Not many parks in Detroit named for the ladies..only a few more after this one..
Sometimes parks tell their own story..
STRIKING IT RICH
Sometimes when you search far and wide, you end up finding your future right in the place where you began. Ontario born Bruce Wark (b.1874-1944) came to Detroit in 1894 and began selling typewriters. Without result, he chucked that career and spent the last two years of the nineteenth century as a prospector in the Klondike seeking a gold rush fortune. Pardon the pun, it didn’t pan out. When he returned to Detroit in 1900, he would find his fortune was waiting for him. Continue reading “Bruce Wark, Sr. – Park 54”
“I just want to thank all of you and let all you fathers, mothers and wives know that this field is not dedicated to my son alone. It is dedicated for all those who died for this country.” — Harold Cross, Sr. at his son’s playground dedication in 1953.
80 Minutes Before the End
There were 8 yeas and 0 nay votes from the Detroit Common Council at the passing of a resolution proclaiming Harold Cross Jr. Day on August 7th, 1953. There is always a last – the last to be picked for elementary kickball; the last time you see your beloved; the last kiss, the last donut. Unfortunately, iterations of wartime stories are told far and wide with the insertion of similar details and different names. This story is different though; heroic and a heartbreaker. Continue reading “Sergeant 1st Class Harold R. Cross Jr. – Park 55”
A DETERMINED MOTHER
It was October 1948 when Myrtle Downey first contacted the Detroit War Memorial Committee about naming a park for her fallen son. It was her first letter and wouldn’t be her last.
She had four sons enter the WWII effort, three returned. She was a widow and dedicated mother who actively participated in the VFW 873 Ladies Auxiliary and the Detroit chapters of the Gold Star Mothers and the Blue Star Mothers.
She gave birth to Harry, her oldest in Ohio on January 14, 1917. By the mid-1930’s the Downey family made their way to Detroit settling into the Braddish and Hubbard neighborhood. In her writings, Myrtle indicated Harry enjoyed playing hockey and baseball. He attended St. Leo’s school [now Crockett Academy] until the 8th grade. Like their father, Harry and his brother Jack found employment at a local Awrey bakery. When WWII called, he enlisted for service in November 1941, entering the US Army / Air Corp through Fort Custer in west Michigan. Continue reading “PFC. Harry Clyde Downey – Park 53”
“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.
Here’s one from the gone file.. when a playground disappears.
20 DAYS IN
Private John Kozdron was born on July 7, 1925. He attended St. Hedwig High School in southwest Detroit graduating with honors in 1943. Like many young men in the 1940’s, Kozdron was active in the Catholic Youth Organization.
A year later, John was inducted into the in US Army 9th Infantry, 6th Armored Division. Basic training was received at Fort Hood, Texas and he shipped out to Europe on January 3, 1945.
Twenty days later on January 23, 1945, Private Kozdron died in the closing of the Battle of the Bulge. Letters indicate he died a hero’s death. He earned the Purple Heart and is buried at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg.
A COMMUNITY COMES TOGETHER
John was just 19 at the end of his life. He was recognized as the youngest man from his neighborhood to die in World War II. In 1951, the veteran community united to remember John’s brief life by naming the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Post 4553 in his honor.
Post member John Czapski [chop-sky / free polish pronunciation lesson; you’re welcome ] built a fine post ‘home’ on the corner of Campbell Street and Plumer located near to Kozdron’s childhood home on Merritt .
In 1956, Czapski along with Post Commander Louis Marmul petitioned the Detroit Department of Parks and Rec to dedicate a small play lot in Kozdron’s name. After an initial denial and subsequent post appeal, the playground came to fruition later the same year. For three decades, the John Kozdron Memorial Play Lot was located across the street from the post and gave neighborhood kids a destination. In the late 1980’s, the playground was deemed underused and a roofing manufacturer accepted the land transfer and built a storage facility on the site.
