The Roosevelt HS Class of 1959

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2009,
Fall 2009
Original Images:

Author: Peg Porter

(The 50th year reunion of the Roosevelt High School class of 1959 was celebrated on September 12, 2009. Peg Porter, a member of that class, provided the following “the way we were” insight into life back then.)

Most of us were born the year the United States entered World War II. A number of us lost loved ones in that conflict. In grade school we learned to “duck and cover,” the mushroom-shaped cloud was very familiar. While we were in high school, the Russians launched Sputnik. Although we were young, we were not innocent.

We graduated in the last year of the 1950’s. The year, 1959, was a time of transition from the conformist and bland 1950’s to the bizarre and hectic 1960’s. Out class reflected that transition, collectively we were often a mystery to our teachers, our parents, and even ourselves. We tended to question the established way of doing things. We never had a Student Council President or a Homecoming Queen. We certainly possessed the qualities of both, but we could not or would not claim those high school “prizes.”

Our class was diverse in so many ways. That was, in part, because we attended a “Lab School.” We embraced this diversity and were stronger for it. We got used to being studied, analyzed and practiced upon. Every semester we had a new batch of student teachers. We tested many of them while others were accepted almost immediately. They learned from us at least as much as we learned from them.

Rock and roll entered the mainstream while we were in junior high. We did the Bunny Hop and the Chicken. During our freshman year a new performer emerged: Elvis Presley. His blending of “black” music with “white” music fit our mood and rhythm. We listened to girl groups, boy groups, rhythm and blues, a little pop and a whole lot of rock and roll. For slow dancing we preferred Sam Cooke, the Platters and early Johnny Mathis. And then there was the idol of one our classmates: Pat Boone.

Typical teenagers, the boys fixated on sports, cars and girls while the girls obsessed over boys, clothes and, well, boys. Despite all the interest in the opposite sex, there was relatively little intra-class dating. The boys tended to date underclassmen or girls from Ypsi High. Some of the girls also dated underclassmen. Why weren't there more romantic entanglements within the class? One potential reason is that many of us had known each other since childhood. We tended to regard each other almost as cousins or siblings. Another reason might be that as one female classmate observed, most of the boys were "vertically challenged." There are always exceptions to any generalization: one high school romance evolved into a long, successful marriage.

The 1950's were not known for fashion. And although the girls were fashion conscious this did not mean we were well-dressed. Petticoats were one fashion fad. They were scratchy and generally uncomfortable. Two girls wearing petticoats could not get through a door at the same time. When we sat down at a desk the petticoats got in the way. Still we wore them with elastic cinch belts to make our waists look even thinner. And then there were cardigans worn backwards, white socks worn straight up, bucket bags and Pop It "pearls."

The guys favored brush cuts or Princetons with only a few growing their hair a little longer to affect a slightly "hoody" effect. In a burst of creative rebellion, a group of guys drove into Detroit and bought velveteen vests in bright colors with taffeta lining. These were worn with dark shirts and narrow ties resulting in a look that was a cross between a blackjack dealer and a young pimp. Since they were otherwise neatly dressed no one could complain.

On June 12, 1959 in the Roosevelt Auditorium the school orchestra played a slightly screechy version of Pomp and Circumstance. As a class we marched in and sat in the front rows. Our parents and other family members watched as we received our diplomas. Eleanor Meston, who was the first grade teacher for many of us, gave the address. It was all a kind of blur as we marched out, now graduates, high school behind us and the world in front of us. It was both a happy and sad occasion. The 1960s were just around the corner. We each would find a place in that new world, no longer defined by the way we were but the way we would become.

(Peg Porter is the Assistant Editor of the Gleanings, Chair of the YHS Membership Committee and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Charles McKenny Union: An EMU Icon

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2009,
Spring 2009
Original Images:

Author: Pamela German and Veronica Robinson

Charles McKenny, President of Eastern Michigan University, (then Michigan State Normal College) from 1912-1933, is credited with proposing the building of a comprehensive student center in 1924. Michigan State Normal College would be the first teacher’s college to have a student union on campus.

After the U.S. stock market crash in 1929, plans for the union were altered to reflect the smaller amount of money raised towards its construction. During the cornerstone dedication ceremony on January 17, 1931, Mrs. Dessalee Ryan Dudley (MSNC c/o 1900) spoke as the alumni representative. “The cornerstone of this building is loyalty. Brought into being in part by the fruits of our labors, it will speak to future generations of the devotion to this school of its great body of alumni.”

McKenny Union was designed by architect Frank Eurich, Jr. of Detroit. Its design was similar to the popular Collegiate Gothic style that was common throughout this period, but with a twist. The architect added Art Deco touches to its central tower and the result is a unique mix of old Gothic styles and the popular Art Deco lines and shapes. The Charles McKenny Union was dedicated on Saturday, October 24, 1931.

McKenny Union was first expanded in 1963 and reopened in 1966 with a rededication ceremony on Saturday, April 30. The new McKenny Union had several new additions including a bookstore in its basement, and even a bowling alley.

In 1992, McKenny Union was, again, expanded – this time at a cost of $7.6 million. This expansion was completed in two phases. In the first, the roof was replaced, a loading dock was expanded and a new bookstore was constructed on the first floor. The second phase consisted of the installing of a new passenger elevator and the completion of barrier free access to the building. To mark its reopening, the school held a week long celebration January 11-15, 1993, which included nightly events in the union. McKenny Union Director Ceil Paulson said of the union and its reopening in 1993, “Historically, student unions have been called the ‘living rooms’ of the campus, where students extend their classroom learning experience. That’s what a student union is all about, a place where the entire campus community, faculty, staff, and students, can come together to share experiences beyond the classroom.”

Charles McKenny Union was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1999 student leaders designated a renovation of their union as one of their highest rated priorities on campus. As a result, McKenny Union closed in 2006 for an infrastructure upgrade and remodel. In November of that year, the new EMU student center opened on campus replacing McKenny Union as the central hub of student activities on campus. When completed, McKenny Union will house University operations offices such as Human Resources and Career Services and continue to host events and meetings in its historic ballroom. Though the EMU student body has outgrown McKenny Union as its ‘student living room,’ this historic structure will continue to play an active role in the lives of EMU students for years to come.

Information for this article was gleaned from the YHS archives and EMU’s McKenny Union Virtual Online Tour.

(Pamela German and Veronica Robinson are graduate students in the Historic Preservation Program at EMU and serve as Interns in the YHS Museum and Archives.)

(Note: Peg Porter, YHS Membership Chair, has indicated that her parents, Don and Ruth Porter, were married in the formal lounge in McKenny Union on February 10, 1937, and celebrated their 50th Anniversary there in 1987.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: President Charles McKenny of the Michigan State Normal School (served, 1912 – 1933).
Photo 2: Construction of McKenny Hall, C. 1931.
Photo 3: Completed McKenny Hall, C. 1946 – 1950.

"The Roman Catholic Church Here Has Almost No History"

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2006,
Fall 2006
Original Images:

Author: Dennis Zimmer

So asserted the Rev. G. I. Foster in 1857 and, measured by tangible resources, one might well agree. Twenty years after the incorporation of Ypsilanti, the Catholic parish of St. John the Baptist was barely 130 families whose place of worship was open timbers without a roof. It would take another year to complete it — and even then would still lack doors, pews and steps, “the entrance formed by an inclined plank (Mann, 27).”

But there has been a Roman Catholic presence in Ypsilanti from the first. LaSalle and the French fur trappers almost certainly were the first Europeans to traverse Washtenaw County, and where they went, the Jesuits were with them. The Parish of St. Anne was founded along with Detroit in 1701 and divided pastoral administration of the lower peninsula with St. Ignace. The first permanent building in Washtenaw County was the trading post established in 1809 by Gabriel Godfroy, Francois Pepin and Romaine DaChambre, three Frenchmen from Detroit, who located on the Pottawatomie Trail at what is now Ypsilanti. Born at Fort Ponchartrain in 1758, Col. Godfroy was a devout Catholic and one of the leading men in the Parish of St. Anne. Missionary priests are presumed to have stopped at Godfroy's trading post from 1809 to its abandonment in 1818 (Beakes, pp. 539–40; 750); unfortunately, no church records survive to substantiate that any of the priests in the Michigan territory ever visited the post.

