Redmond Plaza – Park 27

Robert Rene Redmond


12/2014 A collective sigh of relief swept over Cass Corridor in latter December…  Per Detroit news source Bridge MichiganRedmond Plaza is receiving a new lease on life as the non-profit Midtown Detroit, Inc. has started renovations to this sweet little plaza. Look for some updated photos sans that sexy chain link fencing soon..  Thanks to veteran reporter Bill McGraw for the link out to Cityliterate.  

Little Gem in Cass Corridor

Redmond Plaza is a small community park located at the corner of Selden Street and Second in Midtown Detroit. It features a gazebo, bench seating, brickwork and mature trees. It was a favorite gathering spot for many folks in the Cass neighborhood until it was fenced off more than a year ago. Neighbors speculate Redmond Plaza was purchased by the owners of the adjacent, boarded commercial property which bears a sign Samona Building / Real Estate.

Robert Redmond Plaza -  hands through fence to get the interior of the park
Robert Redmond Plaza – hands through fence to get the interior of the park


The Plaza pays homage to Robert Rene Redmond, a social worker and director of the neighborhood Senior Center. Robert worked alongside his father, Reverend Lewis Redmond [pastor of the Cass Methodist Episcopal Church] to boost the lives of residents living in Detroit’s Cass Corridor with special focus on seniors and the developmentally disabled. Their work changed lives for the better; it also set the foundation for the future social work at Cass Community Social Services.


On May 6, 1976 Robert Redmond was shot to death when trying to disarm a friend in a nearby apartment on 3rd Street. He was 24 and a doctoral student at Oakland University.

Rev. Lewis Redmond pastored here from 1953 - 1979.  A block away from Redmond Plaza. Photo courtesy of Cass Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church.
Rev. Lewis Redmond pastored here from 1953 – 1979. A block away from Redmond Plaza. Photo courtesy of Cass Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church.

The groundbreaking of Redmond Plaza in early August 1979 drew more than 100 people. Construction of the park was paid with federal funding. Senator David Holms of MI commented, “I’m 100 percent for this park! It’s long overdue. Cass Corridor is the cosmopolitan of Detroit. It is Detroit as Detroit is”.
Cass Corridor has come a long way – it’s cleaner and slowly becoming redeveloped. Thirty –five years later, this stretch of midtown is still home to a slice of Detroit folks – the homeless, the educated, the entrepreneurial, families, seniors as well as university students – a blend that mixes well together.


Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg – Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class – Park 26


Owen Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in the small village of Daggett in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Owen Hammerberg  Photo: Courtesy
Owen Hammerberg
Photo: Courtesy

Prior to service, Owen lived with his father downstate in Flint and worked as a shop clerk.  In 1941, he enlisted with the Navy as a diver, serving on both the Battleship USS Idaho and Sub Chaser USS Advent.  He attended Deep Sea Diving School in Washington DC in 1944 and eventually was assigned to the Pacific Fleet Salvage Force in Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii.  These experiences would prepare him for an assignment where his  bravery and skill would excel and consequently call his life to an abrupt end.

His naval citation reads:  “Hammerberg by his cool judgement, unfaltering professional skill, and consistent disregard of all danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his two comrades… he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”


On February 17, 1945 Owen Hammerberg rescued two fellow divers trapped under the hulk of a mud bound sunken ship in Pearl Harbor.  After several hours of working in 40 feet deep, black water, Owen freed the first trapped man.  Without rest, he next moved far under the buried ship, reaching a spot above the second trapped diver.

A heavy piece of steel dropped on upon him and pinned him crosswise over his friend.  Bearing all the weight from the steel, Owen protected him until he could be freed.  Hammerberg later perished in a hospital.


A freshly mowed Hammerberg Memorial Playground – Detroit, MI

His parents – Jonas Hammerberg and Elizabeth Moss accepted the posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor on his behalf.  On August 19, 1954, his mother christened a destroyer escort named the USS Hammerberg to perpetuate the memory of his heroics.  This ship stayed in service short of two decades and was decommissioned and sold for scrap in December 1973.  Owen continues to be honored with two memorials – a Detroit playground at West Chicago and Wyoming; a memorial in Veterans Park in Stephenson, MI erected by VFW Post 5966.

ship at sea
USS Hammerberg photo: public domain

2nd Lt. Thomas W. Wigle Memorial Playfield – Park 25

overdue UPDATE:

When the shuttered recreation center was demolished last year, it was a good clue about the changes that were going to come to the Wigle field.  This large playfield with a DIY skate park are up for sale.  When the correct buyer appears [and they might have already] this playfield will disappear.  Wigle will be sorely missed not only by the kickball leagues. skateboarders but also by the Experienca School across the street who uses the field for school events.  Here’s the best way to describe it courtesy of CurbedDetroit.  ag

Photo courtesy of Curbed Detroit. thanks.