While the park might be gone, the Kozdron VFW Post 4553 and Ladies Auxiliary are still active within the Southwest Detroit community. With the Suchan brothers leading the way, this post draws in everyone from regulars, neighbors to local politicians for a friendly beer, the occasional wake and camaraderie.
The overarching mission of VFW 4553 is to serve veterans and the surrounding community; members of the Kozdron Post keep this duty close to their hearts. From their yearly fundraising efforts, they are able to send children to Camp Trotter in Grand Rapids; help St. Hedwig Church with financial support for Christmas giving, as well as providing holiday dinners to homeless vets and parties for kids.
The VFW 4553 John Kozdron Post is located at 2501 Campbell Street. Hours: Wednesday – Sunday Open at 3:00pm. It’s off the beaten path and frankly, they prefer it that way. Stop in for a beer and a burger; it keeps John Kozdron’s memory alive and supports the surrounding Southwest Detroit community. The stories are good and the veteran hospitality will exceed expectation.
Thanks so much to the VFW 4553 for allowing me to spontaneously interrupt their Saturday [ i seem to be super good at that ] and for bringing the memories out of storage. Photos used with kind permission from the VFW 4553. Thanks again Suchan!
Have a great day. Thanks for reading. © Andrea Gallucci, 2015 per the usual.
THE COURAGE TO START SOMETHING BIG
Abner A. Wolf (b.1892) came from humble beginnings. At the age of 12, he began sweeping the floor in his father Joseph’s store, squeezing his homework into his free moments at work. In 1912, he paid $50 for a cart and a horse. He took his remaining $350 savings and purchased merchandise to start his own small grocery on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck. He was twenty. Within three years, he had enough money and customers to move to a bigger space across the street. And so it began… Continue reading “Abner A. Wolf – Park #48”
BY WAY OF PITTSBURGH
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.
Location: Warren, Hancock, Grandy, Chene Street
THE WEALTHY MILLER
Joseph Dominick Perrien (1833-1896) was born in Loraine, France and immigrated to St Louis, Missouri in 1847. Eventually his father brought the family to Detroit and erected a steam mill on Gratiot Avenue. Joseph and his brothers inherited the business named Fort Gratiot Mills. They built a larger mill and began grinding wheat for flour. The brothers lived behind the mill on Catharine Street and offered boarding to a few immigrant workers.
Joseph was a bachelor investing his profits into real estate on Gratiot Avenue ultimately increasing his wealth. Newspapers of the day described him as a half-millionaire. Continue reading “Joseph Perrien – Park #45”
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
I have attempted at all times, where even the slightest reason for doing what was present, to put defendants on probation. Where a man is a habitual criminal then, of course, probation is impossible, but wherever probation would improve a man’s prospects for the future, he has been thus placed…it can save many from the lives of misery and crime.“ Judge Harry Keidan (1882-1943)
TRUSTED AS A ONE MAN GRAND JURY
A great debater at Eastern High school, Keidan’s peers found his calm and logical approach as a clear sign he would eventually wear judge’s robes. And so, it would be. By 1904, Harry was admitted to the bar and started a private law practice. In 1912, he became Wayne County Assistant prosecutor; 1920 marked his appointment as a judge.
Locally, Keidan was known for his genuine concern for the defendants that appeared before him. Having a keen sense of humor and the utmost patience, Judge Keidan once gave a unsatisfied litigant a half glass of water and two ‘common sense’ pills when he refused to accept a court recommended monetary settlement. The litigant was instructed to sit at the rear of the courtroom for 40 minutes for ‘the pills to kick in’ while the next case was heard.
Keidan helped draft the bill creating Detroit’s first Recorder’s Court stressing the probation department as an important attachment. In 1927, Governor Fred W. Green appointed him to Detroit Circuit Court where he won praise for resolving labor and civic disputes. He was re-elected to this position three times. Keidan was nationally known for being selected as a one-man Grand Jury during the Detroit Bank scandal of 1929.