Irish immigrants began settling in what would become Ypsilanti as early as 1820, and missionary priests from Detroit continued ministering to the needs of both this new flock and the French and Native American converts that remained. The earliest recorded names of missionaries serving the Catholic community from Detroit are the Reverend Fathers Montard and Montcoq, although, again, the records say little about their activity. Father Gabriel Richard, who was both pastor of St. Anne's and Vicar General of the territories around the Great Lakes, appears to have given some thought to the changing ethnicity of the mission congregation. In a letter from the summer of 1829 he writes that Fr. Patrick O'Kelly, from Kilkenny, Ireland is working with him. Father O'Kelly ministered to southeast Michigan until 1835 from a home base in Northfield, where he also founded a parish. He was joined by Father Morrisey who also resided in Northville. By 1836, the year before Michigan became a state, Ypsilanti was a town of 1,000 inhabitants, 50 of whom were Catholic.

The first resident priest of Ann Arbor was the Reverend Thomas Cullen, who came to the city in 1839 or 1840. Fr. Cullen was also an Irishman, native of Wexford, who had come to America as a seminarian in the household of Edward Dominic Fenwick, Bishop of Cincinnati, of which the diocese Detroit was then a part. He accompanied Bishop Frederic Rese when the Diocese of Detroit was created in 1833, was ordained in 1836 and received a missionary assignment in 1840 in which he was given the task of creating permanent parishes. His district extended across southern Michigan along the Ohio and Indiana borders and for the next ten years he saw to the spiritual life of the various towns in the area. In 1848, Fr. Cullen was joined by Fr. James Hennessy who worked with him founding churches in the surrounding communities, including Dexter, Jackson and Marshall. Ann Arbor's first St. Thomas Church was built in 1843 and Fr. Cullen remained pastor there until his death on September 7, 1862. The parish of St. John the Baptist in Ypsilanti was founded by Fr. Cullen the following year, 1844. Names of the original parishioners — Cosgrove, Kirk, Keegan, Casey, Kelley, Boyle — attest to the predominantly Irish makeup of Ypsilanti's early Catholic community.

There is some confusion regarding the first Catholic place of worship in Ypsilanti. Initial arrangements were temporary, with services occurring in private homes. Sources describe a small wood frame chapel built in 1839 on Ballard Street, possibly by Fr. Cullen, but there is no information as to its location (Weber). It was not the site of the present church, as records agree that Fr. Cullen (or, more correctly, Peter LeFevere, then Bishop of Detroit) bought that lot on April 26, 1844 from one Charles W. Lane for forty dollars. The following year a frame structure was built on it measuring 24 × 16 feet. The poverty of the parish was such that at first they could not purchase windows, and blankets had to be hung in winter to keep the wind from blowing out the candles. Because of the missionary nature of the parish, services were held only once a month for the next thirteen years (Colburn: p. 122; Mann: p. 27).

Rectory built by Fr. Edward Van Paemel. Constructed in 1863, it remained in use until 1932, when it was replaced by the present rectory.

A Tastefully Planned Edifice

By the 1850's St. John's had outgrown its wood-frame church and in 1855 the parish approached Fr. Cullen about building a more fitting structure; he demurred, believing the burden of the cost would be too great. A delegation then went to Bishop Lefevere and, with his encouragement, $500 was pledged within two weeks. The parish purchased an adjacent lot in 1856, and on May 25, the bishop laid the cornerstone for a new brick church, an Italianate structure large enough to seat 500 members. Work began at once, but did not proceed smoothly. “The walls and the timbers for the roof were put up, and there the work has rested,” Rev. Foster disparagingly reported the following fall. The reason for the delay in construction is simple, however: Bishop Lefevere's support carried the stipulation that there would be no parish debt.

Progress was sufficiently along in 1858 to dedicate the church to St. John the Baptist (see photo of church on page 5). According to oral reports recorded 50 years later by Fr. Kennedy, the first mass, held on the feast day of St. John the Baptist (June 23) also included the marriage of John and Margaret Kennedy. On the occasion of this first mass, the church still had no doors, no pews and the bride was obliged to enter from the back by way of a plank. The church was completed for Christmas, 1858, fully paid for.

1858 also saw Father Charles Lamejie named the first resident pastor. He served for 14 months and was succeeded by Father J. Kindekins, later Vicar General of Detroit, from 1860 to 1862. Father Van Jeniss of Dexter visited Ypsilanti once a month in the interim.

Fr. Edward Van Paemel was appointed pastor in 1862. Belgian by birth, Van Paemel immigrated to Detroit while still a seminarian and was ordained by Bishop LeFevere on May 27, 1853. He remained pastor until 1871, adding considerably to the physical plant of the parish during his tenure. Shortly after his arrival in Ypsilanti, Van Paemel purchased the lot next door to the church on Cross Street. A rectory was erected there the following year, 1863; it remained in use until 1932.

During the Civil War years, the parish of St. John under Van Paemel took upon themselves the welfare of troops housed in the Thompson Building. In gratitude the 129 soldiers of the 14th Michigan Infantry subscribed over five hundred dollars toward the improvement of church property before leaving for the war. It is generally understood that the money was used to purchase land for a Catholic cemetery in Ypsilanti, the nearest Catholic burial grounds until then being either in Northfield or St. Thomas Cemetery in Ann Arbor. The St. John Cemetery grounds were located at the foot of St. John Street, north of West Forest Avenue. The cemetery included a watch house, an eight foot square structure used by family members to guard at night against body snatchers who had an active trade with the University of Michigan medical school.

Fr. Van Paemel opened the first parochial school. On May 30, 1867, he purchased two lots on Florence Street from Patrick Kelley, and either remodeled the Kelley home or — more likely — constructed a new building to house a school. This was a one room frame structure, spartanly furnished with long wooden benches and a box stove. Instruction was confined to elementary courses (it being customary for most children to leave school by the age of twelve), and judging from the pre-dominantly Irish ancestry — Sarah Foy, Elizabeth Foy, Maggie Murphy, Bridget Monaghan and Michael Morin — the teachers seem to have been drawn from among the parishioners.

The parish grew to 136 families by 1868. One of Fr. Van Paemel ‘s final improvements was to enlarge the church to accommodate this growth by extending the front (north) entrance to the street in 1870.

Fr. Marcius Pieter Uyt Willigan was pastor for one year, 1871–1872, followed by Fr. Patrick B. Murray for the next three. He was replaced in 1876 by Father William DeBever. “Father DeBever, a Hollander by birth, was a devoted pastor, strict in his standards of living and church observance and stern in his rebuke of laxity, yet genial and kindly. He was a familiar figure driving about the town with his phaeton and fat black pony ‘Fanny’ presented to him by his congregation (Colburn, p. 216).” Part of the reason for the carriage was that, as earlier pastors had done for the nascent parish of St. John, Fr. DeBever acted as visiting pastor for communities in Milan and Whittaker. The parish of St. Joseph in Whittaker was established June, 1889, but continued to function as a mission of St. John's until Rev. John F. Needham was assigned as their first resident priest in 1904; until that time the fourteen mile trip had to made regularly by priests from Ypsilanti.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the year 1892 witnessed the beginning of the long and notable pastorate of Reverend Father Frank Kennedy, during which the congregation was to more than double. Father Kennedy, during the long years of his ministry, held a unique place in the affections of Ypsilantians. He was deeply concerned in all the best interests of the town and found friends in many circles. (Colburn, p. 261–562)

During the early pastorate of Fr. DeBever, renovations to the interior of the church were completed, including the addition of a small chapel and installation of an organ. As William Beake describes it, “the interior with its frescoes, candelabra, statues, organ and beautiful altar will compare favorably with any church in the State. This building is a great credit to the small congregation and even to the citizens (1170).”

In 1880 the membership of the parish numbered around 500 (240 families), the church was valued at $18,000 dollars, and St. John the Baptist Parish set about preparations for the expansion of its school. Fr. DeBever secured six Sisters of Providence from Terre Haute, Indiana to teach, marking the start of formal parochial education at the parish. A square frame house next to the school was purchased on November 4 as a residence for the teaching sisters and the one room school-house continued to serve until 1884, when it was replaced by a two story, four classroom brick structure. Under the Sisters of Providence the curriculum was expanded to include high school classes. Courses included algebra, chemistry, geometry and botany as well as music and needlework for the girls. The Sisters also provided a dormitory of fourteen beds for girls who attended from the surrounding townships. The first class — five girls — graduated in 1887.

