Kaneland High School scholarship named after local American Legion founder

by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—Joe Testin helped found the local branch of the American Legion 53 years ago, and now the Sons of the American Legion are founding a scholarship in his honor.

The $500 scholarship, which will be open to Kaneland High School seniors heading to college or pursuing continuing education, is the first that the Sugar Grove American Legion has offered in at least a decade, said Cliff Barker, chaplain for the Sons of the American Legion.

“We wanted to revive the scholarships we had done in the past,” Barker said. “We all agreed that if Joe was on board, we wanted to name it after him. He’s got over 50 years with this Legion; he’s been a commander, chaplain, short-order cook, you name it. So we approached him on Flag Day. He said, ‘whatever you do, don’t name it after me,’ so we named it after him.”

Testin, a Korean War veteran, is the longest-serving member of the Sugar Grove American Legion and helped charter the organization in 1959. Though he currently serves as the organization’s sergeant-at-arms, he’s held every post in the Legion, including three stints as commander and 26 years as chaplain.

After being drafted in 1951, Testin got married three days before shipping out and then spent two years serving in Korea. He returned home in 1953 and began farming in Plainfield, Ill., then moved to Sugar Grove in 1958 and then to Big Rock in 1964.

Testin said he joined the Legion because a relative urged him to.

“When I got out of the service, my wife’s aunt’s husband had been in World War II, and he said that anyone who had been in service should be in the Legion, so I came up,” he said. “My wife used to belong, and I had two daughters in it.”

He said he was surprised when the Sons of the American Legion suggested naming the scholarship after him, as there were nearly 30 charter members and three of those founding members were still alive.

“It’s alright, I think it’s nice, but I don’t think it should be named after me every year,” Testin said. “They should do others too, kick it around and let everybody get a chance.”

The scholarship will be awarded by the commander of the Sons of the American Legion, and the winner will be selected by a committee that includes the commander, the vice commander, the secretary and the chaplain, Barker said.

All Kaneland seniors are encouraged to apply, regardless of whether anyone in their family is a veteran.

“We chose not to narrow it down (to veterans’ children). We were in agreement that it should go to the most qualified Kaneland senior who applies,” Barker said. “I would love to see every student apply for this, to be honest with you.”

Applicants should have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, and the application asks them to submit three letters of recommendation, an official transcript and a 500-750 word essay on “How have you worked in your life to make a positive difference in America?” Barker also said that applicants should include a letter of introduction.

“That’s the first letter we’re going see when we open the envelope, before we look at the application, so it’s the equivalent of a first impression when they walk in a room,” Barker said.

Barker said that the American Legion and Auxiliary used to award scholarships to Kaneland students, but stopped doing so about a decade ago due when it was no longer financially feasible.

“We’re excited to be able to do it, especially in this economy,” Barker said.

If the village of Sugar Grove votes to allow video gaming at the Sept. 7 board meeting, the Veterans’ Board and the Auxiliary would also like to begin offering scholarships for Kaneland students, he said.

“We’ve thought about expanding it out to more scholarships and using some of the gaming money to subsidize that,” Barker said. “We’d like to have three scholarships. The idea is that the three divisions of the American Legion would have three scholarships with their own criteria.”

Students who would like to apply can get more information and pick up an application packet at the Sugar Grove Chamber of Commerce’s Scholarship Fair on Thursday, Sept. 20, or they can contact their high school counselors or the Sugar Grove American Legion office.

“I hope (the winners) use it wisely and enjoy it, that they gain something and that it helps them out,” Testin said. “That’s the best thing. It ain’t a full ride, but I hope it will help out.”