I have said it before and I’ve got to say it again.. I meet the kindest people when writing and researching these stories. When details are scant; I go looking for folks.
This time I found the Atwell family who are direct relations of Lorwyn Peterson. It was a great pleasure to meet you personally!!
Thanks again for the tidbits of information and the use of the photos.
Truly – ag
PS. We will get to Fred Nagle next..
PETE IN CHARGE
Location: Pickford, Curtis and Greenfield
Lorwyn Elwyn Peterson (1908-1945) graduated from Michigan State College in 1930 with a degree in Business Administration. The son of Elwyn and Marie, he was raised in Brooklyn, a small town located in the Irish Hills area of Michigan.
Peterson enlisted for duty in World War II and rose rank to Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the 716th Tank Battalion, 43rd Infantry Armored Division. Peterson’s relatives tell us he was to be made a full Colonel, however preferred to stay on with the men he trained for duty. Continue reading “Lt. Colonel Lorwyn E. Peterson – Park #73”
– For a super long time, Milan sat in my stuck file, he was an only child [no one alive to contact]; I had found little about him. Things changed when I answered my phone. My lucky charm is a retired chiropractor friend. He checked in with me and I spent 50 quality minutes on the treadmill while he chatted me up. He inquired, “So how is that park thing?” I told him I needed a pep talk. He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his mother once dragged him to a park dedication [“like a million years ago”] .. then something about his mom’s friend Gladys and her boy Bobbie. Thanks god. 🙂 My lucky day. I found a little clarity and worked off that raw chocolate chip cookie dough I had abused the day before. Honor the small things in life, they can change the landscape in an instant. Thanks for reading. ag
Born in Pittsburgh, Kansas on August 25, 1920, Daniel was the only son Mr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Riordan who once resided on Mansfield in Detroit. He graduated from Holy Redeemer High School and went on to attend the University of Detroit. Daniel worked at Cadillac Motors and sold real estate prior to WWII. The mid-1940’s were busy years – he was inducted into the US Army in August 1942 and passed Officer’s Training School in Fort Benning, GA in 1943. He proceeded onto the Rainbow Division at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma; here he would marry his sweetheart Mary Ellen Hanlon in an autumn ceremony on base.
The gardeners at Votrobeck have already had a busy season planting, weeding and teaching kids about mother nature. Something extra special happened during June and July 2015… It Takes A Village Garden raised $27,000+ through crowdfunding to finish creating the community gardens at the rear of the Votrobeck property. When the project is finished it will include a some unique features – a meadow, butterfly and rain gardens, edible wall, sunflower living room, gourd trellis [this is really cool] along with gazebo, raised beds, signage and bench seating. Click here for an informational video.
Founding Family Farmers
The pastures and barns owned by the Votrobeck family are long gone from northwest Detroit, yet their surname lives on at Seven Mile and Evergreen Road. The playground and street honoring their homestead lies within a renovated, gated apartment complex.
Back in the day, Detroit was a small town located near the Detroit River surrounded by outlying villages and townships. Joseph [1866-1937] and Anna Votrobeck [1868-1945] settled this northern area which would later be enveloped within Detroit’s border. Both came from Bohemian backgrounds; Joseph was born in Austria, while Anna was born in Michigan to Austrian parents. Joseph moved to Michigan from Iowa. They married in 1893.
Three daughters and one son rounded out the family – Dorothy, Frances, Rose and Joseph Francis. The children pursued higher education – the daughters became stenographers which could possibly be a paralegal, admin or legal secretary. Joseph graduated from University of MI in 1925; taught math and electronics at the Flint Community College and became a math professor at University of Detroit.
Contrary to what city publications list, the land for the Votrobeck playground was deeded to the City of Detroit solely by daughters Rose and Frances. It consisted of a 3 acre parcel with frontage on Seven Mile Road, Vassar Street and Evergreen Road. Letters written to the Detroit Parks and Recreation Dept. by the Votrobeck family indicate the presence of apartments adjacent to this property at the time of dedication in 1948.
