As a youth, Bill Messmer [1903-1973] found his love of music while attending Detroit’s Eastern High School. Musically gifted, he directed and organized a 16 piece orchestra as a teen. His mother recollected how Bill would purchase his sheet music at the Jerome H. Remick music ‘house’ in Detroit. One day, she ran the errand of picking up his sheet music and had an encounter with the famous composerRichard Whiting, [nice story at that link] who managed the desk as a fledgling composer. Continue reading “US Navy Rear Admiral William Leroy Messmer – Park 77”
Stockton playground location: Dwight, Parkview, Detroit River
~ Thanks to Sandy L. and especially Linda G. who generously opened their digital family photo album. You meet the kindest-hearted, left handed folks through genealogy. andreag
Local Yokel, Business Man, Soldier
This is a story of a life interrupted.
David Frederick Stockton [1911-1944] became a Detroiter via the hills of Cookeville, TN. His story is short and like many men who served in WWII, David’s life ended in an act of courage. He was the only son of Houston Albert Stockton and Daisy Pearl Kinnaird. Love those southern names. The Stockton’s left the family cow in Tennessee and headed to Michigan in the 1920’s. [Sorry I didn’t get the cow picture.. but it exists]. They landed in Gratiot Township which would later become Harper Woods. Both father and son worked at US Rubber in the tire factory; Houston as a rubber former, David as a ‘box man’.
Back in the day, streetcars ruled Detroit and then our ‘mass transit’ disappeared. With the advent of the short M-1 line now operating on Woodward, it seems fitting to learn about Fred who back in the day stood behind the idea of mass transit. ag
FRED W. CASTATOR
Described as a man of integrity, Fred’s record was stellar. In 1940 Councilman John Lodge told the media, “Fred Castator was probably the most honest man I ever knew. I disagreed with him often and sometimes violently, however he’s the only man for whom I ever made a campaign speech.”
Lodge respected Castator and believed he should be elected, however he didn’t believe he was a strong enough orator. Lodge knew his own political power and leveraged it as an investment for the greater good of Detroit.
A man of simple pleasures, Fred Castator (1882 – 1940) grew up as a farmer’s son in Carsonville, MI. He was proud to tell you his favorite beverages were pink lemonade and buttermilk; he never consumed coffee, tea or hard liquor. He lived in the Michigan thumb for his first two decades, moving to Detroit at 25. In 1907, Castator found employment as a streetcar conductor with the Detroit United Railways. He was a card carrying union member and took an active interest in the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Motor Coach Employees of America. He believed in mass transit. As their business manager (1915 – 1917) he led the union to victory in several strikes; helped found the Detroit Labor News, and won streetcar workers their first pension system.Continue reading “FRED W. CASTATOR – PARK #66”
“The past can take you to the future.” – Shirley Burch, NE Detroit Community Activist
Last week I was at Bishop Field with a friend. An older longtime Detroiter chatted us up. He said “Oh Detroit will NEVER be great again. It will never be like it was. And young people can’t make a living off being farmers, so we got to knock that off”. This conversation seems to always present itself when I randomly run into folks when trolling Detroit parks. I think what’s really happening is people won’t believe it until they see it. I say re-imagine the definition of great, ditch the negativity and believe instead.
There was a time when Detroit was first.. cars, industry, pharmaceuticals, the arsenal of democracy, leadership, a burgeoning film industry, parks system was in the Top 5. I don’t find these stories because I want to harken back to the way it was. I don’t revel or get off on WWII stories either [and there are a lot of them in this blog]. My plain aim: Give Detroit something to think about.
Fixating on the past isn’t productive but glancing backwards is a-ok. Glancing backwards, we see Detroit was paved with the dedicated, the super smart, the kind and the exceptional and oh some crappy people too. Glance around now and see the synergy that is taking place.. we can collectively say ‘We still got it and maybe even more of it now..along with the trash, crime and blight’.
So, here’s a story about an exceptional Detroiter from way back.. despite today’s deficiencies, we were and are still exceptional. And yes, back in the day, we were often first like Mr. Cannon.
