About The Aurora Council -
Navy League Of The United States
In 1953 a small group of local Navy veterans, under the leadership of LCDR Bill Gosselin, opened a double suite of rooms on the 5th floor of the Leland Hotel in Aurora, which LCDR Gosselin’s family owned. It was called the “Navy League Room” and was a place where cards and camaraderie took place. A small TV and a refrigerator added some ambiance to the room. Bob Mitchler (future Illinois State Senator) had just returned from serving both in WW II and Korea, and joined others such as Bob Moga who was a Navy veteran who served as a Motor Mac on both destroyer and an APA (a troop transport that landed Marines in the Caribbean). Another member was Dick Young, who fought on Iwo Jima for the first 29 days of that battle until forced to evacuate to a hospital ship after repeated wounds. This group met at the Naval Reserve Training Center in Phillips Park (now demolished), sailed an LCI regularly down the Illinois River from Joliet to Ottawa, and eventually had dinner meetings at Bill’s Restaurant in Montgomery Rd. An annual activity was to meet the Coast Guard cutter in downtown Chicago every Christmas that brought Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago, and then to take a luncheon sail aboard the cutter on the Lake.
Early Charter Days—1960s through the 1980s
In 1965 the Aurora Council 247 was officially chartered with the Navy League of the United States. Early leaders of the Aurora Council were Quillen Fox (a Navy WW II vet who served aboard a destroyer at the Iwo Jima battle). Quillen Fox would have been the longest serving Council President had he not opted to fill a big void by becoming the Council Treasurer. Quillen was probably the longest serving officer of the Council, and was involved with Council leadership for over 50 years Other Council Presidents included Frank Gurry (head of the Naval Reserve Unit in Aurora), Ted Brattin, future State Senator Bob Mitchler, and Mike Simons. Senator Mitchler was the only Council member to become a National Director of the Navy League, showing his strong interest in the organization at the national and local level. He enrolled every member of his large family in the Navy League as well. Fred Mason, the President of the Bank of Sugar Grove, was a long-serving Treasurer of the Council, and Ed Morrissey, an attorney from Sandwich, IL, wrote the Council by laws pro bono.
In 1969 the annual Pearl Harbor Day luncheon was conceptualized and started by Ted Brattin, and still continues as the flagship function of the Council. About 400 attend this function each year. In 1987, and in memory of Ted Brattin, the Ted Brattin Civic Youth Awards were added to the Aurora Council Pearl Harbor Day luncheon. These awards are sponsored by the Rotary Club of Aurora (the successor to the Aurora/Naperville Rotary Club started by Ted Brattin) and also supported by the Naperville Kiwanis Club. These awards are made available to Fox Valley teenagers involved in their schools and communities. Criteria for selection include leadership, academic excellence, and community involvement. As of 2012, we celebrated the 43rd consecutive Pearl Harbor Day luncheon and 26th consecutive Ted Brattin Civic Youth Awards.
The Aurora Council also supports the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps—Aurora Division, and the Mooseheart High School NJROTC unit. Josephine Simons was the first Commanding Officer of the Aurora Division of the Sea Cadets and Dick Ebeling was the Chairman of the Sea Cadets since its formation. It’s role in the formation and sponsorship of the East Aurora High School NJROTC is discussed in the next section. Throughout these years the Council’s mainstay activity was the monthly dinner meetings with very interesting speakers, coming from a variety of backgrounds, careers, public agencies, and military services. These were held at Bill’s Restaurant in Montgomery, IL.
Other activities of the Council included riding the Coast Guard Ice Breaker from Chicago to Milwaukee, events at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and sponsorship of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), a modern nuclear powered aircraft carrier whose Commissioning was witnessed by several Council members on November 11, 1982.