The Panic of 1893 left the community with insufficient funds to retain the Sisters' services. Lay teachers were again hired to provide elementary instruction at least, but times were so bad that even the lower grades had to be discontinued. The school remained open only until 1895, when as Colburn so succinctly puts it, “owing to discouraging conditions it soon closed.” (Colburn, p. 238)

In 1892, poor health made it necessary for Fr. DeBever to step down. His replacement was a 28 year old native of Brighton — the first American-born priest to serve at St. John — the Reverend Father Frank Kennedy (1866–1922). Kennedy was intellectually precocious; having passed the state board teacher examinations at the age of 11 (the teaching certificate reluctantly awarded to him was never used). In seminary at Assumption College, Sandwich, Ontario, he was twice promoted for being first in class for ten consecutive weeks. The rule which allowed these promotions was abolished to prevent Kennedy from finishing his coursework in a single year. Graduating cum laude, he spent three years as a member of the diocesan college of St. Mary's in Monroe before completing training for ordination at St. Mary's, Baltimore. Frank Kennedy received holy orders August 18, 1889 and served at parishes in Niles and Dearborn before being assigned to St. John the Baptist in Ypsilanti.

One of the first alterations Fr. Kennedy made to the parish grounds was a renovation of the rectory. It had been neglected and needed repair, and had accumulated several horse sheds at the rear of the building which had become objectionable. But it was the cupola that apparently set Fr. Kennedy off — he considered it unattractive and unnecessary and asked that it be removed. This was the impetus for a much larger remodeling campaign which added a kitchen and living room to the rear of the house (the horse-sheds came down to make way). A recreation room was created on the third floor and a library on the second. The rectory yard was landscaped using dirt hauled from the recently evacuated cemetery. (Poor drainage had made the Forest Street location unsuitable and Fr. DeBever purchased the present location on River Street near the end of his pastorate.)

Normal College Catholic students were welcomed by open houses at the rectory in the autumn, and Fr. Kennedy's tenure is remembered for outdoor socials which included an orchestra on the front porch and dancing on the rectory lawn.

Normal College Catholic students were welcomed by open houses at the rectory in the autumn, and Fr. Kennedy's tenure is remembered for outdoor socials which included an orchestra on the front porch and dancing on the rectory lawn.

The school building stood empty for a few years, but with the growth of the Normal College, parishioners refurnished one of the rooms and made it available to the Catholic students and faculty for meetings of the Catholic Students Club. This drew interest from other social organizations and the school soon was leading a new life as St. John's Club House, one of the most popular meeting and recreation spots in town. Besides the Catholic Students Club, the Young Ladies Sodality, the Ypsilanti Study Club, (an offshoot in 1901 of the Ladies' Literary Club), the Kiwanis Club and the newly-formed Rotary Club all met at the Club House. The second floor was refurbished for dancing and dinners and the Rotary Club held its weekly luncheons there until the Huron Hotel opened in 1923 and the club moved to the larger quarters the hotel offered. (Fr. Kennedy seems to have been as skilled a carpenter as he was an academic. He took an active role in the remodeling, laying flooring and rebuilding the staircase. He had done similar labor on the rectory, and built a pulpit for the church whose artistry was highly regarded by the parishioners.)

Aside from his work in the church, Fr. Kennedy was actively involved in the civic life of Ypsilanti. A prominent member of the Ypsilanti Rotary Club, the Country Club and the Knights of Columbus, Fr. Kennedy was a frequent and popular speaker, and his support was sought out — and usually given — for most local public undertakings.

St. John was involved in the Ypsilanti cultural scene to the point of producing at least one theatrical production at the Ypsilanti Opera House: Daniel O'Conner by John Wilson Dodge, a musical melodrama. (It should also be noted that the Club House was furnished in part with proceeds from a theatrical at the Weurth Theatre put on by the men of the parish.)

Fr. Kennedy was appointed Diocesan Superintendent of Schools for Detroit in 1918, overseeing around 100 parish schools with an enrollment of 75,000 children. His concern was to standardize the parochial curriculum with public instruction and raise the standards of parochial education in Detroit. Anti-foreign sentiments generated during World War I and the Red Scare, which reached its height in 1919–20, translated into hostility against the eastern and southern Europeans who were immigrating into the area in large numbers during the first decades of the century. Many of these immigrants were Catholic which fostered anti-Catholic sentiment as well. Attempts were made in 1920 and 1924 to outlaw parochial school systems at the state level. It was in this climate that Fr. Kennedy was striving to turn out “good, educationally well-equipped American citizens.”

Fr. Kennedy also had responsibility for the needs of the scores of nuns who attended the Normal School over the summer (a single summer's estimate of nuns requiring accommodations through the church was 150 from nine different orders), and an annual influx of about three hundred Catholic students placed additional strains on the parish staff. At the close of the summer session of 1921, Fr. Kennedy suffered a complete breakdown from which he never recovered. He was treated at St. Joseph's sanitarium in Ann Arbor and sent to convalesce in Arizona but failed to improve. Fr. Kennedy returned home to Ypsilanti in December and died February 18, 1922.

The funeral of Frank Kennedy is probably the largest in Ypsilanti's history — or rather funerals, as there were three separate requiem masses held to accommodate the large number of mourners. Detroit Bishop Michael J. Gallagher presided at the requiem high mass on February 22, with over one hundred priests in attendance. Fr. Kennedy's honorary pallbearers included two governors (Alex J. Groesbeck and Alfred Sleeper), three senators, judges, mayors and the entire city council. All stores in the city were closed the morning of the funeral. The Daily Ypsilantian reported nearly two hundred automobiles in the funeral cortege, and the church could not hold the crowds assembled to pay their last respects. “I doubt,” said Bishop Edward Kelly of Grand Rapids, who delivered the funeral sermon, “if any other man in the entire state ever did more to break down religious barriers than Fr. Kennedy.”

The early twenties were a period of prosperity in Ypsilanti, and when the Rev. Dennis Needham arrived to replace Fr. Kennedy, he decided to utilize that prosperity to rebuild the church. The growth of the parish under Fr. Kennedy combined with the increased student presence from the Normal College had made Fr. Van Paemel's brick edifice insufficient, and a new building program was begun. Fr. Kennedy had himself considered a new church, and gone so far as to spend the summer of 1914 abroad studying Catholic architecture and drawing some initial sketches. Although nothing concrete came of this work, friends of Fr. Kennedy did promise financial support to the project providing the new church was built. These included Arthur D. McBernie, the Hon. Fred Green, later governor of Michigan (1927–1930), Hon, Fred Chapman, mayor of Ionia and Hon. John S. Haggerty, head of the Wayne County Republican Party organization and Secretary of State under Green.

Initial designs were produced by the firm of Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough & Reynolds of Detroit in 1923. These were for a Spanish Rococo church seating 700 and intended to be a cultural statement within the growing academic community — “a building reminding students coming from all parts of Michigan that the Church has not ceased to foster true art,” as the Ypsilanti Press described it… During the razing and initial phase of construction, mass was held first in the club house and, when that building was partially demolished, in the Wuerth Theatre. The basement was completed in March of 1924, and officially celebrated with a St. Patrick's day banquet; services were held there until the project's completion in 1932.

Unfortunately for the original designs, Fr. Needham also chose this time to reopen the parish school. Van Leyen, Schilling Keough & Reynolds were again the architects and engineers. On November 8, 1924 the cornerstone to the new school was laid. The school was expanded to nine classrooms and the building was completely renovated, the interior being partly preserved, and the exterior stripped and refaced with new brick and stone masonry. The Dominican Sisters of Adrian were secured as teachers and the school reopened in 1925. The church again purchased property as a residence for the sisters; 309 N. Hamilton functioned as a convent until the construction of the current school building. The renovation cost approximately $50,000, and the convent added another $10,500. In order to accomplish this, funds intended for the building of the new church were used. Church construction halted, and for the next ten years the home of St. John the Baptist Parish was their roofed over basement. Fr. Needham did not live to see the new school open; he died July 10, 1925. The building was renamed Needham Hall in his honor.

Fr. Charles Linskey replaced Needham as pastor in September, 1925. Fr. Linskey was the Detroit Diocesan Superintendent of Schools when appointed to St. John and continued to hold that position in conjunction with pastoral work until 1929. In poor health for most of his pastorate, faced with mounting parish debt — the start of the Great Depression also marks his tenure — Fr. Linskey died of illness following major surgery on October 29, 1931, the third pastor to die at Ypsilanti in ten years.