All who knew him, loved him and enjoyed working with him because of his patience and perseverance in surmounting obstacles. We felt that we had lost a true and good friend, when we heard of his passing, but his memory consoles us in our loss. We believe that he was all that being a good American means. We who knew Peter believe we are better off, by having known him and having the privilege of calling him, my friend, Peter Maheras. Sincerely, Curtis Laing – Mantle Club Secretary, 1947Continue reading “Maheras – Gentry Field #60”
“Hell, I am not one of those starry eyed reformers, but I can get things done.” – Ira Waite Jayne
APPOINTMENT AFTER APPOINTMENT
In 1915, Ira Jayne became Detroit’s first recreation commissioner appointed by Mayor Oscar Marx. Ira was an avid sportsman, earning varsity letters in track, baseball and football at the University of MI. He also had a brief career as a pitcher in the Ohio Valley Baseball League.
He got ‘things done’ during the 1910’s when funding recreation was wanted by the public, yet unpopular with politicians. With creative means, he built up recreation programs in schools, libraries, settlements and museums instead of trying to fund building construction and purchase land. The Detroit City Council refused to give Jayne money toward existing playground development, so he roped off streets for boys and girls to play in. Fierce yet justified behavior.
Recreation work was a good fit; however Jayne aspired to a higher public service. An attorney by trade, he ran for a Wayne County Circuit court judge post and lost by recount to Harry Dingeman [his park is west side behind Chadsey HS] . A few years later he would be appointed to the Court Circuit bench by Governor Albert Sleeper and Ira Jayne’s recreation career was over.
FRIEND OF THE UNDERDOG
Some accounts of Judge Ira Jayne describe him as stern faced and domineering; however those who knew him best saw this facade as a tactic to keep lawyers from owning his courtroom. In a nutshell, Judge Jayne was a friend of children, labor, the poor and those seeking divorce.
As a Detroit attorney, he represented the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In 1910, he organized the Children’s Aid Society and continuing as its main attorney until 1915. Ultimately, Jayne helped to establish the Friend of the Court system. He approved of liberal divorce laws that elevated women from lives of ‘indignity’ while still discouraging divorce.
Ira Jayne became Chief Judge in Detroit Circuit Court in 1929 where he made national news by streamlining a four year backlog on the docket with the use of visiting judges. He served in this position for 27 years. In 1951, he ended a 59 day strike by Detroit streetcar and bus drivers. He upheld a law that made the strike illegal, next he held the City of Detroit responsible for the strike noting that the mayor’s representatives ignored an early willingness by labor to meet and work out bargaining issues.
Ira Waite Jayne was active on his farm in Fenton, MI until his death in 1961. Jayne Road in Fenton is named for his family. He was married and had three children.
Judge Jayne is memorialized with a substantial 47 acre park/field south of the Davison off Conant and Luce Streets. It features a walking path, several baseball diamonds, fields for soccer / football and a windy 9 hole disc golf course that according to disc golfers in 2015 could use some love. Lots of parking and a concessions stand. Jayne Field sides to the Bernard Lasky Playground / Recreation Center which is still in great shape but now closed. The grounds offer basketball courts and ample parking. Overall, these park areas are well groomed. We’ll discuss Bernard Lasky shortly.
Walter Josefiak Jr. and his siblings Robert, Harry, John and Geraldine were raised as eastsiders on Fairport Street. Walter graduated from Detroit’s De LaSalle Collegiate in 1942 and enlisted in the US Marines for the WWII effort. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune, home to the War Dog Training Center in North Carolina. Here he trained as a soldier and dog handler with the Marine 3rd War Dog Platoon. Rusty, a faithful Doberman Pinscher would become his protector and best friend during his days on Guam and Iwo Jima. They shipped out for the fight in the Asiatic Campaign from Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA.
War dogs were used by both the Allies and the Japanese in WWII. The dogs varied by breed and were specifically trained to scout, guard, attack, carry messages, detect underground land mines and trip wires. They were an important part of the Asiatic campaign and a contributing factor to the liberation of Guam in 1944. Additionally they had their own cemetery and were assigned rank. Rusty was a Corporal.
SURVIVAL THEN RETURN FIRE
On March 22, 1945, Walter and Rusty were leading a patrol on Iwo Jima searching for snipers. Scouting about 15 feet ahead of the unit, they were first to sniff out two hidden Japanese soldiers. Josefiak shot the first soldier; his rifle then jammed and he won the fight in hand-to-hand combat with the second soldier. A short time later, the duo continued up along a ledge to the mouth of a cave where several enemy snipers were holed up.
