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Anonymous history in your area
The beginning of A.A. in Detroit and the growth of General
Services in Michigan
following article written in 1985 by Area 33 past Archivist
Arch T. was a drunk in need of help. Although he lived in
Detroit, Michigan, word had filtered up to him in 1938 of
a doctor in Akron, Ohio, who was somehow able to help people
like him stop drinking. So on September 1 of that year,
Arch went to Akron, where he was hospitalized and then began
attending meetings of the new and nameless group of
alcoholics who were managing to stay sober. He stayed
with Dr. Bob until July 1939, when he returned to Detroit
with the admonition to seek other drunks to help.
In December 1939, the first meeting of A.A. in Michigan
was held in Arch T.'s room in the Art Center in Detroit.
Present, besides Arch, were Mike E. who became member #2
in Michigan, another alcoholic and a non-alcoholic woman.
By February 1940, the fledgling group had seven members
and began meeting in the basement room ofa home of a non-alcoholic
couple on Taylor Avenue, on the cities west side.
Six months later there were three groups--West, Central,
and East. In October 1941, a Northwest group was formed,
meeting on Thursdays, with a membership of about 20.
A step meeting on Mondays was added in '45.
At the same time, A.A. was starting in the western part
of the state, first in Kalamazoo and then in Grand Rapids.
In the latter city, Clarence H. read Jack Alexander's article
in The Saturday Evening Post and wrote to the A.A.
office in New York. He was put in touch with the Kalamazoo
group and with its help, held the first meeting in Grand
Rapids in September 1941 in the YMCA. By December,
it had 16 members and listed Frank D. as contact.
In March 1942, Clarence H. broke away and started a new
group, a stag group, Mac I., secretary. Three years
later Group #1 had 10 members; Group #2, 25. Growth
continued with a third group starting in February '46 and
a fourth in August. A year later a central committee
was formed to coordinate the activities of seven groups
in all. At the Life Group's fifth anniversary banquet in
January 1948 at the Rowe Hotel in Grand Rapids, 165 people
were present. They included visitors from Kalamazoo,
Muskegon, Battle Creek, Allegan, Greenville, and Saginaw.
Back in Detroit, Dr. Bob spoke at a dinner held April 12,
1942, at Webster Hall, before a crowd of 375. Pat
N. was the chairman and founder Arch T. also spoke beiefly.
A.A.'s growth in the Detroit area was phenomenal following
the Alexander article. When the tenth anniversary
was celebrated in November 1948, there were over 50 groups
with more than 1,500 members. Detroit also had the
first radio program featuring A.A. members telling their
stories. It was on the air every Saturday evening
at 6:15 on station WWJ.
In the early 1940's, the home of Sarah Kline, a non-alcoholic
friend of A.A., became a kind of ad hoc service office.
Her phone was listed as the A.A. contact number and twelfth-step
calls were sent out from there. In 1946, the A.A.
groups established a real central office which has had a
continuous record of 24-hour service to the sick alcoholic
ever since. Located first in the Ford Building and then
for 23 years in the McKerchey Building, the office has been
situated in Ferndale (still in the center of Greater Detroit)
since 1972. Arne O. had been its general secretary
for 24 years in 1985.
Gus J. from Warren recalls how the Fellowship spread from
the early downtown groups to the suburbs. The Centerline
Group broke off from the Northeast Group and moved to nearby
Macomb County. Until his death in the early 1980's
Mike E., Michigan A.A. #2, was a member of Centerline, and
as of 1985 the group still had two members, Bill M. and
Joe Z., with 39 and 38 years of sobriety, respectively.
Centerline spawned the South Macomb, Roseville, Mt. Clemens,
McKinley and other groups.
The A.A. groups in Michigan are notable for their early
and thoroughgoing adoption of a conference structure.
For the purpose of the first General Service Conference
in 1951, the state had been divided into three areas: Eastern
Michigan, centered in and around Detroit; Western Michigan,
embracing much of the rest of the state; and (as mentioned
previously) the Upper Peninsula, which was combined with
Northern Wisconsin to form a separate area. Faithfully
following the suggestions in a pamphlet on organization
sent out from the alcoholic foundation, representatives
from groups in Western Michigan held their first assembly
meeting on March 9, 1951, in Battle Creek to elect a General
Service Committee and a delegate to represent them on Panel
1 at the conference in New York in April. Also, nine
districts were formed.
Fisk M. committeeman from the Muskegon district, was elected
delegate and also served as chairman of the area committee.
The committeeman from Battle Creek district, Jack M., was
elected secretary of the area committee. Thus, in
1951, with two years' continuous sobriety, Jack M. embarked
on one of the longest careers of continuous service to Alcoholics
Anonymous known anywhere. He served as Western Michigan
delegate on Panel 6 and East Central Regional Trustee '71-'74.
He also served in various other key capacities on the Western
Michigan General Service Committee and the Western Michigan
Intergroup, was the driving force behind the Michigan State-wide
General Service Committee, and was of invaluable assistance
to G.S.O. in computer processing membership survey forms
and consulting on the introduction of the computer to the
office. In 1985, Jack M. was as enthusiastic and dedicated
to A.A. as ever, attending several meetings a week and still
active in service.
Michigan's interest in service was evidenced by big open
forums held in 1952 and 1953, and by the first Michigan
State Conference in September 1953 at the Sharaton-Cadillac
Hotel in Detroit, where the principal speakers were Hank
G. and Helen B., from G.S.O. To provide a new dimension
of service was also the purpose behind the formation of
the Western Michigan Intergroup. In this case, the term
"Intergroup" was employed to describe a local
service committee rather than an office. Individual
groups in the area were often geographically separated in
the '50's, and a need was felt for "inter-group"
meetings to provide additional information and input to
the groups, to give them an opportunity to exchange ideas
and hear outside speakers, and to help them coordinate their
service activities such as public information and institutional
work. "Individual groups were becoming too
autonomous," observed Don W. the first Intergroup chairman.
Therefore, in 1958, meetings began on a bi-monthly schedule,
rotating among the districts: the first was in Travers City,
followed by Muskegon and Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, etc.
It was clear from the beginning that the Intergroup supplemented
rather than competed with the Area General Service Committee.
Over the years, the Intergroup meetings served their original
purposes well and became so popular they were held monthly.
The Northern Michigan groups formed their own similar Intergroup
in 1973. Also in the '70's host groups began sponsoring
whole weekends, adding sharing sessions and workshops on
various service topics as well as special outside speakers.
In 1985, according to Jack M., the meetings are still well
attended and are a vital force in Western Michigan A.A.
At the State Conferences, Intergroup meetings and other
gatherings, Michigan delegates from several areas, past
delegates, past and present trustees and other trusted servants
would often meet together informally--and usually ended
such sessions by saying, "we should get together more
often". They recognized that the need existed
for a Michigan State-wide General Service Committee, and
in 1965 the idea became a reality. The State-wide
Committee has met quarterly ever since in the central location
of Lansing. It has proved to be of enormous benefit
in coordinating the work of the area committees--especially
in P.I., C.P.C., and correctional and treatment facilities
work--and in promoting unity. Says Jack M., "We
are a unified state. We do everything on a statewide basis.
We don't make a move without statewide discussion."
Not surprisingly, Michigan ranked seventh amomg the states
in A.A. at the time of the 1955 St. Louis Convention, with
186 groups and 3,531 members. In A.A.'s 50th year--and
Michigan's 46th--it reported 1,212 groups with an estimated
membership of about 24,000.