In his personal life, Harry Keidan was a member of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in Detroit. He was a deeply religious man who observed the Sabbath. He walked to the courthouse if a Saturday morning session was required. Harry was an active steward to the Boy Scouts, the Jewish Welfare Federation and Goodwill Industries. He was married to Kate and had 2 children.
At the time of his death in 1943, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution stating, “A judge who never condemned; a counselor who never berated; a critic who never scorned – that was Judge Keidan.” He was interned at Clover Hill Cemetery in Birmingham, MI.
Harry Keidan was honored with a Detroit elementary school [on Collingwood near Petoskey]; a Hillel Chapter, A B’nai Brith Lodge and a city playground as a memorial to his legacy. The small park is behind the Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple on Chicago Boulevard. It is fenced and stocked with older functioning playground equipment.
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’Hair became 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 association that works hard to keep this community safe and vibrant.
©Andrea Gallucci, 2014. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.
BEST FRIENDS IN WARTIME
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.
In my opinion, this playfield is one of the loveliest in Detroit. Situated alongside a neighborhood, the park’s wooded area fronts Burgess Street. The west side slopes into a large field. An asphalt trail meanders through the entire park for fitness walkers / runners. The amenities are a well groomed baseball field, newer playground equipment, picnic shelter and wrought iron park entry. It’s the home of the Crowell Rec Center. [I’ll have to update this story with his info.] Hope Park has been well maintained in recent years thanks to the ongoing investment made by the Lear Corporation, various landscapers and Motor City Blight Busters. It is bordered by Burgess, Lahser, Verne and Puritan.
UNLIMITED VIEW, NO HAZE
In 1940, James Hope had a year of college under his belt. He had just begun to work and was living with his parents and sisters on Grand Boulevard in Detroit. He enlisted for service in WWII on October 15, 1940 entering into the Air Corp National Guard. Hope served with the 414th Night Fighter Squadron, 62nd Fighter Wing. He was a pilot and achieved the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
In late August 1944, Hope and his First Officer / Navigator, Carmen Phillippi left on an intruder mission in a Beaufighter VIF VIII around 8:10pm from the island of Sardinia, Italy. They were scheduled to reach their target outside of Milan at approximately 10:30pm; bomb for 30 minutes and return to Sardinia. They were 10 minutes late in leaving with their fighter group and this misstep would become their demise.
10 MINUTES LATE
The Beaufighter was a British plane made by the Bristol Company and used by many nations in wartime. It held a crew of two and had a max speed of 333 mph. The variant model that Hope flew that night had a redesigned nose and improved radar system. This aircraft was fitted with ten guns and was often referred to as the “Ten Gun Terror”.
DISAPPEARED WITHOUT A TRACE
Hope’s last transmission was overheard by two other aircraft from his squadron and three ground stations – it came through at 10:25pm: “Ghero 34 bailing out, mayday, mayday”. His manner of speaking was hurried.
Military calculations report Lt. Hope was on his return most likely over the Italian coast when he spoke these final words. There was an unlimited view from the craft with no haze that evening. The fighter’s altitude would have been at 7000 feet due to the mountains he needed to cross.
What is known: Hope and Phillippi both bailed from the plane under the cover of darkness with no eyewitness accounts. The US military concluded the bomber was attacked by anti-aircraft fire. Several US and British air-sea rescue searches were conducted the next morning. Neither Hope nor Phillipi were found. Both men are memorialized at the Tablets of the Missing American Cemetery in Florence, Italy.
2nd Lt. James Hope was decorated posthumously with the Purple Heart and the Soldier’s Air Medal. His lovely memorial playfield in Detroit was dedicated in 1952.
Thanks for reading. Copyright, 2018 Andrea Gallucci.
THE GATEWAY TO BOSTON EDISON
“Like the famous Flemish tapestries that tell stories, we are the weavers, the creators of the patterns in our own lives,” wrote Minerva Maiullo in her 1972 memoir, A Tapestry of Memories.