Josefiak began firing but was downed and wounded from return fire. Fulfilling his duty, Rusty guarded his master, staying between Josefiak and the snipers. The Japanese began to throw hand grenades; Rusty was hit full force. Seriously wounded, Rusty crawled to Josefiak’s side to protect him while grenades continued to blast around the pair. In the meantime, Marines in the unit threw a rope to Josefiak and pulled him to safety. Regardless of his wounds, Josefiak refused to be immediately evacuated and ordered others to remain under cover until the enemy soldiers were annihilated. He was later taken to a battalion hospital where he died. Lt. William Taylor, the commanding officer of the unit, noted that Corporal Rusty died as well, ‘on the scene without a whimper’.
Walter Josefiak Jr. earned the Silver Star posthumously for his assertive nature in combat and courage. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery with a full Marine military salute. The small playground honoring him is stocked with newer equipment. It is located on Grenier St. near Fairport – around the block from the Josefiak‘s childhood home. In 2014, it was adopted by volunteers and was well tended during the warm Detroit weather.
Thanks so much to the Josefiak family and John Monigold of De La Salle Collegiate for their assistance with remembering Walter’s story.
All rights reserved. Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2015.
Yet another story of bravery and sacrifice .. I hope you aren’t tired.. we have a long way to go.. andrea
DETROIT’S ADOPTED SON
Bernard Sasser [1920-1945] was a courageous man; one who exemplified leadership and duty before self. He is honored with a large and well used memorial park nestled between Harper [I-94 service drive] and Lanark Street on Detroit’s east city limits. This park was slated to be closed back in 2013 when funds in Detroit dried up. Sasser Playground was well kept when we visited in the summer of 2014 – baseball games, football practice was in full session and the park was full of kids and parents. Good times.
MINDING THE FIELDS
Sasser enlisted to serve in World War II. He was assigned to Army Company G, 222nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division and where he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. During a February 1945 watch near Alsace, France, he observed a patrol of US soldiers attempting to cross through a mine field he had previously scouted. Sasser voluntarily guided the group through the field for safe passage. Upon completion the patrol came under heavy enemy fire. He took command and moved to the head of the squad where he was struck by bullets and grenade fragments when attempting to sieze an enemy machine gun. He protected this patrol of soldiers outside of his own company from harm’s way and died while missing in action. Sasser earned the Silver Star posthumously for his gallantry.
Three years before that dark fateful night, he moved to Detroit with his mother Anne settling in on Strasburg Street. A bachelor with few ties to our city, he became an adopted son. A native of Massachusetts, he is buried in St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Fitchburg, MA.
I meet a lot of kind and generous people when researching parks. They come in the form of people who live in the neighborhood and start talking to me; folks I meet through online databases and those who contact me because they enjoy reading this blog. I found this tiny story while randomly flipping through the card catalog at Detroit Public Library. Little did I realize it would be tied to a Detroit Park.
It was just a small clipping glued to a card. I read it and snapped the photo because I thought it was a really cool story of days gone by. A time that would never return. I could easily imagine this couple living in the woods; it felt romantic. I laughed with gratefulness 8 months later when I realized I could connect it to a playground. Continue reading “Bringard – Boulder Playground Park 37”
Jan Brookins attended Detroit’s Denby High school where he ran track. He was known around the neighborhood as a fair-minded and sportsmanlike teenager. He often planned activities and refereed games for the neighborhood kids at the play lot next to his house. Frederick and Jean Brookins moved into the east side neighborhood at Rossiter and Grayton when Jan was a baby in 1940.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
In early September 1957, Jan and his friend Gary were practicing on the outdoor high school track at Denby High School when a thunderstorm hit. As they began running towards the locker room, Brookins was struck in the chest by a bolt of lightning. He was dead on arrival at Saratoga General Hospital. He was 17.
On January 15, 1959, the Detroit Common Council passed an ordinance to designate the empty lot next to the Brookin’s house as the “Jan A. Brookins Memorial Playground”. This small but tidy neighborhood playground is still used in 2014. A large sycamore anchors the corner of the playground which is stocked with newer play equipment. It seems that being struck by lightning is a freakish occurrence, yet National Geographic reports the odds of being the victim of a US lightning strike [during a one year period] are 1 in 700,000. Detroit lost a gem of a teenager that September day.
President “Pres” Collins was born on September 7, 1892 in Hurtsboro, Alabama. His family made the move to Detroit around 1918 where he furthered his education and became an outspoken voice for his eastside neighborhood.
Talbot Street was the longtime home of Pres and Alice Collins and their 9 children. He served as a precinct delegate to state political conventions and was active in his church. When old timers from the neighborhood passed away, he would solicit donations from folks in the area on behalf of the grieving family.