Prospects for the parish were grim when Rev. G. (George) Warren Peek assumed the pastorate. The basement had proven to be poorly designed and faulty in construction, the school debt had grown to $17,000, the rectory was in such disrepair as to be considered unsanitary and a discouraged congregation was facing the Great Depression. Fr. Peek appears to have been quite an optimist; he believed the best course for the parish was that the church be completed as soon as possible — the construction would give work to some of the unemployed and the cost of labor and materials might not be so low again for years.

Rather than continuing with the original designs, new plans were drawn by McGrath and Dohman, Architects and Engineers, 2231 Park Avenue, Detroit. These follow the footprint already established by the basement's construction, but the elaborate Rococo traceries were abandoned and a Romanesque design proposed in its place. The revised plans included a new rectory which would harmonize with the church exterior. The construction firm of Bryant and Detweiler, Detroit, was retained in June of 1932 and work began at once, starting with demolition of the rectory.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church may well have been the only building of significance built in southern Michigan during the early Depression

The cornerstone for the present church was laid by Bishop Gallagher on September 11, 1932. In it was placed a copper box with photographs of the church it replaced and the four preceding pastors who had built the parish to this point, then-current editions of the Ypsilanti Press, Detroit Free Press and Michigan Catholic and a list of 320 parishioners “whose contribution… made the church possible.” The copper box also contains photos of the four non-Catholic benefactors whose generosity in memory of Fr. Kennedy had made the building possible.

Construction was completed by the following May and the new Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist was dedicated Sunday, June 4, 1933, Bishop Gallagher again presiding. The date was chosen to honor Fr. Peek, marking his fourteenth anniversary as a priest,

The church is a pure Romanesque design and early commentators were struck by its dignity and “simplicity which is almost austere.” The roof peak rises 61 feet above the ground and is 53 feet above the main floor. The original layout was estimated to seat 1100 persons. The clere-story is open beamed and lit by a row of stained glass windows, six to the side. The main processional entrance is dominated by a rose window and the chancel contains a combination of three windows, each a memorial to the pastors LeBever, Needham and Lindskey. Stained glass medallion windows in the nave illustrate the life of Christ. The main altar and matching side altars were made in Italy of Botticino marble. Their green and white facings contrasted with the black and honey colored sanctuary floor, cut from blocks imported from France, Belgium and Italy, and with the communion rail of bronze and Numidian red marble. Stone carvings adorning the door frames and exterior of the building are the work of Parducci of Detroit.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church may well have been the only building of significance built in southern Michigan during the early Depression The cost of construction, including the rectory, is variously given at $98,000 to $100,000; the appraised value of the buildings was placed at $252,000, according to the Free Press for November 4, 1933. At the time of its dedication, the parish of St. John numbered 360 families. That so much was accomplished by such a small congregation during the worst financial downturn of the twentieth century is evidence of their dedication, determination and faith.

Peek remained pastor until 1940. He was succeeded by Erwin Lefebvre from 1940 to 1943 and Rev. John Larkin for the following ten years. The decorative painting still seen on the ceilings and exposed beams were commissioned by Fr. Larkin in 1949, as well as mural work on the clerestory and within the chancel. The lot opposite the church at the corner of Cross and Hamilton was purchased in 1942 as the site for a Shrine to the Virgin Mary. Fr. Larkin also eliminated the church debt, leaving a surplus toward expansion.

This new construction once again focused upon upgrading the school.

Needham Hall was adequate through the Second World War, but post-war growth in the Ypsilanti area and spreading population from Detroit rapidly increased the size of the congregation to over a thousand families, and the Baby Boom taxed available classroom space. When Fr. William Mooney arrived in June, 1953, he immediately accepted the charge to expand the parish's educational program. An addition was necessary to provide more classrooms; a new convent would also be required to house the additional nuns needed to teach. But even for a parish the size of St. John's the cost of two new construction projects was prohibitive. The problem was resolved by designing a combination building, a two-story block with classrooms occupying the ground floor and basement, and a convent-complete with roof garden — on the second. This new building would triple enrollment from 200 to over 600 students and the convent provided living quarters for 16 sisters — twice the number crowded into 309 N. Hamilton. With cost reductions from combining the projects the new school/convent came to $300,000. Through pledges from approximately half the congregation, the $150,000 needed to go forward was exceeded over a two year period, and the new school was dedicated in 1955. The two story structure stretches along Florence Street and was anchored on the east to Needham Hall. The alley connecting Cross and Florence was vacated to accommodate the new construction. Encouraged by the success of the grade school, the parish decided to continue expanding and a high school was completed in 1961 on Packard Road. Fr. Mooney died one month before its dedication. Despite this early optimism (Fr. Young was working on expansion of the high school in the mid-60's), rising operating costs and lack of funds forced the closure of the entire school system — the high school in 1970 and the elementary school in 1971. The high school would eventually be sold to Faithway Baptist Church.

This new building would triple enrollment from 200 to over 600 students and the convent provided living quarters for 16 sisters — twice the number crowded into 309 N. Hamilton. With cost reductions from combining the projects the new school/convent came to $300,000.

Monsignor Lawrence Graven served as pastor from September, 1961 to January 1965, his tenure spanning most of the Second Vatican Council (final session, December 8, 1965.) His successor, Rev. Marvin Young, was pastor through January, 1968.

In 1964 the Diocese of Detroit ordained its first Black priest, Donald M. Clark. Father Clark, a native Detroiter, graduated from Cass Technical High School. Brought up in the Second Baptist Church, Fr. Clark was a convert to Catholicism. At about age 14 he expressed a desire to change denominations; his parents urged him to wait a year. He continued to attend Second Baptist while also attending St. Benedict's. At the end of the year, seeing that his desire remained firm, his parents consented, aiding him in the cost of his education. He attended Sacred Heart Seminary and concluded preparation for ordination at St. John's Seminary in Plymouth. His first assignment was St. John the Baptist in Ypsilanti. Fr. Clark is considered one of the founders of the National Black Catholic Caucus.

Fr. Clark replaced Fr. Leo P. Broderick, who was actively involved in student ministry at Eastern Michigan University, and had been released to devote his full time to that work. As chaplain of the Newman Club, Fr. Broderick revitalized the Catholic student presence on campus and would be instrumental in establishing the student parish of Holy Trinity, which was dedicated September 18, 1965.

Two sister parishes were also created in the sixties, St. Alexis and St. Ursula. St. Alexis had been a mission to the Willow Run Housing Project since 1943 when associate pastor Clare A. Murphy began holding mass in the recreation hall. The Willow Run mission continued to be served by assistants from St. John's until June, 1966 when it was raised to parish status. St. Ursula parish was formed in June, 1960; its church dedicated July 8, 1967. Both parishes were closed by Bishop Kenneth J. Povish on January 8, 1994 and merged that same day into the newly established Transfiguration Parish.

In 1971 the Catholic Church hierarchy in the state of Michigan was restructured. The new dioceses of Gaylord and Kalamazoo were created and existing diocesan boundaries were redrawn. A consequence of this reconfiguration was that Washtenaw County became part of the Diocese of Lansing, ending St. John's 125 year connection with Detroit.

The Second Vatican Council brought profound changes to the structure of the Church and the form of its liturgy, and responsibility to begin implementing these reforms fell to Fr. William King (January, 1968 to April 2, 1973). Changes in the liturgy required structural changes in the layout of the church interior, the most evident being the repositioning of the altar to face the assembly. The original “shelf” altar and reredos were removed and replaced by a freestanding altar sited partly within the nave. To accommodate this new placement a rectangular wooden platform was constructed, extending the level of the main floor of the sanctuary. The altar rail was also removed (a portion of it served as a barrier across the rear of the chancel, as the altar steps remained in place but now led to empty space). The church also underwent some cosmetic updates, acquiring carpeting and fresh paint (part of the mural work was lost in the repainting).

Rev. David Harvey was appointed administrator April 2, 1973 and became pastor March 8, 1974. Under his administration the elementary school was converted to a parish activities center and the church basement renovated for social functions; it has been renamed Harvey Hall in his honor. Parish council also decided to demolish Needham Hall, as the space was not needed and repairs had become too costly. This action was blocked by the Historic District Commission as efforts were made to save the building, and remained at a halt for around three years — into the pastorate of Rev. Edwin Schoettle (appointed 16 July, 1979). Needham Hall was demolished in June, 1980 under protest of the Ypsilanti Historical Commission and the lot landscaped as a memorial garden for the parish.