The Middle Years—1990s
through the early 2000s
Under the capable hands of several Council Presidents, including those mentioned above, the Council grew and prospered. A momentous and significant development occurred in 1995 with the establishment of the East Aurora NJROTC through the efforts of the Aurora Council. Then Council President, Mike Simons, an Aurora middle school teacher, became aware of Navy plans to establish NJROTC units around the country, especially in the northern USA and in minority schools. He spearheaded a concerted and persistent effort to obtain Navy, School, and Community support for the unit. At first, the contact officer at Great Lakes showed no interest, but he teamed with Senator Bob Mitchler to get the ball moving. Mitchler was involved in the annual Aurora Memorial Day parade, and arranged for Admiral Mack Gaston, then Commander Recruit Training at Great Lakes, to be the Parade Marshall. He also suggested that Simons, as Council President, invite Gaston to a BBQ while in town. Gaston immediately embraced the idea of East Aurora HS having a NJROTC unit when Simons explained it to him. The Great Lakes contact officer called Simons shortly afterwards and the gears started moving. Simons got a teaching colleague to embrace the notion as well: Dr. Thomas Jandris, the new Principal of East Aurora HS. An information presentation by Jandris and Simons went so well, that the East Aurora School Board approved the NJROTC unit right then and there. Presenters included Jandris, Simons, Guy Bodor (a Pearl Harbor survivor and retired CWO, USN), LCDR Quillen Fox, Senator Mitchler, and a retired Navy Master Chief who headed the South Bend, IN NJROTC unit. Tom Jandris selected LCDR Paul McNabb as the first head of the NJROTC unit. Paul had been a carrier-based F-4 Phantom jet navigator/bombardier in Vietnam, later entered the seminary and ordained a Minister, and then returned to active Navy duty as a Chaplain.
Subsequent to the NJROTC unit’s formation, it grew quickly and more drill space was needed. A field house was agreed to by East Aurora HS as part of the contract with the Navy. The money from a $38 million bond issue which was supposed to be used for building the field house, was used for other purposes, and the Navy was going to close the NJROTC unit. Then Lieutenant Colonel Rick Todas was elected Council President. He was the Chief of Staff to Aurora Mayor Dave Stover and served on the Army National Guard state staff in Springfield. The National Guard needed a new home and had plans to build at Aurora airport, not the ideal location. Todas called on the senior military staff of the Illinois National Guard, including the Adjutant General. He also called on Congressman Denny Hastert (later Speaker of the House). The various parties, i.e., East Aurora school district, Navy NJROTC, Illinois National Guard, and Aurora’s Mayor Stover started negotiations receiving “guidance” from Todas and McNabb. This culminated in the field house being built. Col Todas and CDR McNabb actually also went door to door in the community to sell the idea and gain community support.
As of this writing East Aurora NJROTC is the most highly decorated such high school unit in the USA, over 1/3 of the school is enrolled, and each year more and more students are added to the rolls. We can be proud that these students are choosing to participate in a structured, patriotic environment that will help them to grow to be responsible adults.
Recent Years—to 2013
The solid grounding by the early leaders of the Aurora Council has been carried forward to this day. A small, volunteer Board of Directors provides leadership and oversight, under the direction of Council President, Colonel Rick Todas, USA (Retired). Colonel Todas began his military career as an enlisted US Marine in a rifle company in the Vietnam War for 13 months. In 1968 he left the Corps and later graduated from Law School. In 1974 enlisted in the Army National Guard, went through Officer Candidate School and was commissioned in 1975. He became the Commanding Officer of the 66BDE in 1999, deployed to Germany and conducted force protection missions throughout Europe in 2002. He served on the Illinois state senior staff in homeland security planning and training section until he retired in 2005.
The Board has a mix of veterans and non-veterans, in keeping with the spirit and charter of the Navy League of the United States, i.e., a civilian organization supporting our Sea Services.
Monthly dinner meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month, starting at 5:15 PM in the private room on the east end of Grandma's Table Restaurant, 1700 Douglas Road, Montgomery, IL (just 1 block north of US-30). The public is welcome, and reservations are not required. An after dinner speaker highlights each dinner, complete with Q&A, and these events finish about 8:00 PM. Examples of after dinner speakers and their topics are found on the “Events” page of this website. The “Events” page also lists a number of other activities available to Council members.
One does not have to be a Navy League member to attend our monthly dinner meetings. All are welcome. For those who wish to join the Navy League, our Council funds half the first year’s dues as an incentive and “welcome aboard” gesture.
To contact a Board member please refer to the “Contact Us” page, and either complete the email inquiry or call one of the Board members listed on that page.