A long while back, I visited this site on an early morning to find a lot of construction going on. The original flagpole dedicating the playground could be viewed from the side street; it sat in the middle of a mud pile. My friend graciously hopped the construction fence and navigated the mud. The original dedication plaque was gone.
Another stop over to Vassar Street in 2014, revealed a beautiful new playground residing in the middle of the renovated apartment complex. I chatted with a complex resident from outside the fence; she indicated she was pleased with the updates, but was unsure why her street had such a weird name.
Behind the complex is a newer gazebo, additional sun shelter, parking and a tract of land perfect for community gardens, picnicking or playing frisbee. The renovations are lovely. I think they would make the Votrobeck family proud – a little bit of country greenspace in the city and a perfect opportunity for a neighborhood family to make some good memories on that former playground.
All rights reserved. Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2015
“Life is so fast paced today that good use of leisure time is essential to mental health”
– Willis Watts O’Hair
IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A WOMAN IN CHARGE
Alice, Viola, Minerva, Willis… They all had distinctive names; they were / are distinctive women. In this post, we are working through the women honored with a park.. there are a few more after this one.. Lotta, Delores, Clara, Erma.. brilliant names. andreag
In 1940, the Detroit Department of Parks and Boulevards merged with the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation to reduce redundant efforts and financial waste. A new commission was formed to oversee the new solo Department of Parks and Recreation.
Mrs. Willis Watts O’Hair was appointed to this commission by Mayor Edward Jeffries; importantly, she was the first woman to become the president of a Detroit city commission. Ultimately, she would serve four terms before her death in 1959.
Under her guidance, Detroit parks experienced enormous growth through improved services. New offerings included: supervised tot lots, installation of shuffleboard courts, 9 artificial ice rinks [her idea], an indoor / outdoor city pool, competitive sports leagues for teens; horticulture activities, arts and crafts for all ages and on.
O’Hair was a booster for free band and symphony concerts arranged by Parks and Rec. Her pet project was the installation of a putting green and golf driving range on Belle Isle. The driving range was popular and financially successful; the commission opened another in Rouge Park. During her tenure, Detroit rose from 7th place for recreation honors to 1st place nationally.
Mrs. O’Hair always maintained that recreation centers should be within walking distance of residential areas. “The greatest need is in the congested areas,” she said in 1953, then adding, “There is no greater thrill for me than to see youngsters enjoying themselves.”
Prior to the commission appointment, O’Hair raised funds for the support of the March of Dimes and founded the Women’s Auxiliary of the Volunteers of America. She enjoyed bridge and the theater. In 1943, she received an honorary degree in Sociology from the Detroit Institute of Technology. Willis Watts was married to attorney Walter O’Hair. They had 3 children. Her son John Dennis Watts O’Hairbecame the Wayne County Prosecutor.
Willis often said, “You get back what you give out” and she lived these words assisting others throughout her life. Overall, Willis Watts O’Hair was a hands-on Parks and Recreation Commissioner taking interest in boxing matches and other sporting events, as well as trying some of the programs out herself. Above all, she was always a lady.
O’Hair Park located at Stahelin and Hessel Street is a staggering 78 acres which includes 20 acres of forest. The land was donated to the city by Joseph and Helen Holtzman in 1947. Pitcher Woods honors Dr. Zina Pitcher, Mayor of Detroit 1840-1844. Pitcher greatly influenced the State of Michigan to pass a law for the first free public school in Detroit and helped create the Medical Department at the University of Michigan. The nearby Pitcher School is now closed. The surrounding subdivision has a strong neighborhood associationthat works hard to keep this community safe and vibrant.
Location: Stout, Trojan, Fargo and Kentfield Streets
Henry J. Tuttle [1897-1959] was born on a farm near Plymouth, MI on January 29, 1897 to parents Minnie and Charles. He graduated from Detroit’s Old Central High School in 1915 with distinguished skill as a Latinist. Beyond this, Tuttle was a self-schooled individual.