Fr. Schoettle died unexpectedly on April 8, 1981. Rev. Gerald Ploof, who had served as Associate Pastor at St. John in 1975, was chosen as pastor following Fr. Schoettle's death. Fr. Ploof was able to retire the school debt during his tenure, in part through the sale of the high school.

Part of the administrative change brought in by Vatican II was the implementation of pastoral teams, with separate agents responsible for overseeing Religious Education, Liturgy, Christian Service and so on. As yet there were few trained laity in these fields and pastoral teams were mostly comprised of women religious. The presence of four nuns as Fr. Ploof's pastoral team led to the reopening of the convent to provide housing. Although members of the current pastoral team are all lay persons, the convent has remained open to religious working in the Ypsilant/ Ann Arbor area. The present pastor, Rev. Edmond L. Ertzbischoff, was appointed 1 July, 1988.

St. John's celebrated its Sesquicentennial Year in 1995; the desire to prepare for that occasion, in part, prompted the most recent renovation. The church building would be sixty years old and had, over time, suffered from a certain amount of benign neglect. With the debt retired, capital improvements that had been delayed might now be addressed. Liturgical reforms were now twenty years along, with more definitive guidelines published by the National Council of Catholic Bishops as well as local Diocesan requirements, and a more careful assessment of the worship space also seemed in order. Accordingly, a renovation committee was formed in 1991. As the list of capital repairs grew and questions were raised about preserving the historic structure while embracing liturgical change, it became apparent that — even without new construction — St. John's was facing a major undertaking, and what had begun as liturgical correction and “asset protection” had grown to encompass needs from the full spectrum of parish activity. Finally, an overarching concern of the renovation was the issue of accessibility — a concept that neither Romanesque architecture or, 1930's building codes addressed.

After much deliberation and extensive listening sessions with the parish, the solution to most of the stated needs that emerged was to create a connecting structure between the church and the former school. This correlated to a revived concept in church architecture, that of the gathering space. As detailed in the parish Restoration & Renovation newsletter for June, 1997:

Discussion of a gathering space originally began in conjunction with the liturgical and fellowship needs of the parish. It progressed to its current scale when other unmet needs were under discussion: restrooms, elevator, storage, meeting rooms and parish offices. In new church construction projects, the gathering space is a transitional space from parking lot to worship area. It affords a place to celebrate the many rites of the church which take place outside the sanctuary, e.g. Palm Sunday, portions of the Easter Vigil, wakes, etc.

The gathering space at St. John's is designed to be an extension of the original church architecture and care was taken to match as closely as possible the materials and detailing (e.g., size and style of windows, doors and frames, copper downspouts, roof tiles, brick and stonework). Similarly, the interior echoes the open beams and columned supports of the nave and the triple chancel window. The addition contains a full basement which is serviced by an elevator. Each level is approximately 4200 square feet, of which half is open gathering or multi-use space. Cost constraints curtailed much of the finish work for the lower level, but it does serve for meeting space and smaller social gatherings. Connectors on both levels allow free access to the Activities Center (former school building) and the lower level is similarly linked to Harvey Hall. With this addition the entire public physical plant is now interconnected and barrier free.

The north (chancel) wall was opened to accommodate two doors into the gathering space — these now serve as main entries into the sanctuary. To make this a barrier free environment, ramps have been cut into the chancel floor along either wall to reach the nave (a third ramp is also provided as a late entry). The chancel area now functions as the baptistry; it contains a cruciform font large enough for full immersion. The marble facings for the font were chosen to mirror the smaller original, which has itself been reworked as a column for the ambry (the case used to contain sacramental oils). The renovated worship space does not deviate greatly from the 1973 layout — an arched, oak floored platform approached by a single step extending into the nave. This holds only the altar, an Italian marble table supported by eight columned legs. The ambo, of matching material and design, is slightly behind the altar's left, within the chancel arch. Portions of the original altar have been incorporated into the current furnishings — the ambo is faced with its central, monogrammed panel, and side panels and support columns from it have been reworked to form a pedestal for the tabernacle.

Chapels for the sacrament of Reconciliation and for reservation of the Eucharist were created from the former vestry. The side altars were removed and the arch on the east side was opened so the tabernacle is visible and opens to the main body of the nave. (The western alcove currently houses the ambry.) To properly display the statues of Joseph and Mary which formerly adorned the side altars, devotional alcoves were created from the wall recesses that had contained the confessional booths.

The primary architectural firm on the renovation was Siler & Associates, Inc. of Adrian, who brought in Lincoln Poley of Ann Arbor as design architect for the project. Mr. Poley's firm is recognized for its work in preservation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings and he had recently completed a similar project for St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Ann Arbor. St. John's also retained Christine Reinhard, liturgical design consultant, to facilitate the process and aid in adhering to the diocesan and NCCB guidelines, and the contract was awarded to J. C. Beal Construction, Inc., of Ann Arbor.

Groundbreaking ceremonies occurred on December 20, 1998 when the parish at large was invited to shovel out the foot-print of the new addition, and 1999 found the communal spiritual life of the community once again housed in its church basement. The rite of dedication for the new altar was celebrated on October 8, 2000, Bishop Carl Mengeling presiding and St. John Parish emerged into its renewed space for the beginning of a new millennium.

Fr. DeBever closes his 1876 account of the church's history with a brief census: “The number of faithful about this time is 135 or 140 families, many of whom are from Ireland and a few from Germany. All speak the English language and live in peace.”

Today's congregation numbers over 800 families representing every continent and dozens of languages. And that is as it should be, for the Church is a universal church and-more than ever in this third millennium-she is a global church, one in which the Parish of St. John the Baptist strives to participate fully. We may not be able to say with certainty that “all speak… English,” but it is our fervent prayer that all live in peace.


-. History of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Chicago: Charles C. Chapman & Company, 1881. (Reprint: Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County, Michigan, Inc. Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publishing, Inc., 1990.)

-. “The Ypsilanti Savings Bank Presents… A Part of Our Heritage.” Ypsilanti Press: July 18, 1966.

Beakes, Samuel W. Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1906.

Bonadeo, Cathy. “Handful of Irishmen founded St. John's.” The Ypsilanti Press: July 1, 1973

Canfield, F. X., Boyes, E. B. “Detroit, Archdiocese of;” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Vol. 4, pp. 696–699. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Colburn, Harvey C. The Story of Ypsilanti: Written for the centennial celebration of the founding of the city in cooperation with the committee on history. April 10, 1923.

Dunbar, Willis F. and May, George S. Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965.

Foster, G. I. Past of Ypsilanti: A Discourse Delivered on Leaving the Old Presbyterian Church Edifice, Lord's Day, September 20th, 1857. Detroit: Fleming and Davis, Book Printers, 1857.

Mann, Thomas James. Ypsilanti: A History in Pictures. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Michalek, George C. Living in Joyful Hope: A History of the Diocese of Lansing. Strasbourg, France: Editions du Signe, 2003.

Robek, Mary F. “Then… History of St. John the Baptist Parish.”

Schimel, Mrs. Frank. “The Story of St. John Baptist Church in Ypsilanti.” Serialized in The Ypsilanti Press.

Seifen, Fr. J. Edward. Commemorating and Dedication of St. John the Baptist School and Convent, 1955.

Weber, Fr. Richard V. “St. Johns Catholic Church.”

Photo Caption: St. John the Baptist Church, begun in 1855, completed in 1880. It was the second Catholic structure on the corner of Cross and Hamilton, replacing the parish's wooden first home. (photo taken after 1884 — the cupola of the brick school built in that year can be seen behind the church roofline).

Report from the Museum Advisory Board

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Virginia Davis-Brown

The year is going by so fast it is hard to believe that it is already half over. Our Art Show was certainly a success with over 100 pieces of art on exhibit. There were oils, acrylics, water colors and even some combinations by artist from Ypsilanti and the surrounding areas. The Historical Society said “Thank You” to our docents, for all their devoted service, with a luncheon in June. There were 31 in attendance and some with over 20 years service.