A Gifted Violinist

Wigle Playground is a popular spot for kickball leagues in Detroit.  It sides the service drive to M-10 Lodge Freeway and Selden Street. The amenities at this field are few – a baseball diamond, beat up basketball courts, vandalized rec center and the field – but in actuality a patch of earth, a ball, beer and some friends are all one needs.

Thomas Wigle was born to parents Arch and Hazel in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 18, 1909.  The family relocated to a residence on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.  Arch supported the family working as a realtor.  Prior to entering the military, Thomas was a violinist, violin teacher and a mechanic in an airplane factory.

Beyond the Call of Duty  

Photo courtesy of Military Hall of Valor
Photo courtesy of Military Hall of Valor – Thanks Doug Sterner.

Serving in World War II was no easy task, yet 2nd Lt. Thomas W. Wigle gave his all and volunteered to command when leadership was desperately needed.   On September 16, 1944 his platoon was attempting to invade a heavily fortified position on an Italian hillside.  There were three terraced stone walls to scale to reach the enemy.   Wigle led his men up the rocky slope through intense fire and reached the first stone wall. He was boosted to the top of the wall and perched upon it in full view of the enemy.  A firefight ensued and meanwhile, his men helped each other up and over.  Wigle and his platoon successfully negotiated the second wall using the same method.

Three houses used as an enemy stronghold came into view after Wigle scaled the third wall.  Giving an order for cover, he made a dash through a shower of gunfire to reach the nearest house. Firing his carbine as he entered, he drove the enemy out of the back door and onto the second house. They eventually fled and took refuge in the cellar of the third house.

When the platoon caught up to Wigle, they found him dead on the cellar stairs.  His heroics resulted in the capture of 36 German soldiers and the seizure of this stronghold in Monte Frassino, Italy.  He was honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor for courage and dedication.


Cpl. Marian Karaniewski Memorial Playground – Park 24

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.

park photo

Four Brothers

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.


Marian Karaniewski
Marian Karaniewski

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.

Stanley Karaniewski
Cass 2
Cass Karaniewski
Two brothers - Eugene and Cass
Eugene and Cass



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.

James W. Ames – Park 23


James W. Ames was born October 12, 1864 in Louisiana – the son of Walter Ames and Clarissa Washington.  He was educated at Straight College and received his medical degree from Howard University in 1894.  Ames began a medical practice; later he would turn into a community problem solver. ames pk

Ames is honored with a triangular island park bordered by McGraw, Milford Street, and Vinewood Street in Detroit.  The park amenities are older; however the signage and most of the fencing are still intact.


Well respected, James Ames was considered to be among the medical elite in early Detroit.  In 1918, he and 30 other black physicians purchased a three story home from Jewish diamond merchant named Charles Warren on Frederick Street in Detroit.   They renovated the structure and opened a 37 bed, non-profit hospital aiding the black population of Detroit – an unserved demographic.  At this time it was extremely difficult for blacks to get quality medical care and hospitalization.

Paul Dunbar Hospital
Paul Dunbar Hospital located on Frederick Street near Peck Park in Midtown.

The funding for Paul Dunbar Memorial Hospital came from the group’s personal pocket books, a few Detroit philanthropists, and the congregants from St. Matthew Episcopal Church.  Ames became the Medical Director.

Paul Dunbar Memorial Hospital was successful and continued on to offer medical training for nurses.  In the late 1920’s it moved to a larger facility near Brush and Illinois St. and was renamed Parkside Hospital.  Ames was extremely active in the Detroit community.  He served as the director of the Phyllis Wheatley Home for Indigent Colored Women; as a Michigan State Legislator in 1901-1902; on the Detroit Board of Health 1901-1915; and on the Wayne County Board of Supervisors for many years.  He was an exalted ruler in Elks Club.