TAKING ON CITY HALL
Collins organized the Buffalo-Mound-Talbot-Caniff Block Club and served as its president. When Tri-City Sanitation, Inc. attempted to convince the city of Detroit to re-zone property in his neighborhood, Pres took action. With the support of City Councilwoman MaryAnn Mahaffey, Collins and his group were successful defeating the proposed industrialization. Eventually, the site was turned into the Mound – Alpena playlot to benefit neighborhood kids.
Collins retired from the Skilled Trades division of Ford Motor in 1959. He died on February 25, 1980. The Mound – Alpena playlot was renamed Pres Collins Playground on January 27, 1982. Today, it is a large grassy area with older basketball courts. This playground lacks fencing and signage but when it gets mowed, it’s a lovely greenspace. The surrounding neighborhood has undergone positive redevelopment with newer built townhouses across from the park.
On December 26, 1943 William Anthony Biraga was serving with Company I, Third Battalion, First Marines Division in WWII. He was up against Japanese forces in the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain, a territory of New Guinea in the South Pacific. The objective of this battle was to capture a major Japanese airfield on the island as well as set up safe passage for Allied Forces through the straits separating New Guinea from the island of New Britain. The code name for this fierce battle was Operation Cartwheel; it began in mid-December 1943 and ran through April 1944.
DUTY BEFORE SELF
Corporal Biraga led a group of six men behind a General Sherman tank in an assault against Japanese pillboxes [a fortified trench with a keyhole or loophole to fire weapons]. During this battle, Biraga became severely wounded, however he continued to direct his men against the enemy pillboxes until they were put out of action.
Biraga was evacuated to a waiting LST-453 [ Tank Landing Ship – an amphibious boat] where he died while headed to 362nd Station Hospital at Oro Bay, New Guinea. He was initially interred at the US Military Cemetery in Soputa, New Guinea then transferred home to Detroit for re-burial in Mount Olivet cemetery.
Biraga Memorial playground was dedicated in 1952 and was originally on Dwyer Street near the convergence of Detroit and Hamtramck. Biraga lived with his Polish immigrant parents on Comstock Street about 10 blocks north. Recently, the playground was revamped and incorporated into a newer apartment complex built on the same property. Fronting Mount Elliot, this new, tidy playground offers kids in a great place to play while keeping the memory of William Biraga alive.
So from what I hear and overhear.. I think this park got an upgrade or new signage over the summer. There is always a lot of confusion about how to spell the Yaksich name. Someone actually thanked me for spelling it correctly. Ahhh.. it’s just the small things that make me happy. I haven’t trolled through this neighborhood lately so I will have to make it a destination to take another photo. ag
ONE MAN BLITZ
This neighborhood park is sandwiched between Anglin and Brinker Streets north of Nevada on Detroit’s east side. Unfortunately, it is devoid of all signage to point to the heroics of John T. Yaksich, a courageous WWII hero. Conant Gardens, a historic and permanent African American Detroit neighborhood is nearby. See photos below.
By February 9th 1943, newspaper headlines were screaming:
JAPS ADMIT DEFEEAT IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS; the nation could partly thank Private Yaksich.
As a Marine in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division at the Guadalcanal, he became known as “The One Man Blitz” for singlehandedly capturing Japanese weaponry and his courageous fighting which earned him the Navy Cross.
At his own will and under heavy fire, Yaksich overtook a Japanese machine gun operator and subsequently captured his weapon. Before killing the gunner, he saw hand-to-hand combat with two other Japanese soldiers and bayoneted them both.
Figuring he may become overpowered by additional enemy soldiers, he returned to his own front line and refreshed his cache of weapons/ ammunition. Secretly, he worried about being reprimanded by his platoon leader for leaving camp without permission.
“I knew that if I had asked to go they wouldn’t let me,” commented Yaksich. “So I told my buddy to give the word when I was .. to far to be called back to camp.” Upon his return, Yaksich requested volunteers to help him carry the enemy machine gun back to the front lines. A friend named Billy ‘Red Dog’ Van Orden stepped up to assist. The Marines returned to the field and captured a second machine gun Van Orden had spotted. Recalled Yaksich, “Van Orden shot the gunner. We picked up the machine gun and ran. Snipers tried to get us, but we were lucky. Van Orden was magnificent.”
John T. Yaksich was born on April 7, 1922 and was released from service in November 1943. It was a hard road returning to civilian life but he made it through WWII and felt lucky in doing so. He died on January 23, 1991. He is one of the few Detroiters to be honored with a memorial park during his living years.