July 16 will be the Open House for the 2006 “Lost Ypsilanti Speaks” exhibit with 18 new sites. If you missed our exhibit last year you will still be able to see it, as it will also be on display on the second floor. That will make a total of 34 sites of the past and present. It is a history of the site, what it was and what it is today.

When you visit the next time you will see that the museum looks brighter and a number of changes have been made. We have just finished doing our deep cleaning. The chandeliers sparkle and the furniture shines.

It seems August is a long way off but it will be here before we know it and so will the Heritage Festival. We will be in need of extra docents for the 3 days. It will take 60 docents to take care of the hours we are open. If you could volunteer for 3 hours we will provide the information that you would need. If you can help, please call me at 484–0080. It is your Museum so why not come and help out and see what fun it can be.

Plans are in the beginning stages for the Quilt Exhibit which will start the last of September. Last year we had 125 quilts and anticipate about the same this year. If you have any quilts you would like to display please call me so we can get the information to you. They do not have to be old ones they can be new.

Our tour count has been up this year. In the last few days of school we had over 400 people come through. Here are our dates for future events: July 16-Lost Ypsilanti Speaks; August 18, 19 & 20 — Heritage Festival; September 28 — Quilt Exhibit.

Thank you for your continuing support.

News from the Fletcher-White Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

As the summer of 2006 approaches I have two interns, one from Eastern Michigan and one from Emory University in Georgia. Both are in history and/or preservation studies with their respective schools. This summer, it is hoped, will be a learning experience for all of us at the Archives in addition to getting organized for the summer rush of researchers from all over America and Canada. I am glad to have these two students as we really have needed the extra brains and hands to accomplish what we need to do.

Maxe Obermeyer has been cleaning out his closets and has given us a panoply of really cool items that we did not have. Maxe donated an inaugural pamphlet from the Heritage Festival. Also included in the many items he donated were some great photo postcards of buildings that once graced the MSN campus at the turn of the century. Maxe, if you are reading this, you can't have any of it back! Mr. Gary Stewart has given us some very interesting artifacts relating to the 1923 Ypsilanti Centennial, namely some glass drink coasters in blue and purple and some yearbooks from Michigan State Normal. Thank You!

Sorry about the lateness of our maps that were to be printed by now, but we are really trying to get these done in the most professional fashion we can and Ms. Rossina Tammany, of EMU's Archives, has done some wonderful work cleaning up the map scans. I finally have these scans and it is now with John Harrington at Standard Printing. John, a member of YHS, has been helping us in the technical aspects of the project and his company will be producing the smaller version of the map. Thanks John!

Again, I am asking our members if they have any pre-1930 Ypsilanti phone books and/or city directories. These are of extreme importance as they contain information about the people of Ypsilanti; where they lived, worked, and where they did their day to day business. I have heard real horror stories about people just discarding these important resources. If you have any such items please contact me, Gerry Pety at 572 0437 as we could really use these resources.

So put on your “bestest” sneakers and come on down!

The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps 1935-1978

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Lois Hopp Katon

The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps had a proud history from 1935 until 1978. It was believed to be the first all-girl organization of its kind in the State of Michigan, perhaps in the country, and was known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for forty-three years.

Professor John F. Barnhill of Michigan State Normal College, now Eastern Michigan University, offered time on his day off to help organize a Boys Band in mid-year of 1925. He did not allow girls in the band because he did not believe in girls wearing pants, but because of the interest of about a dozen young ladies to play musical instruments, he agreed to lend his patient guidance to these ambitious girls the following year. By 1927 it became apparent that it was too difficult to teach this handful of girls to play the various band instruments, so plans were made to form a girls drum and bugle corps.

In the winter of 1935, Professor Barnhill and Principal Norris Wiltse screened 75 eager applicants from ninth to twelfth grades and selected 32 girls for the first marching group. High priority was given to scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and school service. They learned to play drums and bugles, and Miss Martha Wolter, secretary to School Superintendent, Ernest Chappelle, agreed to be the First Drum Majorette and Corps Advisor. Among the first girls to be chosen for the DBC was Dorothy Morhous (Hutchinson).

The girls practiced each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 am, and agreed to drill during vacations. On March 25, 1936, the new Drum & Bugle Corps made its first appearance on the street in navy blue skirts and white blouses. They played two songs, “I'm in the Army Now” and “The Hunting Song” as they performed precision drills. In April of that year a benefit program to provide new uniforms for the YHS Boys Band netted over $1,000 surplus, so they donated the money to the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps to purchase attractive uniforms. The ladies of St. Lukes Auxiliary Guild took on the job of sewing the new outfits.

On Memorial Day in 1936 the girls make their first appearance in the new white uniforms consisting of a mid-calf poplin skirt with gold braid down the side; worn with a white long-sleeve blouse and tam cap with a band of gold braid. They had a purple and gold banner to carry with the flag, and stepped out at a smart pace.

On July 4, 1936, the YHS Girls Drum and Bugle Corps “stole the show” as they led the Centennial Parade. They played three pieces and performed precision drills. It was later told by charter member, Dorothy Morhous Hutchinson, that Mr. Barnhill was so proud of his girls that he often took the entire group to Gaudy's Chocolate Shop to treat them to a soda. After the death of his wife that year he seemed to put all his energy into music: The Normal College Band, Ypsi High Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Community Band. He was truly a dedicated man!

In the fall of 1936, the Corps played at YHS football games and led the Harvest Day's Parade. Among those selected to replace graduating seniors this year were Ruth Fleuelling (Deake), Mary Esther Ross (Miller) and Marjorie Backus. In April of 1937, the DBC led Girl Scouts for the Annual Tree Planting Ceremony, and thrilled crowds at the Prospect Park Band Concert with precision drills. After leading the Kids Parade on July 3, and dazzling viewers at the 4th of July Parade, the Corps disbanded for the summer. In the fall of 1937, the girls were honored to lead the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. Then on December 7, they led the Welcoming Parade for Santa Claus and the street lighting ceremony for the Christmas Season.

On January 12, 1938, John F. Barnhill ordered new Scotch kiltie uniforms to be worn by the Corps. The $1,400 cost was paid for by donations and special projects. Among many events scheduled were: A UofM Band Concert at Pease Auditorium with Prof. William D. Revelli conducting, Ypsi Board of Commerce Uniform Fund, Dance at Masonic Temple, Policeman's Ball at the Armory and car washes and card games. Ypsilanti business men met at the Huron Hotel to pledge support from Kiwanis, Rotary, American Legion, Junior Chamber of Commerce, City of Ypsilanti, Teachers Club and Ypsilanti High School. The Ladies Literary Club, Business and Professional Women, and Women's Study Club also offered support. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps proudly showed off their beautiful, new uniforms in the 4th of July Parade.

The exclusive all-girl organization quickly became known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” and attracted wide attention and received tremendous applause at the Michigan State Fair on Sept 9, 1938. On October 11, they paraded in Ann Arbor at the District Convention of Kiwanis and led the Pep Rally Parade for the first YHS football game of the season.

The final debt of $400 for the new uniforms was paid from the receipts at a U-M Band Concert at Pease Auditorium in January of 1939. In April of that same year Marjorie Backus gave a benefit dance recital to buy new pearlized drums for the Corps. She continued the benefits for several years thereafter.

The DBC led the Annual Clean-Up, Paint-up and Fix-up Parade on May 3rd of 1939 and the Corps won the first prize of $40 at the “Eagles State Convention Parade” in Ann Arbor on June 26. The July 4th parade ended the season.

The usual round of football games, pep rallies, homecomings, and the Harvest, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day and July 4th parades marked the calendar of performances each year for the well-acclaimed kilted lassies who led every parade with loud applause from the crowds.

In April of 1941, I was chosen to replace a girl who moved to California to live with an aunt after her mother died. I was given her uniform and a place as the first one in the first row to play tenor drum. It was a thrill as I was the only girl in my class to march in the Corps before the sophomore year.

May 19, 1941, was a sad day in Ypsilanti when beloved Professor John F. Barnhill suffered a paralytic stroke and died at the age of 64. He shared a good part of his life directing, teaching, and drilling his outstanding bands. The Normal College Band, Ypsi Hi Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Ypsi Community Band all attended his funeral in uniform, at the Congregational Church in Ypsilanti. This was the first time that I marched with the Corps.

Mr. Leland Randall was hired as the new Band and Orchestra Director of Ypsi High and assumed duties of training new recruits of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Martha Wolter continued her duties as Drum Majorette and Advisor. Among the graduating seniors was Dorothy Rice (Norton).