Henry’s first job (1915) was an entry position at the Detroit City Gas company as a serviceman. His wrench skills were great and within three years, he was promoted to supervisor of merchandise orders. Deemed an accounting wizard, he received prestigious promotions in management in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Detroit and the surrounding farms and forests were beginning to grow. His professional rise coincided with a period of dramatic expansion in housing and increased natural gas demand and use. Eventually, Detroit City Gas was renamed to Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. Today we know it as Consumers Energy.
BRINGING HEAT TO THE MASSES
In 1951, Tuttle was chosen by the Secretary of the Interior as an expert to forecast natural gas need and supply for the United States. In 1952, he was elected president of Michigan Consolidated Gas Company – in full charge of the utility. Under his watch, the utility began working with the Michigan Public Service Commission to install gas space heating units within homes and apartments to approximately 80,000 consumers across Michigan.
Tuttle was civic minded and worked as an active member on several advisory boards: American Red Cross Detroit Chapter, the Detroit Zoological Society, Businessman’s Advisory Committee of Wayne State University, as well as the finance committee of the Boy Scouts. He had membership in the Masons, Shriners, Detroit Athletic Club, the Detroit Golf Club, the Economic Club of Detroit, the Lansing Press Club, the Newcomen Society among others.
Henry Tuttle died on March 26, 1959 leaving his widow Marjorie and brother Irving. He is buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.
Tuttle Park is a piece of paradise within a stable residential neighborhood. It’s a short distance from Henry Ford High School. At the end of the short sidewalk, the red flagpole base remembers his legacy.
SEE THE CLIMB William Alfred Comstock was born just shy of a full blown patriotic birthday on 7-2-1877; perhaps he was destined to be in politics. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1899 with a Liberal Arts degree, then returned to his hometown of Alpena where he worked and eventually entered local politics. He was elected Alderman of Alpena from 1911-1912; Mayor of Alpena 1913-1914 – – term length was short back in the day.
His political pursuits continued serving as a University of MI Regent from 1914-1916; as chairman of the Democratic State Committee from 1920-1924. Comstock worked his way to the national level becoming a member of the National Democratic Party and a delegate, a post he held for six years.
THE FOURTH TIME IS THE CHARM
“I became a Democrat because it was a minority party and offered opportunity for genuine political activity..”
Comstock ran as a Democrat for Governor of the State of Michigan (and finally won on his 4thattempt). He served during the years of 1933-1935; the first Democrat Governor of Michigan in 15 years. Although Comstock had been wealthy, he was close to financial devestation at the time of his election. He had made his fortune through inheritance, but also from an electric-railway he built to the lumbering camps in Alpena. The Depression hit and it nearly ruined him.
During his tenure, the State of Michigan was also suffering financially. Under his watch, Michigan’s first sales tax law was authorized; an eight day bank holiday was enacted to give legislators time to solve Michigan’s fiscal problems; as well, a trust commission was established. On the controversial side, Comstock pardoned a former mayor of Hamtramck who was imprisoned for bribery. His later political life included terms on the Detroit Common Council and the Michigan Civil Service Commission. He was active in fraternal organizations – Zeta Psi, the Elks, the Eagles and the Freemasons. In 1949, Comstock died from a stroke while vacationing in his hometown of Alpena where his legacy began. His son William A. Comstock III joined his father in eternal rest in 2008.
Comstock Playground is a huge and well-kept playfield located just south of Eight Mile bordered by M-10 [The Lodge Freeway], Trojan and Hubbell Streets. For True TV fans.. it’s located behind the pawn shop featured in Hard Core Pawn. It surrounds the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy whose sign often reads “Life doesn’t get better by chance, it gets better by change.”
It’s hard to say where the school property ends and the park begins; however features include: a meandering walking path; updated playground equipment, tennis courts, baseball diamond with backstop and extensive fields for practice of any sport. It’s actually a perfect place for kite flying. Back in 1955, the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department constructed a water reservoir underneath 10 tennis courts to enable the use of sprinklers during a water shortage. It’s hard to say if the huge tank is still there or if anyone in Detroit city government actually remembers that is exists.