The Dueweke clan is historically known as a large, longtime Detroit family of merchants. Caroline and Frank Dueweke had 5 boys – Harold, Gordon, Clifford, Norbert, and Sylvester. Frank worked as a meat salesman to support his brood. They were an east side family living on Sheridan Street in close proximity to the playground that stands as a remembrance to their youngest son.
If an aircraft ditches, or if the pilot ditches the aircraft, essentially it comes down in the ocean in an emergency. Ditching was commonplace in World War II. Air-sea rescue planes [code named ‘dumbos’] and crew were always on standby to drop provisions and large life rafts to survivors in case of a ditch or distress.
MISSION No. 36
Sylvester Dueweke rose to the rank of Sergeant in WWII, working as a tail gunner in U.S. Army Air Forces, 873rd Bomber Squadron, 498th [Very Heavy] Bomber Group. On March 31, 1945, Dueweke and 10 crew members departed Saipan in their B-29 for a bombing mission over the Japanese island of Kyushu. Mission No. 36 went terribly wrong. Thirty minutes into the flight, the right gunner along with another aircraft reported that the 3rd engine of the B-29 was on fire. The airplane commander immediately aborted the mission and changed course heading toward Iwo Jima. No immediate danger was felt; no distress call was sent out.
Within minutes, the fire blossomed and the gunners informed the pilots that the blister [a transparent dome or bubble like window for observation] was melting and the right elevator was on fire. The fuel shut off valve became inoperable increasing the risk of explosion. The ditching command was quickly given. The crew on board – Clinton, Ed, Earl, Fred, Harold, Herron, Harry, Orville, Ray, Robert and Sylvester – barely had time to take their positions. A short three minutes elapsed from the abort decision to the ditch of the aircraft.
INTO THE SEA
Other craft in the formation radioed in distress calls. Able crew members assisted the injured into life rafts and administered morphine. A super Dumbo flew over dropping a smoke bomb to camouflage the wreckage from Japanese fighter eyes. All men except for Sylvester managed to escape from the B-29 as it began sinking into the South Pacific. The USS Ronquil submarine rescued the remaining crew at 12:22pm. Dueweke heroically went down with the aircraft and died at sea. For his service, he was decorated with the Air Medal and the Purple Heart posthumously. His service is memorialized through this Detroit Park, as well on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, HI.
Dueweke Memorial Playground is a large park with older play equipment, basketball courts, wavy roofed picnic shelters and the original flagpole with a dedication plaque. While the components are old, the park is tidy and always busy. In the spring, summer and fall is it mowed regularly by the Detroit Mower Gang.
A brand new flagpole was recently erected at Karaniewski Memorial Playground located on Concord Street in Detroit. The park is a bright spot in a neighborhood where overgrown vacant lots outnumber a handful of hearty neighbors. This sweet little oasis features a basketball court, bench, intact fencing and newer playground equipment. It is well tended and lovingly cared for by the Darina / Karaniewski clan and represents dedication, pride, patriotism and a lingering, familial loss.
The Karaniewski family was comprised of a band of brothers called to service in World War II. Stanley, the eldest son served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Germany, France, Italy and Yugoslavia. Additionally, he trained and served in military intelligence. Marian [fondly known as Marvin to the family] was the second oldest, yet the first to serve on the battlefield. Marian saw action as a mortar man within the Army 103rd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division. Service took him throughout the South Pacific – – Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, New Guinea and New Caledonia. The younger siblings – Eugene and Cass [Casmire] served in the Army Air Corps and the Navy, respectively.
Lost in the War
On January 19, 1945 Marian’s unit was attacked by Japanese forces on the Island of Luzon near Hill 66. It would be his last campaign. He courageously volunteered to stay behind and to hold back the Japanese while his unit retreated. Marian was struck and killed by a sniper’s shot as he operated his mortar. His family notes that he carried a small bible in his breast pocket and the fatal bullet struck the bible before entering his chest.
For his supreme sacrifice, Marian was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals posthumously. He rests with his buddies in the Manila Military Cemetery in the Philippines. Photos used by kind permission of the Ghezzi / Karaniewski family. Copyright 2014 Andrea Gallucci.