In 1943, I was elected President of the Corps and designed the emblem (a musical lyre with the letters DBC) adorning a pocket of the new red sweaters to be worn with the skirts, shoes, socks and white spats during school hours when we marched for parades and football games in the afternoon.

During World War II the DBC marched in war bond rallies, and scrap metal and paper drives. In April, 1944, they were the featured attraction at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids as guests of the American Legion Post 282 at their annual convention.

1945 was the 10th anniversary of the kilted Corps. I was a freshman at Michigan State Normal College. On November 3, the 37 members of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps broke a Michigan tradition and performed for a Michigan/Minnesota football crowd at halftime. The highly publicized Corps formed a B-24 airplane marching down the field with the majorette as propellor and special smoke effects from the rear of the plane. The crowd roared with applause as the Corps delighted them with a pinwheel formation. My sister was a member of the Corps and I was asked to be a substitute for a member who was ill.

On November 10, at the largest football crowd of the season, the DRC led the Ypsilanti Goodfellows Parade to welcome home service men and women at the game between Ypsilanti and Howell. Barbara Warner was crowned “Queen of Ypsilanti” and honored at halftime ceremonies in front of a huge “V” formed by the Drum & Bugle Corps. In 1946 the Kiwanis Club financed a trip to Chicago to march at the 32nd Annual Convention. The Corps appeared at famous Soldiers Field and was the only organization of its kind to perform before the 10,000 delegates from all sections of the United States, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.

In September of 1947, the DBC led the Torchlight Parade for the Kaiser-Frazer Festival on the occasion of its 100,000th car rolling off the assembly line. Kaiser-Frazer occupied the former B-24 Bomber Plant where airplanes were mass-produced during World War II. An ice cream social was held on the American Legion Home lawn on June 19 to raise funds to replace worn out uniforms of the DBC. The Scottish Kiltie uniforms had been used since 1938 and were worn by over 250 girls during that time. The all-girl organization, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” brought a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye of parade watchers as precision marching was demonstrated and intricate drills performed.

On May 12, 1948, the girls rode by Greyhound bus to Chicago to participate in the Phythian Regional Rally. All Knights of Phythias Lodges in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Ontario were represented. The Corps was now composed of 39 members had been a marching and maneuvering favorite from its beginning in 1935. The girls learned the Highland Fling and exhibited its intricate dance steps several times to the wild applause of viewers. Four bagpipes were purchased for the Corps to add authenticity to the unique and colorful group. Plans for new uniforms were underway, but samples from England and Canada had yet to be selected. Marlene Moffett (Britton) was one of the graduates this year.

In the fall of 1949, the DBC led the “shortest parade in history” to announce Fire Prevention Week. The procession consisted of the DBC, 2 Fire trucks, and the Ypsilanti High School Boys Band. By March of 1950, the Drum & Bugle Corps new uniform campaign was in full swing. Sponsors pledged included the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Jimmy Hunt Dance Studio, Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Ypsilanti Teachers Club, J. LaRue and Lawrence Arnet, JCC's Auxiliary, Estabrook School PTA, and O. A. Hankinson. At the March meeting of American Legion Post 282, the Legion offered to pay for the remaining 13 uniforms.

The Lions Club invited the DBC to an expense-paid three day trip to Chicago beginning on April 16, to be a prominent part of their International Convention. Chartered buses were provided by Ford Motor Company.

In 1950, the beautiful, long-awaited kiltie uniforms with “RED” jackets arrived from Scotland through Canada. Their first sparkling appearance was September 15, at the first home football game for YHS. Don Gridley of Hiawatha Card Company in Ypsilanti had Moyer Studios assemble the Corps in front of the Washtenaw Country Club to take a color picture for a new postcard, to be produced for stores and businesses in the area.

The Corps was hosted during the year by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, the Kiwanis Club and the D.A.R., and participated in the E.M.U. homecoming parade and other Ypsilanti parades. They were featured at the Holland Tulip Festival in May, traveling in courtesy cars donated by Kaiser-Frazer. In January of 1951, the DBC surprised the Ypsilanti School Board by giving a $1,120 check in payment of loans to the uniform fund. This money was raised from the efforts of Student Council at car washes, bake sales, dime dances and other special events.

On July 28, a farewell party was held for Director George Cavender who accepted a position at the University of Michigan. His new duties consisted of conducting the UofM world famous marching band and the Symphony and Varsity Bands, as well as teaching in the music department. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps won State honors and national recognition during the five years he was Director.

The April highlight in 1953 was at Metro Airport, when the YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” was invited to greet President Richard M. Nixon and Senator Homer Ferguson upon their arrival in Michigan. Among the graduating seniors this year was Ada Minges Kisor.

In 1954, Miss Martha Wolter was honored for her 21 years as secretary to the Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education. She had begun her duties in 1931 after graduation from Ypsilanti High School. When the Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was formed in 1935, she became the 1st drum majorette, and was the leader until 1947 when she relinquished her ostrich feather bonnet to a student. She continued as advisor, leading booster and counselor. Martha was best described as “having the complete faith, friendship and admiration of everyone who knew her.”

The DBC led the Annual Christmas Religious Parade while forming a Christmas Tree and playing “Oh Christmas Tree” and formed a Church while playing “0 Come All Ye Faithful” while they were marching.

The girls practiced each morning at 8:00 am and each evening at Frog Island to perfect their skills, formations and precision marching. They skillfully danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at homecoming to thrill the Ypsilanti crowds. Each girl took pride as a member of this exclusive group, and it was always sad at the end of a year to say goodbye to members. Karen Benson (Nickels) was a graduate in 1957.

Allan Townsend, a former trombonist with Big Bands of the 40s, was the new Director of the Corps in 1958 and Miss Martha Wolter became the bride of J. Walter Daschner. In 1960 identical twins, Sandra and Susan Palmer were the first second generation members to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. Their mother, Vera Beck Palmer, was a member from 1938–41.

March 21, 1961, marked the 25th Anniversary of the Drum & Bugle Corps. As the Corps celebrated its birthday, fellow Ypsilantians believed it was one of the unique all-girl organizations in the entire country. It was said that the Scottish Plaid Uniforms were as much a trademark of Ypsi as the Water Tower. Other communities have had girl bands, but none achieved the prestige of the Ypsilanti group. Professor John Barnhill saw that the group contained only the best, and belonging was one of the highest honors attainable to YHS girls. The rules were strict and the Corps marched only with full ranks and spotless uniforms. Girls had to maintain a B-average, exhibit quality leadership and good citizenship. With these regulations, the city sent the Corps anywhere and knew each member would conduct herself so as to reflect honor to the city and the school she represented. The original Corps in 1935 had 32 members and, after 25 years, the 41 members continued to be a great public relations instrument for the city of Ypsilanti.

On October 5, 1962, at Briggs Field, American Legion Post 282 presented the Corps with a new 50-star flag for the color guards to display. This was one of countless times a civic organization had honored the Corps. In 1962 the DBC was chosen as guests at the U-M Army football game in Michigan Stadium, Michigan Week Festival-Sturgis, Hamtramck Christmas Parade, Holland Tulip Festival, and a spectacular Detroit Lions Halftime Show on National TV. Our daughter, Cheri, was a member of the Corps that time, and we were chaperones at the game. The Scottish lassies have paraded in city, state, and country celebrations to honor our city and school. To be a member of the DBC was the most prestigious honor given to Ypsi High girls.

In 1964 they appeared a 3rd time at a Lions football game on national TV, and drew loud applause and cheers when they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance. Again Roger and I were chaperones at the event and nearly froze in sub-zero weather. The Memorial Day and July 4th parades closed the marching season for 1964.

Besides 1965 football, E.M.U. Homecoming, Kiwanis Charity Game, and the Wayne Fall Festival, the DBC marched in the Hudson Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit, on national TV and Tulip Time in Holland in spring. Cheri was a ‘66 graduate.

