Early Evansville A.A.

Material collected by archivist Bob E. from Evansville


  September 1936   James D. ("J. D.") Holmes got sober in Akron, Ohio, as A.A. No. 10

(counting Bill W. and Dr. Bob as No. 1 and No. 2)

  May 30, 1938   J. D. Holmes and his wife Rhoda moved to Evansville  

  April 23, 1940   J. D. and Dr. Joseph E. Welborn started the first A.A. group in Indiana, meeting at J. D. and Rhoda's home at 420 S. Denby Street in Evansville every Tuesday night  

  August 18, 1940   Dr. Joe died (this was only 4 months later).  Dr. Clifford Richey, his partner, had also joined A.A. before Dr. Joe's death.  Dr. Richey and J. D. now became the key A.A. leaders in Evansville  

  October 28, 1940   The first A.A. group in Indianapolis was founded by Doherty Sheerin after contact with J. D. Holmes in Evansville.

Dohr and J. D. began working together to spread A.A. all across Indiana.

  1943-44   Second World War:  J. D. Holmes in the Navy, Dr. Richey in the Army  

  1950-51   Dr. Richey died on September 8, 1950.  J. D. went back to Akron around 1951, where he worked as a writer on the Beacon-Journal newspaper  

  May 27, 1961   J. D. Holmes died in Akron at the age of 66  

The first A.A. group in Indiana

  On Tuesday, April 23, 1940, James D. ("J. D.") Holmes and Dr. Joseph E. Welborn started the first A.A. group in Indiana, in Evansville.

The group began meeting at J. D. and Rhoda's 420 S. Denby St. every Tuesday night. They later moved the meeting to Dr. Welborn's and Richey's office, and then to a Presbyterian Church, where they met in one of the outbuildings (Dr. Richey was a member of the First Presbyterian Church). The group, which is today called the Tri-State Group, still meets in Evansville every Tuesday night.

There is a letter from the New York A.A. office to "Joseph W." (Dr. Joe Welborn) which is undated, but must have been written around the middle of May 1940. It says that a recent article in the Washington, D.C., Star was distributed by the United Press, one of the two major national press services, all across the country, and that this has produced two inquiries from Indiana. One is from Miss Katharine S., at the Beck Building on Spring Street in Jeffersonville, who wants someone to talk to her brother, who is a lawyer.

She says that her brother "is working toward securing an appointment to the Supreme Court of Indiana. She says that he only has confidence in his own physician and I suggest that she get in touch with you and discuss the matter and then perhaps it would work out best if you spoke with his doctor first." This man's last name was probably Sweeney (see the letter to Dr. Joe from the New York A.A. office dated June 28, 1940).

The other was from C. P. B. in Huntington. He says "'I am interested in the problem of alcoholics as a victim and will be glad to hear from you as to what I can do to overcome same.'"

The letter says that Dr. Joe's name and address has been sent to both parties.

Joseph W. (Dr. Joe Welborn) replied in a letter to Ruth Hock, the secretary at the New York A.A. office, on May 20, 1940. He told her that they had been holding meetings for about a month at that point, and we know that the first A.A. group in Evansville always met on Tuesday evenings, as it still does today, so the date of the first A.A. meeting in Indiana must have been April 23, 1940.

  "I am very glad to get your letter and I am very glad to know you have referred the two people to our group. We would be very happy to handle any other that you might refer to us. We do have weekly meetings now being attended by 12 to 15 people. There are nine active members in our group and considering that we have only been going along about a month now in the organization work we feel that we are doing fairly well.

"... I will report to you if either Mr. S. of Jeffersonville or Mr. B. of H[untington] reports to us. I am writing them a letter today extending to them an invitation to visit our group.

"You will never know what great relief I have and what true happiness I get in working with other people who have had the same trouble."

  A letter to Joseph E. W. (Dr. Joe Welborn) from the New York A.A. office dated June 28, 1940, indicates that Dr. Joe had talked to Mr. Sweeney (presumably the lawyer in Jeffersonville, Indiana, mentioned in the earlier letter written around the middle of May). It links this with a reference to a visit Dr. Joe made to Louisville, Kentucky, which is right across the Ohio river from Jeffersonville.  

  "Glad to know you had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Sweeney, and was interested in the fact that you visited Louisville, KY. Do you make that trip very often? And if so, can you take any inquiries there? Please be frank about this for we have no desire to overburden you with A.A. inquiries to the detriment of your own affairs, and if you can't take them on we have complete faith that things will work out at the right time.

