La. resident to lead national auxiliary

For 100 years, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars has served and supported countless American veterans and their families.

In all of that time, only two Louisiana residents have ever had the honor of serving as the organization’s National President — until this past weekend.

More than 400 people recently gathered at the New Orleans Marriott to welcome in the third: Armithea “Sissy” Borel.

Borel was named president at the Ladies Auxiliary National Convention, held in July in Kentucky. As with every national president who has come before her, she was then officially welcomed in her home state with a “Homecoming Celebration.”

Though a native of Starks, La., Borel chose New Orleans for her event — apparently giving in to quite a bit of pressure.

“From the moment I was elected people kept coming up to me excitedly asking, ‘Are we going to New Orleans?” Borel laughed. “So New Orleans it was.”

While known as a woman who is quick with a smile, and even quicker with a hug, Borel says it was a heartbreaking family trauma that led her to join the organization back in 1993.

Three months into his deployment in Vietnam in 1970, Borel’s brother Shelton was gravely wounded when the soldier just in front of him stepped on a land mine.

When Shelton returned home to his family, he had lost both his right arm and leg and his nose had been reconstructed.

“It was a really traumatic experience for our family, and for our whole town,” Borel said. “Nothing like that had ever happened before.”

Borel says that the following years spent watching her brother and family cope with his injuries, along with frustrated efforts making claims and struggling with a backlogged system, is what eventually inspired her to join Starks Memorial Auxiliary 4759.

For the past 20 years, she has served in a variety of capacities on all levels, including as Louisiana Department president in 2004, earning Outstanding President of the Year from her membership group.

She said she is proud of the work the organization has done, from national efforts encouraging members to make their voices known on legislative issues, to smaller local efforts like bringing ladies into Louisiana grade schools to help children learn the meaning behind the colors of our flag.

I think we’ve also really become known for our efforts to support Cancer Research,” Borel said. “So many of our ladies have, or are currently battling this disease.”

“This year I have $200,000 at my discretion for cancer research,” Borel said, noting that she was elated to begin her giving in her own home state this past weekend as she presented a check for $50,000 to Louisiana Cancer Research.

As Borel steps into the roll of national president, she does so with three grown sons who are all actively serving in branches of the military. She says she recognizes that the biggest challenges facing the organization lie in reaching out to recent veterans and bridging generational gaps among members that can sometimes span 60 years or more.

“We’re losing our World War II and Korean veterans now and the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t seem to see the need for us,” Borel said. “We’re trying to get the word out that we’ve been there for them all along, but that we know they can better tell us what they want and need.”

And for the Ladies Auxiliary, that’s exactly what it’s all about — supporting our nation’s heroes.

“My job in this next year is to lead these (500,000-plus) women around the country to be strong as we do everything possible to support our veterans and their families,” Borel said.

The Ladies Auxiliary to the VFW National Convention was last held in New Orleans in 1991. It is set to return in 2017.