“Joe Louis is the hardest puncher that I’ve ever seen… He’s a good man. Anyone who plans on beating him had better know what they’re doing.”
— Max Schmeling, before the first Louis-Schmeling fight
His story is well known. A Detroit original via Alabama. One of eight children raised by a single mother. As a young boxer, he won his first 27 fights of his professional career – 23 of them with knockouts of the opponent. He trained often at the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center. He retired as an undefeated champion. Louis served in World War II – boxing in the military to raise the spirits of other soldiers.
Despite his incredible personal success and earnings, he endured terrible racial discrimination. Joe was a lover; he married and divorced several times. He was known for his personal generosity and his large tax bill owed to the IRS later in life.
A line from his memoir reads “I almost always did what I wanted to do.”
Joe passed away in Las Vegas in 1981 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery – an honor bestowed upon him by Ronald Reagan.
Langston Hughes celebrated Joe Louis in his poetic form
To Be Somebody by Langston Hughes
Dreaming of a baby grand piano
(Not knowing there’s a Steinway bigger, bigger)
Dreaming of a baby grand to play
That stretches paddle-tailed across the floor,
Not standing upright
Like a bad boy in the corner,
But sending music
Up the stairs and down the stairs
And out the door
To confound even Hazel Scott
Who might be passing!
Dreaming of the boxing gloves
Joe Louis wore,
The gloves that sent
Two dozen men to the floor.
Bam! Bop! Mop!
There’s always room, They say,
At the top.
–The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, p. 374
IN DETROIT, WE HONOR JOE LOUIS
Our beloved Red Wings play in ‘his’ arena, kids play in his neighborhood park, and a 25ft bronze fist stands proudly on Jefferson Avenue reminding all passersby of his personal dedication, physical strength, his trials, and triumphs. Joe Louis was a fighter unlike any other.
On Thatcher Street near Greenfield and Outer Drive there is a small and lovely wooded park named after a courageous soldier.
James Lee Varier was born on July 8, 1925 in Ohio. At the age of three, James lost his father Owen who died while waiting for surgery in an Ohio hospital. After this loss, the family moved to Michigan.
James grew up in Detroit; living with his mother Marcele, two sisters, and grandparents in Detroit. In April 1944, he began serving in World War II with the 2nd Battalion, 276th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of Private First Class.
On January 12, 1945 James volunteered to serve with the battalion’s wire section. The unit was attacked by an enemy patrol and communication became difficult. Varier was severely wounded by enemy fire; despite his wounds, he covered the withdrawal of other soldiers with rifle fire until he died. His courage and strength enabled a soldier to escape and return with military reinforcements which drove off the enemy.
Private First Class James Varier died at 19 and received the Silver Star posthumously for gallantry in action. His service and valor are not forgotten. The plaque dedicating this park remains.
The old adage “when you’re not looking for it”.. is so true. Max’s photo and some extra personal details appeared recently so this story got a little re-do. It’s just a sweet little nod to someone who didn’t make it. Thanks for reading.. andrea
DIDN’T MAKE IT TO 20
Max Elton Sawyer [1925- 1944] led the life of a newspaper boy with early deliveries before he went off to Detroit’s beautiful Cooley High School. After graduating he worked at National Sheet Metal before enlisting for World War II in 1943.
He was the only son of Iowans Opal [Jennings] and Ernest Sawyer. They migrated to Detroit where Ernest supported the family as a mailman and was active in the Letter Carriers Union serving as the president. In 1928, Max turned three and his mother passed away; he and Ernst moved in with grandparents.
As a late teen, Max enlisted to serve in World War II on July 6, 1943. He earned the rank of T/5 or Technician 5th Grade and was assigned as an ‘Aid Man’ to the medical unit within the Army’s 35th Infantry, 2nd Battalion. He eventually found himself stationed in France where the action and the honor began.
