—3/22/16—Volunteer, mentor, and friend are words used to describe Helen Adams Gardner, registered nurse, who served as national president of the American Legion Auxiliary from August 1984 through August 1985. The Florida native passed away March 22 at the age of 97 and will be remembered for her service to veterans and the kindness she shared with Auxiliary members.
Gardner joined the Auxiliary in 1954 and volunteered decades of service to veterans and served in leadership roles at the unit, department, and national levels. Following her term as national president, Gardner served as National Convention host department chair in 1997 at the Auxiliary’s National Convention in Orlando, Fla., and chaired the ALA National Advisory Committee.
Gardner was raised in Wilkes Barre, Pa., and earned a nursing degree at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked in several hospitals as the operating room supervisor and helped establish JFK Memorial Hospital in Atlantis, Fla., where she served in several positions until she retired as director of nurses in 1984.
That year, Gardner reconnected with and married her high school sweetheart, Lt. Col. Wayne Gardner.
During her 1984-1985 term as ALA national president, she placed an emphasis on education, literacy, and improving public school systems.
During her installation address at the 1984 National Convention in Salt Lake City, Gardner said the decline in the quality of education could be a threat to the nation’s freedom, economic strength, national security, and America’s status as leader of the free world.
“We in the Auxiliary have the tools, the talents, the minds, and the time,” Gardner said. “…Our responsibility is to protect what we have in this great country, and our job is to perfect, to improve and to alter when necessary but always to move forward and change the things that must be changed.”
Gardner visited Auxiliary departments across the country and several countries during her term as national president. She served with Clarence Bacon of Maryland, The American Legion national commander, and Fred Hartline of Ohio, Sons of The American Legion national commander.
American Legion Auxiliary Past National President Elizabeth “Lib” Stewart served as Southern Division national vice president during the 1984-1985 administrative year when Gardner was national president.
“She was a friend to all of us who worked with her that year, and she and her husband continued their interest in each of us as we continued in our service in the Auxiliary,” Stewart said. “Her kindness was one of the qualities I admired about her the most, and she showed that she cared for people in the way she led our organization.”
Gardner was preceded in death by her husband Wayne. She is survived by her sons, Philip Calcagno, Bryan F. Adams, and Jack Gardner; 10 grandchildren; 18 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. A funeral service was held in April at St. Therese De Lisieux Catholic Church in Florida.###