Kosciusko County

September 30, 1946

Historical Highlights of the Monday Night
Kosciusko Combined Group, North Webster, IN

The Fred C. Memorial Group

Submitted by Ilene S.,
Warsaw, Indiana

  The initiator of the above named group, Fred C[lark], entered the Indiana Home in Indianapolis on February 19, 1946, for the purpose of “drying out.” A friend took him to this facility from a North Webster lumberyard after his physician recommended the Indiana Home.

Fred remained at this detox facility for eight days. While in residence he was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous by visiting A.A. members and by attending the A.A. meetings held by these visitors twice per week. He also observed and listened to [the] approximately fifty percent of the patients who reported periods of sobriety while attending A.A., [but who had] a return to drinking when they ceased "to work the program based on the twelve steps." Fred also spoke with the resident psychiatrist who told him that he recommended Alcoholics Anonymous as "the best chance for alcoholic patients."

Fred felt he had a fifty-fifty chance of making it when he left the Indiana Home carrying the name and phone number of his new sponsor, Doherty S.,* a gentleman who initiated the first A.A. meeting in the Indianapolis area. He was also given the phone numbers of A.A. contacts in Fort Wayne. He left "with mixed emotions and feeling uncertain."

He then flew to Fort Wayne, contacting Leo B., and attended a Fort Wayne A.A. meeting. For several months he began regular attendance at this meeting while corresponding with his sponsor in Indianapolis. It was there that he met three men from Warsaw and two from North Manchester. He asked these gentlemen if they would be interested in having a meeting closer to home before winter set in and driving was more difficult. They agreed and held the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Kosciusko County at Pete's home in Warsaw on September 30, 1946.

Fred invited two Fort Wayne A.A. members and three South Bend A.A. members to attend the meeting and assist the new group. On that night, he estimated that "there was a total of fourteen months sobriety" among the fledgling group members, "three of whom were sober and three of whom were tight. One of the tight members sat and cried throughout the meeting." Fred reported that, as chairman, he felt "very discouraged." When he asked the visiting A.A. members for their opinion of the meeting, the reply was, "Well, looks like you have a 50/50 chance."

The meeting improved with time as the group began reading and working the Big Book in earnest. Hospitals, doctors, jails, and ministers were contacted by members of this group who supplied explanation of the purpose of A.A. and offers of assistance to persons having problems with alcohol.

The group felt that "for six months to approximately one year, the work of and with the group could keep the individual on track, but eventually the individual would have to develop a concept of an even Higher Power to grow spiritually." Continued work brought group members to feel the need for "the Big Book's suggestion of complete honesty within themselves and with one another."

They discussed the [Oxford Group's] Four Absolutes regarding honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and "although thinking this might be impossible, they learned progress was possible in this direction with work on the Twelve Steps."

In time this group grew in size and became too large to meet in each other's homes. They rented a room above the old Thomas Five & Dime (now Thorntree) in the one hundred block of Buffalo Street in Warsaw. After several months at this location, some of the Warsaw members complained that their present location was "too public." The group then moved to Fred's restaurant, at its initial location in downtown North Webster. Eventually, as this restaurant prospered, privacy for meetings [again] became a problem.

Fred contacted the minister of the old . . . Methodist Church in North Webster and secured their basement for Monday night A.A. meetings. On March 22, 1948, the group, called the Monday Night North Webster Meeting, met in the church for the first time. The format was set as an open-speaker meeting, and this location was used until the church completed a new facility in 1990. [The North Webster Group was however allowed to move its meeting to the new building that autumn, grateful that the church was willing to continue providing them a place, as the old church building was leveled.]

For many years in the basement of the old Methodist Church, A.A. members heard local speakers as well as speakers from locations in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Every month that contained five Mondays, the North Webster Group held a potluck dinner on the fifth Monday, before their regular speaker meeting. On these occasions the basement was full to overflowing. For several years after the group began in Warsaw, Fred held a fish fry every three months on a Friday night, at his restaurant, for Area Assembly members and their mates.

Since 1948, in early December the group has had a tradition of celebrating the holidays with a Christmas Dinner, and featured speaker(s) at Fred's restaurant until the family sold the establishment in 1979. The custom of the annual Christmas Dinner continues in the district.

Throughout the years, and despite some lean times, the group grew to approximately 25 to 35 regular members, with some of their mates attending. From this beginning, other groups formed in Syracuse, North Manchester, Warsaw, South Whitley, Columbia City, Milford, and other towns. Sometime in the late 1970's or early 1980's the North Webster group became known as the Kosciusko County Combined Group. With the advent of the new groups, membership thinned. Despite periodic slim episodes, this group survived and has remained active. Its format has changed from open-speaker to open-discussion.

The area has lost many treasured old timers. After over forty-one years of sobriety, Fred C. Passed away on April 6, 1987, approximately one year after he lost his beloved wife, Bea, who was always a support to him and our fellowship.

After Fred's death and after consulting with his family, a group conscience was taken and the North Webster Group adopted the name Fred C. Memorial Group. It remains listed with the Central Service Office in New York as the Kosciusko County Combined Group since the G.S.O. does not encourage the use of members' names for group titles.