"I took the liberty, however, of sending a Louisville inquiry to you today, advising him that if he could get to Evansville you would be glad to talk with him. He is H.H.H. He himself wrote asking for the names of members in Louisville and in the same mail we received a letter from his sister who advised that he had been contacted by A.A.s when he lived in Akron sometime ago but that he had refused to have anything to do with us at that time. He now seems very anxious which only goes to prove the old A.A. proverb -- 'If he isn't ready give old John Barleycorn time to get him ready.'

"You might be interested in the fact that we now have 21 localities from coast to coast where A.A. meetings are held weekly, with another 20 localities where there are single individuals or a few who are attempting to get things started. You know how difficult it is to get any accurate figures on this thing but a rough guess brings us to close to 1,000 members. In our correspondence we use the round figure of over 600 men and women, to keep on the conservative side, and to keep to figures which we can more easily prove if challenged."

  So the Evansville group was one of the first twenty-one A.A. groups established. If we look at a map of the United States, there were no other A.A. groups anywhere in the general area, so it became the center from which groups were formed, not only in most of the rest of Indiana, but also in southern Illinois and western Kentucky. The Evansville and Indianapolis groups also seem to have played an important role in the formation of the first A.A. group in Louisville, Kentucky. As we can see from the letter above, in June 1940, inquiries from Louisville to the New York A.A. office were being sent to Evansville as the closest established A.A. group.

A few months after the above letter, Ruth Hock sent out a bulletin listing all the A.A. groups in existence at that time: "The Alcoholic Foundation, National Headquarters, Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. Bulletin No. 1, November 14, 1940. From Ruth Hock, Secretary."  See http://archivesinternational.org/AI/Documents/pdf/groups.pdf

As of November 14, 1940, there were 22 cities where A.A. work was well established and weekly meetings were being held:

  New York City
South Orange, New Jersey
Washington, D.C.
Richmond, Virginia
Detroit, Michigan
Jackson, Michigan
Coldwater, Michigan
Chicago, Illinois
Houston, Texas
Los Angeles, California
San Francisco, California
  Evansville, Indiana
Little Rock, Arkansas
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Baltimore, Maryland
Waunakee, Wisconsin
Greenwich, Connecticut
Cleveland, Ohio
Akron, Ohio
Toledo, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Youngstown, Ohio

  Ruth Hock also mentions that "There are several 'working' A.A. members in each of the following cities where meetings are in a get together stage." The Indianapolis group appears on this list:  

  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Boston, Massachusetts
Wallingford, Vermont
  San Diego, California
Indianapolis, Indiana

  The Indianapolis group was formed on October 28, 1940, a little over two weeks before Ruth Hock put this bulletin together, but she was clearly confident that A.A. had established a base there from which a good group could be built.  

  The Jack Alexander article from the March 1941 issue of the Saturday Evening Post mentions the Evansville group, which was considered an important early A.A. center (and also the Indianapolis group, which had been formed only four months before the article came out, but was already running well). Jack Alexander describes how "the movement has spread to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Evansville, and other cities" in addition to New York, Akron, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, and Miami.  

  On August 18, 1940, Dr. Joe Welborn died of a heart attack. This was only four months after he and J. D. had started the first A.A. group in Indiana. He was only 34 years old.  

  Obituary in the Evansville Press, Monday, August 19, 1940


Physician Succumbs To
Heart Ailment

Dr. Joseph E. Welborn, 34, physician and surgeon here since 1929, died suddenly at 11:30 p.m. Sunday hi his office residence, 1161 S. Second-st.

Coroner Reisinger returned a verdict of acute dilatation ot the heart induced byoverwork.

When Dr. Welborn was stricken, Dr. CIifford Richey, 400 S. Kelsay-av, who was with him, called for a Fire Department respirator. Firemen worked for an hour, also using artificial respiration methods. Luther Egan, Police traffic accidentinvestigator and Traffic Officer Lester Brown assisted Assistant Fire Chief Roethemeyer and Captain John Blum of No. 4 Hose House.

Dr. Welborn was graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 1929 and served his internship in Welborn-Walker Hospital.

From 1930 to 1932 he did private practice work, with offices at Washington and Evans Avenues. Returning to the hospital he remained there until 1938 when he opened his office at the intersection of Parrett and Second Streets.