James Ames died on January 31, 1944.  He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

He rests next to his son Chester, who became a prominent Detroit surgeon.
He rests next to his son Chester, who became a prominent Detroit surgeon.

© Andrea Gallucci, 2013.  All rights reserved.

Joe Louis Barrow – Park 22

Joe Louis Barrow – Park 22

joe louis artwork

“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

Little girl
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!


Little boy
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


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.

Louis Park is located adjacent to the Johnson Rec Center.  Near 8 Mile and Wyoming.
Louis Park is located adjacent to the Johnson Rec Center. Near 8 Mile and Wyoming in Detroit, MI.





William S. Knudsen – Park 21


Over the past few months, many local sources are reporting that Knudsen playground is getting an upgrade due to a dedicated resident and the 8 Mile Boulevard Association.  We are a still a city of folks with the can-do / getter’ done mentality.  Speaking with staff in the GSO – Parks and Rec Dept., the funds are coming partly from Tom’s of Maine [love their toothpaste] coupled with mostly city funds.  Passing by the playground recently updates have already begun –  the ground has been cleared, new fencing is installed.  Look here for new photos in the spring.   Read more about Knudsen’s story and Detroit’s role in WWII production in this awesome op/ed piece.


The story of William S. Knudsen is one of immigrant hopes and realized dreams.
William (say it like vill-yum) immigrated to the United States from his native Denmark in February 1900. He landed work in shipyards and factories, noting the dichotomy of happy faces and violence within. Fist fights aplenty. “I was more or less forced to become a boxer..”


Mastering the concepts of production in factories, he improved upon them and caught the attention of Henry Ford; he became a prominent Ford Motor employee. He switched gears to Chevrolet in 1922 and morphed it into a powerhouse by eliminating bad design and encouraging the brand to out produce its competitor. He rose quickly through ranks and became the President of General Motors. He was knighted by homeland in 1930 and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1940. With all this personal success [and the generous salaries that come with], he still had to win over skeptics and overcome challenges. Historians indicate through it all, he never lost his optimism.


Knudsen felt a debt to America for his immigrant success. He answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to assist the U.S. Military in WWII. Knudsen left his prestigious position as President of General Motors. He led the military with his expertise in equipment production and logistics. His efforts streamlined and increased weapon availability which helped the Allied Forces win the war. For his service, he was assigned the rank of Lt. General and earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

Read: A letter of ‘thanks’ from Harry Truman
Knudsen retired from the Army in June 1945. He passed away in 1948.
He raised three daughters; a son became his legacy at General Motors during the 1960’s.

knudsen 2
Sad little park for a man who changed the world.. Hey General Motors and Ford Motor.. can’t we do better?


The small park honoring Knudsen is located on Omira Street at the gateway of Detroit – 8 Mile and the I-75 service drive.

The park is unmarked; lacking any signage or dedication. The swings and basketball court are older, yet still used by local kids in the good weather.

This is both an interesting and odd location for a memorial park honoring a man who made an enormous world impact in both Detroit and in Europe. Knudsen used to his knowledge, not his might to help bring down Hitler. I realized that just maybe this is the perfect place to honor him. Perhaps the noisy rush of traffic; the rev of engines; the rumble passing semis; the smell of exhaust; the screeching of brakes may all whisper his name from the expressway below.

Learn more about William and his son, Semon Knudsen at the Detroit Public Library – Skillman Branch where their personal papers are archived.


Private John I. Marruso – Park 20

Marruso Park update:  

In summer season of 2014, through grant funding, the Greening of Detroit took Marruso playground under their supervision.  Greening works to create community stakeholdership of the playground by encouraging use; an excellent program that unites the community.  A neighborhood park ambassador is selected to plan, advertise and execute playground kid activities such as storytelling, organized games and yarn bombing on the fence line.  Detroit teens are trained and hired to mow, trim and maintain the playground from spring to fall.  

The season was capped off with a re-dedication of the park which told the story of John Marruso and a tree planting to make 2015 even more beautiful.  Photos of the dedication are below.   Thanks to Greening for inviting me to tell the story… and super thanks to the James Reese Europe VFW Post 2233 on Mound Road for performing the color guard and flag ceremony.  The nicest vets I have ever met.  

marruso vfw 2233
Doing research, I have met a lot vets.. The guys from Post VFW 2233 on Mound Road are so kind and dedicated. When I phoned them to see if they wanted to come to the park dedication, they didn’t hesitate.
marruso flag
Flag color guard duties.
marrusso planting
It was a cold and overcast October day.