Sawyer earned the Bronze Star for getting 7 wounded men back to safety through a barrage of artillery fire. A few months later, courage and ‘duty above self’ earned him the Silver Star and cost him his life on September 21, 1944.
With heavy fighting Sawyer went into an open field to administer care to a wounded soldier. He became severely wounded but refused to evacuate to protect his charge from further injury. The litter (stretcher) came to his aid and Sawyer was dead.
In a touching gesture, Sawyer’s brothers in war named the Army field hospital after him. He rests with his parents Ernest and Opal in Mount Ayr, Iowa at Rose Hill Cemetery.
A COMMON THREAD
Max is remembered in Detroit with a small playground located on Lyndon near Schaefer about a mile south of his last residence on Marlowe Street in Detroit.
Interestingly, Max perished the same day as Detroiter Ray Zussman [See Park 12 ] – they served in different battalions yet shared the common bond of duty before self.
Copyright 2015. Andrea Gallucci. All Rights Reserved. 35th Infantry Insignia is a public domain logo; credit assigned to Steven Williamson, creator 2007.
Have you ever smiled at a passerby? Smiling is a powerful tool – it’s the tiniest good deed you can perform. The rationale: ‘a simple smile can change someone’s day or just save a life’.
We can never know, perhaps Nathan Lollo lived by this principle.
Nadalino [Nathan] P. Lollo was born in 1915 to immigrant parents – Valerio and Lucy. He was the second of four children growing up in a Detroit Italian family. Nathan graduated high school and served for 5 years in the Army during World War II. He worked as a driver for the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.
On Friday, September 26, 1952 Nathan and his brother Joseph were driving to the bowling alley where they participated in a league. Joe lived right around the block from Nathan. Traffic at the corner of Coyle and Fenkell was heavy. Nathan noticed a man standing on the corner waving a white cane. This blind man looked indecisive about crossing; Nathan did the right thing. He told his brother to pull over so he could help the blind man cross the street.
“He was always thinking of others”, remarked Joe after the accident. Just as Nathan and his charge – Mr. Takach – passed Joe’s parked vehicle, a drunk driver emerged from around the corner and struck the pair. Mr. Takach was seriously injured; Nathan was pronounced dead at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital.
Nathan Lollo was a 36 year old everyday hero. He left behind his siblings, parents, and wife Frances. He is remembered with a small children’s playground located on Puritan at the corner of Cherrylawn in Northwest Detroit.
Andrea Gallucci. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
The Diack family has deep roots in Detroit. They were a clan that used intelligence and creativity to make things happen. Let’s refer to them as ‘a family of doers’.
There were three generations of men that bore the name Archibald Warren Diack – a father, his son, and a grandson. They were known as Arch and Archie – never the formal Archibald.
Archibald Warren Diack [Sr.] was a Scottish immigrant born in 1838. He served in the Civil War and later worked as a molder for the Michigan Stove Co. Diack became interested in labor unions and was successful at forming a union at the plant where he worked. Eventually, workers struck and all men settled except for Diack – a lone holdout. Diack was known as a stubborn man, not to compromise. The stove company considered his influence and stature among the other workers; they settled with him separately. Obviously he was a man of principle and action and he raised some remarkably driven children too.
His eldest son, Alexander Diack stopped school to work, but later resumed his studies becoming a successful becoming a dentist and a steamship operator. He pursued his love of skating and was considered an expert figure skater and curler. He studied criminal law and was one of the first and outspoken advocates that worked to appeal the prohibition amendment. Sweetly, he created a bird sanctuary at his home in Birmingham, MI.
Born in 1870, Dr. Archibald W. Diack [Jr.] was multi-talented. He earned degrees in both Dentistry and Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. At heart, he was an entrepreneur and an inventor. He opened his own laboratory in Detroit in 1909 and later formed a partnership resulting in Diack & Smith (Chemical Engineers and Analysts) in Detroit in 1920. He designed a sterilization system for bandages that was adopted by hospitals across the United States and by the US Navy. The Diack Sterilization Monitor business continues on today in 2013. Before he could forge these accomplishments, Archie served as a Seaman aboard the USS Yosemite in the Spanish American War. The crew on this ship was considered highly educated with approximately 46 men serving from the University of Michigan.