There’s a handful of parks in Detroit honoring the lives of women.. Here’s one of them.
Minerva Maiullo’s life was filled with culture, elegance, art and philanthropy. Born in Ontario, Canada in October 1891, genealogical accounts trace her ancestral line to the royal Etruscan House of Tarquin whose kings ruled Rome hundreds of years before Caesar.
Her parents were both musically gifted. Minerva followed suit with demonstrated talents in song composition and voice training that prepared her for an operatic life. In 1925 she performed the role of Nedda in Il Pagliacci in Verona, Italy as an operatic debut. Regardless of professional praise and promise, Minerva chose familial instinct and married her childhood sweetheart, Anthony Maiullo. Together, they raised a family in Detroit’s grand Boston-Edison neighborhood.
The Maiullo’s led a busy and charmed life. Minerva was well known as Detroit’s cultural hostess. She entertained many celebrities at her once famous salons. She sang only at benefit performances and for close friends. A Detroit club woman, her philanthropic efforts included involvement with The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, DIA Founder’s Society, Detroit Grand Opera Association, Women’s City Club, Detroit Historical Society, Friends of the Detroit Public Library and on.
She was awarded a citation from the US War Department for founding and organizing the “Adopt a Soldier’s Son” program during WWII.
Her husband, Anthony Maiullo (1886-1976) was a prominent criminal and corporate Detroit attorney who once survived an assassination attempt when answering his front door. The Maiullo’s were benefactors of Detroit Institute of Arts, gifting sculpture to the museum.
WHO KNEW THESE WERE NAMED PARKS?
During the 1960’s, Anthony donated two lots at the corner of Chicago Boulevard and Woodward to the city of Detroit naming them “Minerva Maiullo Parks” in honor of his wife.
Today, these lots are unmarked and provide a buffer green space to the entrance of this historic Detroit neighborhood. Minerva Maiullo passed in May 1973; she is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield, MI.
copyright 2015, andrea gallucci.
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”
ALL AROUND GOOD KID
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.
Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2014.
BORN WITH THE RIGHT NAME
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.
copyright 2014 Andrea Gallucci
Corporal William Anthony Biraga
Location: Mount Elliot at Richardson
Yep! Sometimes Detroit parks are found within apartment complexes. I believe this park is actually owned by the apartment complex now and not the City of Detroit. A big thank you to Kim B. for reaching out and sharing the photo of her relative. I love it when that happens! – Andrea G.
William Anthony Biraga (1918-1943) served in WWII with Company I, Third Battalion, First Marines Division. On December 26, 1943, he was up against Japanese forces in the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain in the South Pacific. It was a fierce battle and as an early casualty, William would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his courageous efforts.
The objective was to capture a major Japanese airfield on the island and set up safe passage for Allied Forces through the straits separating New Guinea from the island of New Britain. This battle began in December and lasted approximately 4.5 months. It was code named: Operation Cartwheel.
ALWAYS A MARINE, DUTY BEFORE SELF
Per his citation, Corporal Biraga led a group of six men behind a General Sherman tank in an assault against entrenched Japanese troops. He became severely wounded yet continued to direct his men in combat. His efforts were successful in beating back enemy forces.
He was evacuated to a waiting LST-453 [ Tank Landing Ship – an amphibious boat] where he died en route to hospital. Biraga was 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.
A few years back an apartment complex was built on the property and the playground was incorporated into the new development. Fronting Mount Elliot, this small and tidy playground offers kids and adults a green space to enjoy while honoring the memory of a one-time neighborhood kid. Mount Elliot in 2018 is looking better than ever.
Thanks for reading!
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.
All rights reserved. ©Andrea Gallucci, 2015.
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.
Copyright Andrea Galluccci, 2014
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.
William A. Comstock – Michigan’s 33rd Governor
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.