“I’m coming home soon – I think for good,” wrote John Marruso in a letter home shortly before his death in combat on July 9, 1950.

Yeah .. the sign is spelled wrong. It’s definitely Marruso.

Marruso never returned to the family residence on Vinewood Street in Detroit; instead he returned in a pine casket as the Detroit’s first casualty lost in the Korean War.

The Marruso’s were a family that served.  John’s father served in World War I.  He later passed before John and his brother Joe finished elementary school; the boys were raised by their mother Lena.

When high school ended, John started working for Chrysler and then followed in his dad’s footsteps and enlisted to serve in the military.  In 1948 he shipped out for a three year join as a member of the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division of the US Army. Within six months, Private Marruso was sent to Japan.  He landed in the Korean War where he was wounded by shell fire and later died in a Japanese hospital.


On a Thursday morning in August 1950, six of his school buddies from St. John the Evangelist Intermediate School acted as his pall bearers.  Private Marruso was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery on Detroit’s east side.   A squad of veterans from the VFW Fairview Post – the same post that saluted his father in death – honored his memory by sounding their guns for a military tribute.  All that was left for his mother was the US flag that draped his coffin.


The final reminder of John Marruso’s selfless sacrifice is a playground located at the corner of Annott Street and State Fair.. not far from Mount Olivet Cemetery.  The park’s dedication plaque bearing Marruso’s name and telling his history was taken long ago by scrappers, regardless his memory lingers.


© Andrea Gallucci, 2013.  All rights reserved.

Fred Magnus Butzel – Parks 18 & 19


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


Fred Butzel 1877-1948
Fred Butzel 1877-1948

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.

East Side Butzel Family Center and Grounds
West side park at Myers and Lyndon in Detroit
West side Rec Center at Myers and Lyndon in Detroit. The property includes an ice rink, ball fields, basketball courts and on. The ice rink is home to the Detroit Hockey Association and is named in memory of Jack Adams, a Canadian hockey player and coach / general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. Adams won the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and general manager.


©Andrea Gallucci 2013.  All rights reserved.

James Lee Varier – Park 17

On Thatcher Street near Greenfield and Outer Drive there is a small and lovely wooded park named after a courageous soldier.


varier b
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.

Copyright Andrea Gallucci 2013.varier c

Harry G. Salsinger – Park 16

Loved Sports, Writing, and Ty Cobb  

“In any all-time rating of players:  Tyrus Raymond Cobb stands alone.  He was the greatest of the greats, a fiery genius, and the game’s outstanding individualist.  Brilliant and unorthodox, he made baseball history for more than two decades.”    An excerpt from the “The Umpire” The Detroit News November 2, 1924

Salsinger in late winter..

It can be said that Harry Salsinger had three loves – his wife Gladys, his son Harry Jr., and writing – and one great interest – Ty Cobb.  Harry George Salsinger was born on April 10, 1885 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  His love of sports morphed into a successful, lifelong career.  After a brief stint writing in Cincinnati, Harry moved to Detroit and landed the job of Sports Editor at the Detroit News; the year was 1909.   Salsinger immediately began covering Tiger baseball and did so for 49 years until his death on Thanksgiving Day – November 27, 1958.

Through his column he became nationally known as straight up writer and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the record breaking, infamous baseball player Ty Cobb.  In 1924, many national papers published his writing titled The Ty Cobb Story.  The player himself read the piece – “I read every word of it, “ Cobb said. “No man could have been fairer. Some of his comment hurt – but all of it was honest writing.  That’s what we always got from Sal.”

Salsinger was a charter member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.  He was posthumously honored with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award – the oldest media award given by the Baseball Hall of Fame which began assigning it in 1962.  Salsinger authored many books about baseball and is frequently mentioned in books written about the history of the sport.

The New Paul Robeson / Malcolm X Academy
The New Paul Robeson / Malcolm X Academy

The Detroit Parks and Recreation commission recommended the location of the H.G. Salsinger Memorial Playground [which included a baseball field] be at Linwood Avenue just south of Fenkell behind the former St. Francis Home for Boys Orphanage.  Seems like a perfect spot! The orphanage later changed into the remnants of  the former Paul Robeson / Malcolm X Academy.   Since a devastating fire, the Robeson Academy  moved about a mile north to the Hally School on Grove Street in Detroit and continues to serve the community.

