.

The campers must be safety patrollers, and they are usually selected by a teacher to come to Legionville. Sometimes only the captain of a school’s safety patrol will come, or the entire patrol may come, depending on the funding the school has.

“A lot of towns can only afford to send one or two kids,” Kruger said. “Brainerd has been so good at sending all their patrollers. They don’t just send the captains and lieutenants; they send everybody, so Brainerd week is the big week.”

Parents can also send their children who are safety patrollers if the school does not have enough funding to pay for the camp.

The campers are generally in late elementary school or middle school and range from ages 8 to 11.

Each week runs Sunday through Friday, when the patrollers have a graduation ceremony. Campers enjoy a variety of activities, including a weekly track meet and a tug of war competition.

“It’s a really great place for the kids. It’s a fun, safe learning environment where they can come and be unplugged,” Ebinger said.

“They take home a lot of memories of making friends. For a lot of them this is a big step in growing up and a big step in making friends,” Ebinger said. “If I could have every kid in the world come try it out I would, because it’s a blast.”