The North Webster Group initially opened with the Serenity Prayer and Preamble. The opening now includes the reading of How It Works and the Tools of Recovery, followed by the reading of a daily meditation. The group continues to close with the Lord's Prayer. It is now celebrating over 54 years since initial formation, having spent 52 years in North Webster at the United Methodist Church location.

  *The manuscript says that Fred Clark's original sponsor was a man named "Gordy S." in Indianapolis, the "gentleman who initiated the first A.A. meeting in the Indianapolis area," but this has to have been Ilene's mishearing of Doherty Sheerin's name. It was Doherty who started the first A.A. group in Indianapolis. We also know that Dohr regularly visited the Indiana Home to sit and talk with alcoholics like Fred who had been sent there for treatment. He would tell them about the A.A. program, and sometimes act as their sponsor after they had been released and had gone back home. Dohr also sponsored George L., the founder of A.A. in Anderson, and the Indianapolis priest Ralph P. (the "Father John Doe" who wrote the Golden Books).  


Bob M.'s Memories

Early A.A. in Kosciusko County

  On May 10, 2000, Frank N. interviewed Bob M., meeting at Frank's home on Lake Papakeechie near Syracuse. Glenn C. and his wife Sue C. were also present. Frank tape recorded the entire session, and Glenn C. simultaneously took handwritten notes.  

  Bob M. came into the program over forty years ago, on December 19, 1959. He was originally from Rushville, Indiana, but moved to Syracuse in April 1960. He made his living as a public accountant and tax man.

His original sponsors were two attorneys, Bill and Van, from Rochester, Indiana. Van was head of the highway department in the state of Indiana at that time. Bob said that the most influential A.A.'s in Kosciusko County during his early days were Fred Clark, Bill Peters, and Joe Gray.
Joe Gray had been in the Marine Corps, he said, and helped run retreats.

Fred Clark, who started the first A.A. meeting in Kosciusko County on September 30, 1946, owned the M & M Restaurant in North Webster, and had forty-one years of sobriety when he died in 1987. Bob still remembered the A.A. fish fries every three months at Fred's restaurant.

Bill Peters lived in Syracuse when he first came in, Bob said, on Front Street. He worked in Elkhart however, and eventually moved there, so he was also a deeply loved figure in Elkhart A.A.

Goshen Bill came to the North Webster meeting almost every week, so he also played a major role in Kosciusko County A.A. Bob says that he and Bill got to know one another really well.

Bill Mollenhour, the editor of the Warsaw Times-Union, was another name that Bob remembered.
  Bill played a role in bringing Ed Pike into the program. Ed Pike the railroad conductor was one of the great Elkhart old timers, known and loved by A.A. people all over the St. Joseph river valley region. Ed went to his first A.A. meeting during the first half of 1947, when he was forty years old. This was the big Saturday night open meeting at the Episcopal church, which all the Elkhart A.A. people attended. The speaker that night was Bill Mollenhour. As Ed Pike told the story many years later:

"So, lo and behold, the speaker was one of the very few people -- I don't think they was five people in this whole area, within fifty miles or more -- that was younger than I was .... And there just weren't any young people. And that's one of the biggest thrills that I have today, is to see so many young people who have the privilege and the opportunity of gaining so much more happiness out of life. But whatever, he was from Warsaw, and he was editior of a newspaper, he flew his own plane."

"He just inspired confidence:  he made me believe what he said. And that was a new experience to me, because I never believed anybody -- I thought everybody was as dishonest as I was. But I believed what Bill said that night. And it made me want to discover whatever else there was to it."

See The St. Louis Gambler & the Railroad Man," Chapter 12, "The Railroad Conductor Who Couldn't Stop Drinking."

At the beginning, Bob said, the only Kosciusko County meeting was the Monday night meeting at the Methodist church in North Webster (Ilene talked about that in her short historical account). Then another meeting was started in Warsaw, so there were then two weekly meetings in the county.

Normally the wives were in the same meetings with the men, Bob said. This was an early A.A. tradition which has almost disappeared in Indiana, partly because of the development of a strong Al-Anon organization with its own separate meetings.

In his early days, Bob said, there was no feeling in Kosciusko County A.A. of being in strong contact with either South Bend or Fort Wayne. They felt their greatest linkage was with Indianapolis, although they were in touch with Goshen A.A. to a certain extent.

The Twenty-Four Hour Book

The earliest A.A.'s had frequently used the Methodist publication called the Upper Room both for their daily meditational book and to supply topics for meetings. However, after Richmond Walker wrote Twenty-Four Hours a Day in 1948 under the sponsorship of the A.A. groups in Daytona Beach, Florida, and began printing it himself and distributing copies from his basement, this quickly took over as the standard A.A. book, both for daily meditation and for reading at meetings. This was the only book that Bob M. (who got sober in 1959) remembers being used in his early days in Indiana A.A.

Rochester, Indiana

Because his sponsors lived in Rochester, Bob also knew some of the A.A. people there. Myra Smith's husband was president of the bank in Rochester, so she got them permission to hold A.A. meetings in the bank's basement. Bob said that Dean Barnhardt lived in Rochester when he first came in -- Dean was the man who made the first attempt to write a history of A.A. in Indiana, back in 1954 or 1955. There is a copy of that document in the New York A.A. Archives.


CLICK HERE  To continue the story

CLICK HERE  To return to the previous page

CLICK HERE  To return to the Hindsfoot Foundation home page