The Salsinger Playfield remains on this somewhat lonely stretch of Linwood around the corner from Fenkell.  It is a large lot with practice area for football or soccer and features a baseball field with a newer backstop.

salsinger b
Salsinger baseball diamond
Salsinger practice field

© Andrea Gallucci 2013. All Rights Reserved

Max E. Sawyer – Park 15

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


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.

Max Sawyer, June 1945. Detroit News.
Max Sawyer, June 1945. Detroit News.

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.

The US Army 35th Infantry insignia. The white cross signifies the marking of the Santa Fe Trail where the unit trained for combat.
The white cross of the 35th Infantry insignia signifies the marking of the Santa Fe Trail where the unit trained for combat .


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. 

Nathan Lollo – Park 14

lollo 2


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.

Dr. Archibald Warren Diack – Park 13


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.

a park

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.

Raymond Zussman – 12

2nd Lt. Raymond Zussman


Raymond Zussman
Ray’s yearbook quote: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men”

The football coach at Central High School laughed when Raymond Zussman showed up to try out for the team.  The Navy rejected Zussman for being too short.  They both got it wrong.

The small statured Zussman wore the attitude “I kin take care of myself.”  He did.  He protected the innocent of WWII and took care of a large number of Nazi soldiers as well.  His personal, undaunted courage and can-do attitude made him a WWII fighting powerhouse earning him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Ray Zussman was raised in Hamtramck.  He sang in his synagogue’s choir.  After high school, he became a shop steward with local union #337.  When WWII broke out, he turned to US Army who recognized his spirit.  He became an instructor in street fighting at Fort Knox and tank commander with the 756th Tank Battalion.

Zussman saw action and was wounded in the battle of Cassino, Italy.  After recovery, he was reassigned to active duty crossing from France into Germany.  Zussman’s tank became disabled in battle at the Village of Noroy-le-Bourg, France.  He took a carbine and proceeded on foot guiding a second tank through the village streets avoiding German booby traps.  He manually directed tank fire to destroy enemy machine gun positions.  When his carbine ran out of ammunition, he picked up a Tommy gun for defense.  Fearing an ambush,  Zussman went forward alone to look for the enemy.    In total, Zussman’s efforts netted 18 dead enemy soldiers, 92 prisoners, the capture of two anti-tank guns, a flak gun and two trucks.   Unfortunately, he met death a few days after these heroics; killed in action in another battle on September 21, 1944.

A US military ship, a veteran’s post, private library, and two parks were named in his honor.   His Detroit Park at Dexter and Davison was dedicated on July 17, 1951.  Today this tidy park is a boon to the neighborhood with newer playground equipment, basketball court, and picnic shelter.  Zussman is also honored with a Hamtramck park bordered by Evaline, Winfield, and Yemans Streets.

The Raymond Zussman Post #333 continues to be active in the remembrance of veterans through veteran support, fundraising, and commemorative activities.  The Zussman family takes personal pride in the remembrance of this courageous hero.

Zussman park
Detroit park – Davison at Holmur

Copyright 2013 Andrea Gallucci.  All rights reserved.  

Raymond Zussman photo courtesy of the Rabbi Leo M. Franklin Archive – Jewish War Veterans Collection.  

Louis Stone Memorial Pool and Park – 10

Earlier this year, I was featured on WDET for my story chronicling the life and happy times of Detroit druggist Louis Stone.  You can listen to it here.  Ever since I researched his story in 2013 there has been speculation that the property was sold to developers for housing.  Back in 2008, it was for sale – here’s the RFP with a bargain basement price of $300,000.

Here’s the scoop “unofficial / official” – Louis Stone Playground property is under contract to DTE for use as a substation to power the neighborhood.  Power is a good thing but so is legacy and history.  This is gonna sound so melodramatic.. Louis Stone brought so much fun, happiness and good times to Detroit kids and  parents .. the drugstore is long gone and if the playground is bulldozed; his legacy will be completely gone.  So play at this playground now.. and enjoy the uninterrupted Midtown electricity later.  Perhaps DTE can name the substation after Louis Stone.  It’s a little premature but I am moving this park to the gone file.  xo – ag


For 20+ years, druggist Leiba Stepansky [Louis Stone] had the biggest heart in Detroit.  Stone grew up the son of a prosperous shoe manufacturer; yet the poverty he witnessed in his native Russia made him acutely aware of the grim injustice of going without.

