The Third A.A. Group Started
in Indiana:  Fort Wayne

December 1941

  After the Indianapolis group was started on October 28, 1940, it then gave birth to A.A. groups in numerous other Indiana towns, including the third group founded, the one in Fort Wayne. This is the major city in the northeastern part of the state, about a hundred miles from Indianapolis up towards the Ohio border.

The story of how A.A. came to Fort Wayne began when C. L. Buckley’s wife read the 1941 Jack Alexander article about Alcoholics Anonymous in the Saturday Evening Post -- the historic magazine article which first brought A.A. to general public attention in the United States -- and sent off for a copy of the Big Book, hoping it might help her husband stop destroying himself with alcohol. He simply refused to read the book until his drinking got so bad that he eventually had to enter the Keeley Institute.

At that point, he finally started reading the Big Book and taking it seriously, and after he returned home, he tried to interest other alcoholics in joining him to form an A.A. group in Fort Wayne. We see the same thing happening here which happened in Evansville. Obtaining a copy of the Big Book and getting people to read it -- that simple volume which seemed to have such an astonishing power -- was necessary before people could form a working A.A. group.

C. L. Buckley at first had no success in getting anyone else to join him, but finally talked three other alcoholics into going with him to an A.A. breakfast in Indianapolis on December 7, 1941. They had no trouble remembering that date afterwards, because that was the morning when Pearl Harbor was attacked, pulling the United States into the Second World War. Soon afterwards, a regular A.A. meeting was established in Fort Wayne.

Evansville, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne were therefore the three earliest A.A. groups in Indiana, forming a line stretching 250 miles, from the southwestern corner of the state to the northeastern corner. Most of the other A.A. groups in Indiana were formed by contact with that Evansville-Indianapolis-Fort Wayne axis.
There were only two major exceptions. One was the St. Joseph river valley region in the far northern portion of the state:  South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Goshen, and the surrounding area. The formation of the first A.A. group up there on February 22, 1943 was the product of two alcoholics with a copy of the Big Book working totally on their own.

The other important exception was the Chicago-Gary-South Bend axis, where the black A.A. groups were in constant contact, giving one another strong mutual support. This bond between the great black leaders and speakers (people like Raymond in South Bend, Mozell in Gary, and Jimmy H. in Chicago) continues to this day.

Dr. Zweig:  The Good Physician

John S. in Fort Wayne (who writes the anonymous John Barleycorn column about A.A. in the Waynedale News) has given us the story of Dr. Zweig, a physician who was not an alcoholic himself, but who reached out to help struggling alcoholics long before the medical profession as a whole began to recognize A.A. and the modern understanding of alcoholism as a disease. Dr. Zweig's memory is lovingly preserved in Fort Wayne A.A. as one of their great heroes.

  The story Dr. Zweig told me before his 1994 death, was that after he was discharged from the Army in 1945 he returned to Fort Wayne. Doc was not an alcoholic himself, but he was a deeply caring and compassionate man -- the living example of the Good Physician -- who became deeply involved in helping A.A.after he saw what the program could accomplish.

Soon after returning to the Fort, he (Dr. Zweig) ran into a former patient whom he had diagnosed as a chronic alcoholic. Doc said it was a consternation to him because the man was sober now, and he was of the opinion, as was the American Medical Association, that chronic alcoholism was not treatable. Doc's conundrum: "Did he incorrectly diagnose this man or was there a cure?" Doc asked the man how long he'd been sober and he said about two years.

Doc asked his patient how he'd gotten sober and the man said, "I've been going to an AA meeting in Huntington." That is a town of around 16,000 population twenty miles or so southwest of Fort Wayne. Doc was inducted into the Army after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and was in the Army from 1942 until 1945. If Doc's alcoholic patient had his facts right that would've put him at an A.A. meeting in Huntington sometime in 1943.

Doc asked if he could go to the next meeting with him, the man said yes, and when Doc attended the A.A. meeting in Huntington he found two other former patients for whom he had also written "chronic alcoholic" on their medical charts. They too were now sober.

Doc said he returned to the Fort and immediately talked with a judge and asked him to take the next chronic alcoholic whom he was going to sentence to Richmond State Hospital, and assign custody of that person to him instead. At that point, the judge was about to sentence a woman named Street Car Sally to Richmond, so he instead assigned her to Doc's custody. Doc said the woman was covered with every parasite known to man and that she was turning tricks for six packs while living in an abandoned street car.