Surviving are: sons, Keith and Kent, Evansville; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest P. Welborn, Cynthiana, Ind.; a sister, Mrs. Harvey Garrett, Princeton, Ind., and a brother, Paul, Cynthiana.

The body was taken to the home of Dr. Welborn's parents in Cynthiana for funeral services at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Burial in Poseyville, Ind.

  Fortunately, Dr. Joe's medical partner, Dr. Clifford O. Richey, who was also an alcoholic, had also joined the little Evansville A.A. group. J. D. Holmes and Dr. Richey now became the leaders of the group.

At that point J. D.'s wife Rhoda took over the task of corresponding with the New York A.A. office. It should be noted that although Rhoda was not an alcoholic, she had been totally involved in the A.A. program ever since the day Dr. Bob's son Smitty took her to his father's house. Rhoda was expected to be with her husband J. D. when the Akron A.A. group met with him for the first time, and she was supposed to become as deeply involved as he was in the program. The alcoholic and the non-alcoholic spouse did most things together in early Akron A.A. When she and J. D. moved to Evansville in 1938, there was a twelve-step meeting every week, made up of her and J. D., which kept J. D. sober. Now in August 1940, Rhoda took on the task of corresponding with New York in behalf of what she always referred to as "our" group.

The Mother of Al-Anon in Indiana

Editor's note:  Rhoda Holmes was the Mother of Al-Anon in Indiana, a woman worthy of our deepest respect. Her story also reminds us that any time we try to put a wall between A.A. and Al-Anon, where A.A.'s refuse to go to Al-Anon functions or read Al-Anon literature, or where Al-Anon's refuse to go to A.A. functions or read A.A. literature, it will gravely weaken both programs. Getting healthy again means removing all the old barriers between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic spouse:  the blame, the fear, and the resentment have to be healed, and in order to do this, the two have to learn that they need to get well together, and that each has something important to teach the other.  J. D. and Rhoda, along with Dr. Bob and Anne Smith, show us what real A.A. and real Al-Anon are about:  getting well together.

  Dr. Richey died in 1950, and J. D. Holmes moved back to Akron around 1951. The first decade of A.A. history in Evansville had come to an end, but Alcoholics Anonymous had been well established there, and due to the work of the Evansville people, the A.A. movement was spreading through southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and all over Indiana.  

  Obituary in the Evansville Courier, Saturday, September 9, 1950


Dr. Clifford O. Richey, of [787?] Washington avenue, died at 5:40 a.m. Friday in the Veterans' Facility hospital, Indianapolis.

Dr. Richey, 51, was a veteran of World Wars I and II. He had been in ill health since his discharge from the service in 1946, and had not practiced during the past year. Several weeks ago he entered the hospital in Indianapolis.

A specialist in gastro-enterology, Dr. Richey came to Evansville in 1923. He had previously practiced in Indianapolis.

He was a native of [K]ilroy, and a graduate of Indiana university and the Indiana university medical school. His internship was served at Indianapolis General hospital. Later he did post-graduate work at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Richey was a member of the First Presbyterian Church here. He also belonged to the Indianapolis Atheletic club, the Elks club at Hopkinsville, Ky., the Indiana Medical society, and the Vanderburgh county medical society.

Survivors include the wife, Velma Chil[??] and two brothers, Chester A., of Metamore, and Marshall, of Gary.

Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in Flanner and Buchanan mortuary, Indianapolis. The body will then be returned here to McCord and Boone memory chapel, to lie in state until 2 p.m. Monday, when graveside services and burial will be conducted in Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Rev. Dr. M. C. Cavell will officiate.

  Obituary in the Evansville Press, Monday, May 29, 1961

JAMES D. HOLMES, 66, formerly of Evansville, died Saturday at his home in Akron, O.

Holmes left Evansville about 10 years ago. He was a native of Graves County, Ky. At the time of his death, Holmes was a writer for the Akron Beacon-Journal.

Suviving are the wife, Rhoda; sisters, Mrs. Letta C. Neale, Akron; Mrs. Tina Waggoner and Miss Lottie B. Holmes, Mayfield, Ky.; Mrs. Herman A. Choate, Wingo, Ky.; and a brother, W. H., Detroit, Mich.

Funeral services will be Wednesday in Akron, with burial in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.


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