He left Russia when he was barred from medical school because he was a Jew.  At 18 years old, Louis landed in Boston alone and learned English.  He attended college and earned a degree as a pharmacist.

In 1925, he launched his career by moving to Detroit, taking a druggist job on East Jefferson in the “Little Bohemia” neighborhood.  Soon, he opened his own drug store at Mount Elliot and Theodore Streets, then moved to his home base of Third Street at Stimson Avenue near Detroit’s Masonic Temple.  His motto: “A happy child is a good child.”

stone 3


Halloween night 1928, a young mother came into the pharmacy asking for something to calm her nerves.  Her son was struck and killed by car he didn’t see due to his mask.  This event was the game changer in Stone’s life.  It propelled him to create his famous Halloween street parties as a safe alternative to trick-or-treating.  The parties started with a handful of kids and erupted into entertainment events – including treats, tricks, bands, clowns –servicing 5000+ children on Halloween evening.  The festive environment helped to decrease juvenile delinquency in the city and raise the spirits of kids and parents alike.


Over the years, Stone also hosted events for needy children – trips to the beach; circus and baseball games.  Stone knew that kids “just needed to blow off steam sometimes”.  Regardless, each party ended in the same manner with the children all shouting a customary “OK Louie” in unison to signify the finale of the event.

a picture of a document
Getting permission from Detroit City Council to have a dance party..1949


Stone received awards and honors from civic organizations, elected officials, religious institutions, as well as the State of Michigan legislature for his generosity, child advocacy, and creative problem solving. The Detroit Teacher’s Association planned to honor Stone with the first ever Distinguished Service Award.  Stone penned a thank you letter saying he would accept the award in person, and mailed the letter on the day he died, January 3, 1953.   Stone left no survivors.

A memorial service was held for the public outside Louis Stone Drugs complete with a Naval Salute, tributes, and flowers.  Over 3,000 children attended.  When the ceremony ended the children shouted their customary yell and they climbed aboard busses that whisked them away to the Shrine Circus.

On April 9, 1953 the Detroit City Council passed ordinance 728-E designating the Louis Stone Memorial Pool at Forest and Fourth Street to honor his unique contribution to Detroit.  The pool has been closed for many years. The small, tidy park serves as a stopping point for many walking through Midtown and is in good condition.   In spring 2013, news reports indicated this property has been sold for redevelopment.  When the pool and park are gone, I hope the City of Detroit can find a way to remember Louis Stone…  a generous man who created family amongst neighbors and friends.

Louie sure knew how to throw a great party.

He died a bachelor.  His friends are long gone.  When the park is turned into a DTE substation his legacy will completely disappear.
He died a bachelor. His friends are long gone. When the park is turned into a DTE substation his Detroit legacy will completely disappear.  Yeah, I put the rock on the stone.

Andrea Gallucci. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Albert Fields Playground – 9



a WWII photo of Albert Fields
Private Albert Fields

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.  

A photo of a boulder
The flagpole is gone – replaced by a dedication boulder in 2007.

Mortimer Nathan Lifsitz – Park 8

2015 Update:

Lifsitz playground has seen some action since I first wrote about it in June 2013.  The Canul family in Los Angeles contacted me to say ‘thanks’ for remembering Mortimer.  That’s my favorite part .. connecting with the relatives. The old playground equipment was painted last year by a volunteer group; basketball players continue their workout on an antiquated court; it was getting mowed pretty regularly and even had a short commercial filmed there.   In 2015, it’s been listed on the ‘for sale / reuse list’ by the city.  When the perfect buyer appears, this memorial park will disappear.  Mortimer’s memory will live on as an archival file and in the Jewish War Veteran’s Golden Book which features the Jewish Detroiters who were lost in WWII.  

Dear Mrs. Lifsitz :
Your son, Private Mortimer N. Lifsitz a member of Company “B”, 116th Infantry Regiment, has been awarded the Silver Star posthumously for his outstanding actions against the enemy.

Mortimer Nathan Lifsitz
A young man off to war.