Doc took Street Car Sally to Huntington and those alcoholics' wives fed, bathed, and clothed her, worked the steps with her, and had her attend their meetings while Doc drove to Huntington each day and gave her a vitamin B12 shot. Three months later Doc took Sally back before the same judge and when the judge called her name he looked around the courtroom and said to the bailiff, "She's not here." Doc said to the judge, "Your honor, she's standing right here!"

Sally was such a changed person, the judge couldn't even recognize her anymore. In spite of the fact that he had asked to be allowed to do this experiment, Doc was equally amazed at the difference that three months of A.A. had made in her. He said, "John, I believed I had witnessed a miracle of biblical proportions!"

Perhaps partly to protect his own medical reputation at first, Doc worked with A.A. on a totally anonymous basis from 1945 until 1955, when the American Medical Association finally recognized alcoholism as an illness. He decided at that point that he did not want any kind of personal credit anyway for the work he was doing, and so he was careful to retain his anonymity even after that. He had come to understand how the A.A. way of life worked, and had come to realize that the best kind of service to others is the kind in which we seek no thanks or rewards for ourselves at all.

Doc and some other local doctors attempted to introduce A.A. into Russia via some other medical doctors whom they met in Berlin, but had no success at that time. It was going to take a while to penetrate behind the Iron Curtain, where the authorities were suspicious of anything coming out of the western world, and the government was officially atheistic.

  Editor:  It was actually accomplished however, not long after Dr. Zweig's attempt. Henrietta Seiberling's son John had become a Representative in the U.S. Congress. He told me how he approached Tip O'Neill, one of the most powerful people in Congress, and asked if he knew of any way that A.A. could be allowed into the Soviet Union. One of Tip's nephews had been an alcoholic whose life had been saved by A.A., and Tip admired the program so much, that he began using undercover connections with the Soviets to bring it about. From then until the fall of the old Communist regime, A.A. was the only institution in the Soviet Union where people were allowed to talk about God without fear of some sort of unpleasant repercussions, and people could talk openly together without worrying about the secret police.  

  A.A. was first established in Fort Wayne on December 7, 1941, by C. L. Buckley and three other alcoholics. The group he founded, which was later called the Buckley Group, was the first in Fort Wayne. But even in 1945, A.A. was so little publicized that Dr. Zweig was not aware that there was a group right there in Fort Wayne. Since his former patients were attending an A.A.meeting in Huntington, that was the only A.A. group he knew about. So at first he and his alcoholic patients were driving the twenty plus miles to Huntington instead of attending the Buckley group back home in the Fort.

I have never been able to nail down where A.A. in Huntington originally came from. Did it come there from the Buckley Group, which had been inspired by their contact with Indianapolis A.A.? The old timers I've talked with so far, said they were not certain, but suspected that A.A. came to Huntington from an Evansville newspaper editor at abut the same time the Buckley Group came to Fort Wayne from Indy. I suspect the old guys might be right, because if the Huntington meeting had come from the Fort, why would Doc's former alcoholic patients have been driving all the way down to Huntington at the beginning instead of just attending the Buckley Group right at home? The Huntington people would have told them right away about the group they already had in Fort Wayne.

  Editor:  This is a further supposition, but we do not at present know of anybody in Evansville A.A. who was the editor of a newspaper at that time. The person whom we do know was J. D. Holmes, the founder of A.A. in Indiana, who sold advertising for the Evansville newspaper. Turning him from a lowly salesman for the newspaper into the editor of that newspaper may have been a misunderstanding that developed as the story was passed along. Alcoholics like to exaggerate and give fancy titles to people!

We know that J. D. spent every weekend driving in his car (with his trunk filled with Big Books and other A.A. literature), or taking a train, and going to different parts of Indiana and helping anyone who was trying to start an A.A. meeting. And we know that Doherty Sheerin in Indianapolis was in constant contact with J. D., helping coordinate the process of spreading A.A. throughout the state. It was only seventy-five miles from Huntington to Indianapolis, and particularly if some alcoholic from there was sent to the Indiana Home in Indianapolis for treatment, that is where Dohr made a lot of his initial contacts with alcoholics from other parts of the state. But more research is needed here to see if something like this was in fact what happened.


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