WILLMAR -- This week Willmar will be the center of the Minnesota American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary community, as both organizations conduct their annual department conventions in the city.

"It is our 101st convention," said Al Zdon, communications director for the American Legion in Minnesota.

More than 500 members of the two organizations are expected to attend the meetings and sessions Thursday through Saturday at the Willmar Convention Center. Representatives from the Legion riders, Sons of the American Legion and honorary juniors will also be attending.

"I think we've filled up every hotel room in town," Zdon said.

The Willmar community is invited to attend the Legion Department parade at 7 p.m. Friday. All 10 legion districts in Minnesota will be represented. The parade will start at Kennedy Elementary School, travel down Seventh Street to 15th Avenue Southwest, on to Fifth Street Southwest, then to the back Skylark Center parking lot. The parade will end at Willmar's American Legion Post 167.

The convention is the annual business meeting for both the Legion and Legion Auxiliary. The members will vote on several resolutions and elect the new state officers, including the commander.

"We have a contested race this year," Zdon said.

The National American Legion Vice Commander James Stephen Sweet will address the convention Friday.

This will be the first time Willmar has played host to the state department convention. The city has hosted a fall conference.

"I think people like Willmar. It has the things people are looking for why they come to visit a community, like restaurants and friendly people," Zdon said.

Betty Underthun, with the Legion Auxiliary, said attendees of the convention started arriving in Willmar earlier in the week and already have been taking advantage of Willmar area amenities, including golf courses and restaurants. The positive economic impact was one of the reasons why Willmar bid to be the host of this year's convention.

"It is good for our town. This is why we want it," Underthun said, adding that it is hoped that Willmar will continue to be on the state department's radar for future conventions and conferences.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we come back again," Zdon said.

The past several months have been a celebratory time for the Legion and Auxiliary nationwide. Both have been celebrating their 100th birthday. The very first national American Legion Convention was held in Minneapolis in 1919 and its 100th convention was also held in Minneapolis last August. The Auxiliary was established during that first convention and officially sanctioned by the American Legion at the second convention in 1920.