His most unspoken accomplishment was his concern for others- especially youth. During his days as a dentist, the family lived at 942 Congress between Mount Elliot and Leib St. This beautiful address was marked by elm lined streets where neighbors tended to French Pear trees in their yards and well-spoken parrots perched on the large front porches. Back in the day, the neighborhood to the south – the Franklin Settlement – was considered somewhat rough and tumble; the other side of the tracks. Little was available for young men in regards to recreation. Diack befriended the boys of the Franklin Settlement, found them a field, and provided some sporting activities and games. He created one of the first unofficial playgrounds in Detroit. He impressed the importance of education upon them. Ultimately, he made a difference in their lives as many of them became prominent businessmen. Arch passed in 1946.
Archibald Jr. had two sons who both became doctors. Archibald [III] [1907-1993] and was the one of the first persons to conceive of an automated electronic defibrillator; he held the patent. In 1937, he moved from Detroit to Portland, Oregon where he began a long career as a private physician. In Portland, Dr. Diack became heavily involved in environmental stewardship founding a recreational coalition and river basin education project. His strong advocacy for protection of the Sandy River Basin resulted in the “Diack Decision” by the Oregon Supreme Court which changed water laws. Before his death, he began the Diack Family Ecology Fund to sustain his environmental work after he took his last breath.
The park that honors Dr. A. W. Diack is located between Thatcher and Curtis -just north of Outer Drive in Northwest Detroit. It was dedicated on August 10, 1950 many of the ‘Franklin Boys’ attended the dedication ceremony. Personally, I think this park honors the entire Diack family who gave of themselves to make Detroit and the world a better and more interesting place.
Detroit needs to channel that Diack spirit right now.
Albert Fields was the first deceased Jewish World War II soldier to be brought from the battlefield to Belgium for reburial in the United States. His death on December 12, 1944 left his wife Lillian and young son, Sander to go it alone in Detroit. Private Fields was recovering from shrapnel wounds received in a bomb blast, when he was reassigned to active duty. This time he would participate in the Battle of the Bulge.
His unit, the 80th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, Company B was sent to Hoven, Germany to capture a bridge. Fields perished in Hoven as he gave his life in order to allow emergency medical treatment to other casualties.
Six years later, his memory was honored with a Detroit city park bearing his name. His son, Sander Fields remembered the pride he felt standing by his mother’s side and at that initial dedication ceremony in 1951.
In 2007, the Forrer Community Block Club along with support from the City of Detroit and Wayne County cleaned up the Albert Fields park and had it rededicated. At that ceremony, grandson James said, “My father often wonders about what his relationship with Albert would have been like. My brother Andrew and I wish we had the opportunity to have known our grandfather. A part of all of us died with Albert Fields in Hoven, Germany, on that nasty winter day. No one will ever know the influence he may have had on his family and fellow Americans if he had not been killed defending his beloved country.”
Albert Fields was awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for his wartime valor, courage, and commitment to country. The Memorial Playground dedicated to his memory is located near Florence and Greenfield – it’s in great shape and enjoyed daily by neighborhood walkers and joggers.
Military photo courtesy of Temple Beth El / Franklin Archives. Copyright 2013 – Andrea Gallucci. All Rights Reserved.
Viola Liuzzo was born in Pennsylvania on April 11, 1925. During her teens, her family relocated to Ypsilanti, Michigan where she worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during World War II. She married at age 18, had two children, and divorced six years later. Post divorce, Viola enrolled in medical training school and graduated with honors. She met Teamster Anthony James Liuzzo while waitressing at the Olympia Bar in Detroit; they married in 1951. Viola attended the Universalist Unitarian Church and Wayne State University in the early 1960’s where her interest in the Civil Rights Movement was piqued.
