Brownie's and the
Dignitaries Sympathy Groups




Glenn Chesnut, The Factory Owner & the Convict, AA history, Glenn F. Chesnut            Glenn Chesnut, The St. Louis Gambler & the Railroad Man, AA history, Glenn F. Chesnut

The Dignitaries Sympathy groups were started by a man named Red K. who got sober in South Bend, Indiana. Nick and Brownie, two of the most famous oldtimers there, were the sponsors who got him sober. For those who would like to know about their lives and teachings, the story of Nick Kowalski (the convict who discovered AA while a prisoner in the Indiana state penitentiary at Michigan City) is told in The Factory Owner & the Convict: Lives and Teachings of the A.A. Old Timers, Chapters 9-11 and 14-16:

9. The Brave Young Man Who Didn't Even Cry
10. Black Fig Wine and Jail Cells
11. The Murder of Joseph Desits
14. Joining Hands with the Convicts
15. Doing God's Time
16. Little Boys and Girls in Grown-ups' Bodies
The St. Louis Gambler & the Railroad Man: Lives and Teachings of the A.A. Old Timers gives the story of Harold Brown ("Brownie"), the professional gambler and nightclub emcee from St. Louis, in Chapters 1-3:

1. The Professional Gambler and the St. Louis Blues
2. Down and Out in South Bend
3. Gratitude and the Man Who Had No Arms or Legs
Red K.'s Dignitaries Sympathy groups took the legacy of Nick Kowalski and Brownie and the spirit of St. Joe valley A.A., and spread it into south central and southeastern Michigan (Lansing and Ann Arbor), parts of the greater Chicago area (including some of the outlying suburbs like Arlington Heights), and Bloomington in the hills of southern Indiana (where the largest Indiana University campus was located). Groups were later established even further away, in places like the New York City area, Florida, Arizona, and the West Coast.

Their name originated with a comment by a janitor at the building where their first group was meeting in Lansing. The janitor jokingly referred to their rag tag band of young men as "the dignitaries." No one is sure where the rest of the name came from, but they always explain to newcomers that they call themselves the Dignitaries Sympathy groups because "we aren't dignitaries and we aren't going to give you any sympathy!"

See The Factory Owner & the Convict, page 322 note 109, see also page 272.

Brownie's

The Sistine Chapel of the style of A.A. that started with
Ken Merrill, Brownie, Nick Kowalski, and Red K.

Harold Brown ("Brownie") started a set of AA meetings in the basement to the church annex of the St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church at 616 Pierce St. in South Bend in 1970, an AA meeting place which is today referred to simply as "Brownie's." Every year, one or more Dignitaries Sympathy groups travel there every week for a month, so one of their members can give a lead at the 8 p.m. Saturday night meeting. The meeting is now presided over by Raymond I. (who Brownie sponsored when Raymond first arrived in South Bend in 1974) and younger people like Charles (who Raymond in turn sponsored).

Brownie, Dignitaries Sympathy AA groups, Harold Brown

Harold Brown
1914-1983

The AA meeting is held in the basement of this annex (the ground floor is used by a day care center for neighborhood children). The church lets the AA people use their parking lot across the street.

Brownie's AA meeting, Dignitaries Sympathy, St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church, South Bend, Indiana

People going into Brownie's at
St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church


Brownie's AA meeting, Dignitaries Sympathy, St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church, South Bend, Indiana

The church parking lot across the street

People attending meetings at Brownie's see the large sign proclaiming "There but for the grace of God" painted on the wall in back of the speaker's podium. Ironically, the man who painted this slogan on the wall could never stay sober himself, and became a living example of the dire warning contained in these words.

Brownie's in South Bend, Dignitaries Sympathy AA groups, There but for the grace of God

There but for the grace of God ... go I

A photo of Ken Merrill hangs on one of the walls in Brownie's. Ken was the founder of AA in South Bend, Indiana, on February 22, 1943. People came from all the surrounding parts of Indiana and Michigan to attend the beginners classes which he taught.

Ken Merrill, founder of AA in South Bend, Kenneth G. Merrill

Kenneth G. Merrill
b. July 9, 1891 -- sober February 22, 1943 -- d. August 15, 1963

In Ken's little article "Drunks Are a Mess," which he wrote around 1954, he explaines how alcoholics become blocked in their emotional growth at some point in childhood, in such a way that -- if they do not take steps to deal with these childish temper tantrums, fears, selfishness and so on; if they do not learn how to grow up and begin acting like adults -- they will find it extremely difficult to remain sober over any long period of time. One can easily see the influence of these ideas on both Nick Kowalski's and Red K.'s leads: both men talk about their childhoods and the way in which some of their most crippling character defects first arose at a very young age, and what they had to do to get past those traumas. Helping people heal their lives at that kind of level is one of the central strategies which make the Dignitaries Sympathy approach to recovery work so well.

Ken Merrill, founder of AA in South Bend, Kenneth G. Merrill

Another photo of Kenneth G. Merrill
Founder of AA in South Bend, Indiana

Brownie's barber chair South Bend Indiana

Brownie's chair

Brownie had a barber's chair which sat in one corner of the meeting room, to the left of the speaker's podium. This was where he would sit and preside.

Sacred Heart of Jesus at Brownie's in South Bend Indiana

Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the opposite corner of the meeting stands an almost lifesize Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. No one can remember when the statue first appeared in the meeting room, how it got there, or where it came from.


Map to Brownie's

Map to Brownie's in South Bend Indiana

Brownie's is located at 616 Pierce St., South Bend, IN 46616, right off Portage Ave. (this is the back building of St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church, whose front entrance is on the other side of the block at 621 Lindsey Ave., South Bend, IN 46616)

Map to Brownie's in South Bend Indiana



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