“Fundamentally kind and understanding, he gave direct and extremely pointed criticism where he thought it would be helpful. Though neglectful of his own health, he himself contributed and secured from others substantial funds for Detroit medical education and hospitals and made an enormous number of loans to enable college students to complete their education…There were many business and professional men who would not take a major financial step without his advice.. ”
– Julian Krolik (1887-1956) Detroit businessman and Jewish community leader on his friend Fred Butzel
THE IRONY AND THE PHILANTHROPY
Fred Butzel was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1899 and soon after began a law firm with his brother called Butzel and Butzel. The firm was large and successful, but somehow Fred practiced law mainly for philanthropy and not the cash reward. He had no social aspirations; however, there was no one more in demand to attend social events.
Butzel shunned both wealth and status. As a philanthropist, it’s nearly impossible to list all the causes where he assisted or contributed. He was an early advocate for the idea of childcare / foster care; organized the Boy Scouts in Detroit; taught English to new immigrants. He attended more bar mitzvahs, engagement and wedding ceremonies – where officiated [and then often played piano] – than any other individual, anywhere. Dedicated to his family, Fred changed colleges from University of MI to Detroit College of Law in order to read to his father whose eyesight was declining.
Knowledgeable and trusted, he sat of the board of directors for many Detroit entities – foundations, banks, African American hospitals to automotive related businesses. Strong in his faith, he spoke frequently at his home congregation of Temple Beth El, as well as orthodox and conservative synagogues who beckoned to hear his words. As an attorney, he advised regular folks on establishing businesses to help strengthen Detroit and bring dreams to life.
In life and death, Butzel received many acknowledgements including honorary degrees; a building [on the left in photo}, an Israeli [then Palestine] forest, a Detroit Rec Center, school, and two Detroit parks bear his name. Each year the Fred M. Butzel Memorial Award is presented to a Detroiter who exceeds in community service.
In 1947, the editorial director of the Detroit Free Press named him Detroit’s Most Valuable Citizen.
Detroit’s biggest supporter was lost on May 20, 1948 at the age of 70 years – Fred Butzel lived a life for the public good.
“It was a shock to me when the doctors told me that I had six months to live. My first thought was of my family and then the thought flashed through my mind of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and what he said, Thy will be done, not mine”. – Leonard Kerschke
March 1, 1957
Gentlemen – Leonard Kerschke, employed by the Department as a recreation instructor, has recently been advised by doctors that he suffering from cancer and has less than six months to live.
Mr. Kerschke, married and the father of two young children has been an efficient recreation instructor and a loyal employee and since his illness has displayed a remarkable spirit of cheerfulness in the face of overwhelming adversity.
The Department would like to recommend to your Honorable Body that the playlot located on the south side of Seven Mile Road between Chalmers and Celestine, which is the general neighborhood of his home, be named for Leonard Kerschke while he is yet alive, as a tribute to his admirable courage and spirit.
J. J. Considine
Lived and died on the eastside
Leonard was born on September 26, 1929. He was a deep eastside Detroiter. He attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Art; met his wife at Bethesda Missionary Temple; married at Immanuel Bible Church; began his career in the Detroit Parks and Recreation Dept. Shortly before Leonard passed, he began writing about his journey through cancer. His article was picked up by the Associated Press; he received nationwide response and well wishes. Leonard died on April 15, 1957 – he was 27 years old.
The small playlot bearing his name is still located on Seven Mile Road between Gratiot and Hayes Road.
Tucked behind and to the side of Denby High School is the Lyle Maxton Skinner Memorial Playfield. Stocked with newer equipment, this playground is attractive and services the neighborhood off Duchess and Morang on Detroit’s eastside.
Lyle grew up on the west side of Michigan. Married to Jennie and living in Flint, he enlisted in the US Navy on June 15, 1937. During World War II he served aboard the Aircraft Carrier the USS Hornet. As a Watertender First Class, Lyle worked in the ship’s engine room / boiler room. October 26, 1942 marked the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands located in the Pacific Ocean north the Solomon Islands. In this battle, the US military was playing a game of catch-up against numerically superior Japanese forces. The Japanese were heavily bombing ships in the area. During the attack, the USS Hornet was being violently shaken by bursting bombs and Skinner was ordered to abandon ship. Instead, Lyle entered an oil-filled elevator pit and rescued a trapped shipmate who would have died otherwise. The USS Hornet later sunk.
Lyle’s courage and heroism earned him the honor and award of the Navy Cross. Unlike many war heroes, Lyle lived through this experience and was able to accept the medal personally. He returned to the west side of Michigan and died in the small village of Leroy, Michigan in 1984.