In March 1965, she became active in marches to show solidarity for blacks in Alabama who were seeking federal passage of the right to vote. During the days of March 20 to March 25, 1965, she worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to shuttle civil rights supporters between Selma and Montgomery using her car. On her final loop to pick up the last group, she and local civil rights advocate Leroy Moton, an African American man, were spotted by four Klansmen. Liuzzo was shot to death on Highway 80 while trying to flee to safety. Mr. Moton was lucky to escape by pretending to be dead at the scene of the crash. Three of the Klansmen were apprehended and quickly indicted. The final Klansmen turned out to be an undercover FBI informant who testified for the prosecution.
Viola Liuzzo’s death increased congressional support to pass the Voting Rights Act which President Lyndon Johnson signed in August 1965. Her funeral was attended by Jimmy Hoffa, Walter P. Reuther, Rev. Martin Luther King, William Milliken and others influential in government and Civil Rights.
A small playground at Trojan and Winthrop Streets on Detroit’s northwest side honors the memory of Viola Liuzzo – one courageous mother.
Copyright 2013. Andrea Gallucci. All rights reserved.
Alice Gorham would have loved the newer sign currently hanging at her playground at the corner of Pembroke and St. Mary’s in Detroit.. The bright yellow background with red funky lettering screams marketing.
As a press agent for more than 30 years, Alice Gorham had an exciting and successful Detroit career. She worked for Fred Grennell’s advertising agency before being lured to Channel 7 WXYZ-TV Detroit where she wrote newscasts, publicity, and the scripts for then station produced show “Hollywood Highlights”. In 1933, her boss was awarded a contract to manage a group of Detroit movie theaters [then known as movie palaces] – the Michigan, United Artists, State, Fisher, Rivera, Eastown and Ramona Theaters. Alice quickly became the head of advertising for this theater group and staged the most interesting and outrageous marketing to draw in the entertainment seeking market.
CREATIVE AND CIVIC MINDED
In addition to her busy career, Alice co-authored music. She was the publicist and a booster of The Old Newsboys of Detroit whose main mission was to collect toys for needy children at Christmastime. For many years, a literature rack bearing her name stood in the lobby of the Mariner’s Church in downtown Detroit. Alice was loved by the Old Newsboys and she loved them in return by providing her services pro bono. In April 1950, she was selected to be on the planning committee for the City of Detroit’s 250th Anniversary celebration.
Mrs. Gorham passed away in 1957 shortly after the death of her beloved husband, Glenn. She is buried in Lake City Cemetery, Lake City MI. By 1959, the Detroit Common Council passed a resolution to dedicate a playground to honor the memory of this busy entertainment woman who touched Detroit in interesting and creative ways.
St. Mary’s of Redford Parish was founded in 1843 when John Blindbury, a Protestant sold a 1.5 acre triangular piece of land to Bishop Paul Lafevre for $25. The original wood church was built in 1857 and burned in 1859. The next year, the parish rebuilt with a red brick church. Parish growth, stagnation, and struggle marked St. Mary’s parish during the latter 1800’s; the church briefly closed from 1866-1868.
A New Full Time Pastor
Father Dooling arrived in 1898 and consequently St. Mary’s received a new breath of life. With his energy and hard work, the parish consistently grew; building and grounds were also upgraded. Dooling became a beloved part of St. Mary’s and his sudden death saddened parishioners. Through death, came the legacy of John Gilmary Cook.
Moving St. Mary’s Into the Future
Without hestitation, Monsignor Cook began his stewardship of St. Mary’s parish in 1919. He immediately masterminded a plan for opening a Catholic elementary school to service the surrounding area. The school began using the two story ‘Salley’ barn as classroom space within his first year as Pastor. A new schoolhouse opened in 1920.
Cook could not rest. As the congregation and mass schedule expanded, he saw the need for a new church and convent to meet future demand. He used innovative techniques to raise funds for expansion and invited Albert Kahn to assist with the design of the new church. Kahn declined, yet recommended the experienced Ralph Adams Cram of Boston. Groundbreaking for a new church began in 1925, five short years after Cook came to the parish. The new church was completed and in use by October 1927. By the end of the 1920’s, St. Mary’s school expanded to include a middle and high school so that no child would be turned away from an education.