The citation for his heroic deed follows:

Private Mortimer N. Lifsitz, 116th Inf, U S Army for gallantry in action against the enemy in Germany. On 17 November 1944, the advance of Company ‘B’, 116th Infantry was suddenly halted by decimating enemy fire. Seeing that the majority of its leaders had become casualties, Private Lifsitz attempting to lead assault, jumped to his feet and calling on the men to follow, started forward on the run. While charging toward the enemy positions, Private Lifsitz fell mortally wounded by enemy fire. Private Lifsitz lost his life in this encounter but in doing so displayed such personal courage and tenacity in the face of great danger that he materially influenced the results of the encounter. His actions reflect great credit upon himself and the Military Service.

The officers and men of the 116th Infantry Regiment have lost not only an excellent soldier but a friend as well. It is for the comrades and officers of Private Lifsitz to carry on the fight which certainly must bring ultimate victory over an enemy which has for so long brought misery and destruction upon the world.
Private Lifsitz will not be forgotten, nor will the supreme sacrifice made by him. In all sincerity, the officers and men of the 116th Infantry Regiment extend their most heartfelt sympathy.

Very Sincerely,
Sidney V. Bingham Jr.
Lt. Colonel Infantry Commanding

Mortimer Lifsitz was born on a Wednesday and died on a Friday. He was a Central High School graduate and worked in his father’s furniture business before enlisting.  The only child of Max and Sophia. Military records show he was previously wounded twice before he met death in battle. His military decorations include: The Silver Star, Purple Heart and an Oak Leaf Cluster.

Thanks google maps.

I have to check my notes but I do believe that at one point apartments were on the south side of the street and the park was just on the north side side of Gladstone.


The memorial playfield that commemorates Lifsitz’s leadership reaches down both sides of Gladstone Avenue west off Linwood in the heart of Detroit.  No signage, fences, or markings remain at this site. The play area is marked by a few pieces of old equipment; a bit of the basketball court, and a makeshift brick bench. While visiting there in late winter/early spring, we ran into a few ring necked pheasants returning to their nest. A good sign. A few years back, neighborhood residents turned this block long park into a giant community garden; a bright spot in a somewhat hard place, just like Morty.

I appreciate your readership. thanks ag


Photo courtesy of Temple Beth El / Franklin Archives.
Copyright 2013 – Andrea Gallucci.  All Rights Reserved.  

Viola Gregg Liuzzo – Park 7


In memory of one courageous mother..
In memory of one courageous mother..

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 Nesbitt Gorham – Park 6


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.

Dedicated to Allice Nesbitt Gorham
Dedicated to Alice Nesbitt Gorham

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.


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.

Copyright 2013. © Andrea Gallucci  All rights reserved. 

Leonard Kerschke – Park #5

Taken Too Soon

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.

Respectfully submitted,

J. J. Considine

General  Superintendent

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.

Leonard F. Kerschke Playlot
Leonard F. Kerschke Playlot

Skinner Playfield – Park #4

WWII Survivor


Skinner Memorial Playfield
Skinner Memorial Playfield

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’s courage

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.

Copyright 2013. © Andrea Gallucci  All rights reserved. 

Monsignor John Gilmary Cook – #3

The Church that John Cook Built

St. Mary's Church in 2013
St. Mary’s Church in 2013

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.

St. Mary’s Parish continues on today with masses and an elementary school that services approximately 100 Detroit youth. The playground dedicated in his name is located a few blocks north of the church on Fenkell and St. Mary’s Street. It was dedicated by the Dad’s Club of St. Mary’s in 1953.Cook Playground
Copyright 2013. © Andrea Gallucci All rights reserved.

Joesph Bale Playfield – Park # 2

Joseph Bale WWII Veteran

Joseph Bale

World War II Veteran and good buddy

Joseph Bale WWII Veteran
Private First Class Bale

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.

Not forgotten

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

Commemorative plaque
Joe Bale Commemorative Playground Plaque

Copyright 2013. © Andrea Gallucci All rights reserved.

Douglas Ramsay Memorial Playground – Park # 1

Douglas Ramsay – ‘Dick Buttons, Jr.’

Does the end of a dream give rise to another?

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.

The Douglas Ramsay Memorial Playground Detroit MI
Yes. The sign is spelled incorrectly.