The Great Depression and the onset of World War II delayed the completion of all of Cook’s plans including a new convent. By the 1950’s school enrollment was at an all-time high and eventually the convent was finished. Cook’s ability to deliver his vision for the future of St. Mary’s of Redford gave it premier status within the Archdiocese of Detroit. Monsignor Cook passed away in 1951 at his summer cottage on Harsen’s Island.
When you are traveling down Greenfield Road, turn west onto Margareta or Clarita Street and you will immediately stumble onto the Joe Bale Playfield. While a student at Michigan State University, “Little Joe” Bale enlisted for duty in World War II. He served with the Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Division in the invasion of Anzio, Italy and Southern France. A few weeks after turning 21 years, Bale lost his life in the fierce Battle of Colmar Pocket on January 30, 1945 near Wihr-en-Plaine, France.
Bale’s battalion was attacked by enemy tanks. He fearlessly returned fire with his rocket launcher, ignoring shells exploding five yards away and machine gun bullets. Joe knocked out an enemy tank, forcing the Germans to withdraw. Later, the same morning his battalion was again attacked by another tank at 100 yards. Again, he braved shell fire in another single-handed attempt to destroy the tank; unfortunately he was mortally wounded. Joe Bale’s courage was posthumously honored with the Distinguished Service Cross.
Veterans, relatives and friends formed The Pfc. Joseph Bale Post 474 on June 9, 1946 – affiliated with the Jewish War Veterans Association of Michigan. Within two years, the post grew to over 100 members and eventually became the largest JWVA post in the Michigan. In 1953, Bale’s memory was honored with the dedication of this Detroit park. Mayor Albert Cobo, Rabbi Morris Adler, his parents and Post 474 members were in attendance for that Wednesday evening ceremony.
Joe was known as a superior athlete at Central High School in Detroit and at college. MSU named a dormitory building in his honor. [The building has since been renamed.] In 2011, the Michigan Jewish Sports Association honored both ‘Little’ Joe and his cousin ‘Big’ Joe Bale by hanging a plaque in their Hall of Fame to honor the memory of those students who served in war and for those who were never were able to fulfill their dream of competing in college sports.
As of this writing, the Joseph Bale Post 474 continues to hold monthly meetings. They remain a unified group who uphold the memory of all veterans through the fundraisers and attendance at religious and commemorative ceremonies. Importantly, they refuse to forget the simple story of an ‘average Joe’ that rose far above the ordinary. He gave his life fighting for his country and as a result, saved the lives of his buddies.
There are some things that are easily forgotten in 5 minutes and there are other events that can’t be forgotten across a life time. Joe’s memory lives on.
Military photo courtesy of The Rabbi Leo M. Franklin Archive
Young Douglas Ramsay was a hockey enthusiast and a phenomenal free skater. He began training with the Detroit Skating Club at the age of 8 years, under the eye of Coach Bill Swallender. Ramsay’s hard work and elegance on the ice aided him in winning a series of Midwestern figure skating competitions. He became an audience favorite and was often referred to as ‘Dick Buttons, Jr.’.
In 1961, Douglas was 16 and a student at Redford High School. He placed 4th at the US Championships and became a team alternate for the 1961 US Figure Skating team that would eventually be headed to the Olympic Games. A last minute health withdrawal by another team member gave Ramsay a secured team position. Within a week, Ramsay, Swallender and the entire US World Team were headed for Prague to the World Championships. A dream come true!
Unfortunately, their plane – Sabena Flight 548 – crashed near the Brussels airport. Everyone on board perished. In a 2010 Free Press article, his sister Christine fondly remembered Douglas.. “He was like my best friend.. We loved dancing to American Bandstand, making up routines in the basement. He was a great person.”
This tidy park is tucked away on Rutland Street in the Grandmont – Rosedale neighborhood. It’s behind the Edison Elementary School across the street from Ramsay’s childhood home.