They led all parades and festivals in 1967–68, and marched at Shadford Field football game half-time shows. A social event was a “Fun Night” with the YHS Band as guests, and a senior banquet and pajama party at the drum majorette's home. The colorful Corps traveled to Jackson to perform and went to Benton Harbor in 1968–69, along with their trip to the Holland Tulip Festival and all other parades in Ypsilanti and surrounding towns. The YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for 35 years, was nearly cut from the budget in 1971 when two millage requests failed. Because it was temporarily disbanded, the Corps did not march in the July 4th parade for the first time in the history of the acclaimed group. A second tragedy hit on July 25, when beloved Martha Wolter Daschner, the first majorette, and long-time advisor to the Corps, was killed in an auto accident in Canada. The people in Ypsilanti and many former DBC Corps members were shocked and saddened by the news of Martha's untimely death and many attended her funeral.

This merged photo shows Dorothy Rice (Norton), as she looked in 1942, with her daughter Cindy as she looked in 1966.

By the fall of 1971, after strong protests from parents, local citizens, and Ypsilanti service organizations, the DBC was reinstated with the understanding that they would be a self-supporting group. Long time fans remembered the dazzling Scottish uniforms, polished brass buttons and sparkling white spats of the DBC Corps. Unfortunately, the glamorous uniforms of the past had now seen almost 25 years of wear.

Mrs. Barbara Weiss took over the leadership of the group and began to teach new songs and intricate formations. By February of 1972, a drive was underway to replace the rotting uniforms. Costs would be about $12,000 since the Brodie Tartan outfits were imported from Scotland, and each uniform contained about 12 yards of cloth. The goal was to raise money and have new Scottish kilts by the fall of 1973 when the new Ypsilanti High School opened.

In mid-March, 19 new girls were welcomed into the Corps and began to practice instruments and learn to keep in step while marching. A spaghetti dinner and rummage sale raised $500 for the new uniforms and $1,000 was received from the estate of the late Martha Daschner. A Tag Day was held in the spring, and the DBC marched in Sturgis in the Michigan Week Parade. The girls won first place in the Detroit St. Patrick's Parade in March and performed at a Scottish festival at Alma College in May. Charlene Britton was a graduating senior at YHS.

In 1972, Christine Edmunds was selected as Drum Majorette. Mrs. Nan O'Hara announced in March that $10,000 was raised and the new uniforms were to arrive by the Sesquicentennial Celebration in July. The generosity of Ypsilanti townspeople and civic organizations was greatly appreciated and three organizations designated “golden patrons,” pledged $1,000 each for the purchase of five complete uniforms.

In 1973 my niece, Lauri Hopp served as Assistant Majorette. The DBC continued to dazzle crowds in the new uniforms, leading all Ypsilanti and EMU parades. Since the Corps was still self-supporting, it had several ongoing money-making projects. Tag Day, spaghetti dinners and car washes were held to raise money for out-of-town trips.

The Drum & Bugle Corps Scottish lassies thrilled crowds as they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at YHS and EMU Homecoming and Band Days. A citrus fruit sale helped defray costs of flags for the additional flag corps, new uniforms, instrument repair and other expenses. The Drum & Bugle Corps entered the Great Lakes Drum Corps Association in the spring, and it was the first time the 56-member Corps performed in the summer competition in the 40-year history of the DBC. Mrs. Barbara Weiss said they practiced many hours to master the unique marching style described as a glide step. “Nothing moves from the waist up, at least that is the theory,” she stated.

Brenda Kisor was selected as new Majorette in 1976. Again the DBC led the Ypsilanti and surrounding area parades. Sadly 1977–78 was the last year “The Pride of Ypsilanti” marched and performed as the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Class sizes had increased and more competition developed between sports, band and the “Golden Garrison International Drum Corps Group” in which both girls and boys were eligible. There was pressure on the girls in the Drum & Bugle Corps as some compared it to a sorority, which was illegal in high school.

The Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was not an elective, but a type of Honor Society where girls were chosen on the basis of scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and service to school. Only 15–20 girls were chosen each year to replace graduating seniors, and the number was small compared to the hundreds of students now in each class. Also, the Corps was self-supporting and transportation costs increased as well as the costs for upkeep of uniforms, supplies, and maintenance of instruments.

After 43 glorious years as “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” the DBC Highland Lassies disbanded. As the only all-girl drum and bugle corps in the state, or perhaps in the country, it became famous for the many years it thrilled home and away crowds. As flags passed and our Scottish Corps marched by in perfect precision, it brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throats of Ypsilanti townspeople, and especially former members of the Corps. In 1979, a proud Ypsilanti tradition ended, but to those of us who remember it well, the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps will live on in our hearts forever!

A Love Story -- Joe and Catherine Sesi

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Ronald J. Mammoser

Catherine and Marie, her older sister, were excited about the pending arrival of a new sibling. They lived in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and soon their family would increase in size with the birth of a new brother or sister. Times were good for these two happy girls, but they were oblivious to the troubles that were brewing in Europe, culminating in World War I. As so often happens, however, events do not always work out as planned. Their brother was born, but the delivery had been difficult. Unable to withstand the trauma, their mother passed away shortly after the birth. Their father kept the family together, and the two young girls helped all they could. But, again, tragedy struck when their father succumbed to the flu that had struck the country after the Great War.

Without any relatives able to take in the youngsters, they were placed in a Catholic orphanage in the area which was run by a religious order of nuns. The three siblings lived there for a period of time until a Mr. and Mrs. Rettinger visited with the intention of adopting. The Rettingers had intended to adopt a single child who would enjoy living with them on their farm. The nuns, however, persuaded them that the right thing to do would be to adopt Catherine and two siblings, and that is what they did.

Joy was once again in the lives of the children. They were together as a family with a mother and a father, living on a farm, and going to school. Then, disaster struck again. While working the farm, Mr. Rettinger was severely injured and died. Mrs. Rettinger thought about returning the children to the orphanage, but the nuns convinced her that it would be best for the children if they could remain together with her.

During that time, and a half world away, a young man had completed his high school education at the American Missionary Dutch Reform School. The school was located in Basra, Iraq, and had as its headmaster Dr. John Van Ess who had left Hope College in Holland, Michigan, to run the school. The young man was Joseph M. Sesi, and while he was happy that he had completed his high school education, he wanted a greater education and more opportunities than were available in Iraq. He had heard Dr. Van Ess talk about life in America, and Joe convinced his father that the right thing for him to do was to go to that new land. Joe's father was convinced, and a ship ticket was purchased for Joe and his cousin. They were given a small amount of money for traveling, and off they went — not to America, but to Mexico where they had acquaintances who could get them into the United States. The trip was not as easy as the two young men had anticipated. Joe and his cousin were only part way to the Port City when they were set upon by thieves who stole all their money. Luckily, the captain of the ship looked after them and saw that they were fed during the trip which lasted several weeks before arriving in Veracruz, Mexico.

Joe worked in Mexico for a time before making his way to the United States. He continued his journey toward Detroit where he had been anticipating working in the growing automobile industry. He arrived in Detroit in 1923 but was unsuccessful in obtaining work in the auto industry. He did, however, find work as a delivery boy for a grocery store. Thus began a career in the grocery business that covered over twenty years, culminating with his opening of the New Center Market, the most progressive supermarket in the area. The store was the forerunner of today's supermarkets. It had a large meat counter, fresh vegetables, ample grocery aisles, a liquor department, and a new innovation, frozen foods, which were developed by Clarence Birdseye. Because of the high quality cuts of meat and gourmet food available at the market, the more affluent families in the Detroit area made the New Center Market their store of choice.

During that time Catherine had moved to Detroit and obtained a position as housekeeper for the Burns family who lived in the New Center area. One of her responsibilities was shopping for the family and, of course, the New Center Market just happened to be the place. Many times Catherine had noticed Joe in church on Sunday mornings and recognized him as the proprietor of the store. She knew nothing about him and just assumed that he was married to a woman who worked in the store and who acted like she was in charge. In those days, the owner of a grocery store personally knew all of his major customers because of extending credit and delivering groceries to their homes.

Joe's magnetic personality allowed him the opportunity to become friends with many of the movers and shakers in Detroit — the closest being Alan Chapel who had an office in the Fisher Building. Alan's wife was a niece of Mrs. Henry Ford, and through the Chapels, Joe became acquainted with the Henry Fords.

What a year 1945 was! Joe knew Mr. Burns well, both as a customer and from church. So when the Burns family went away in March for a couple of months, he asked Joe if he would see that the family got to church on Sundays. Not only did Joe see that they got to church, but he began stopping by the home to see Catherine. By the time the Mr. and Mrs. Burns returned, a romance had blossomed.

Joe had boarded for over seventeen years with Mr. and Mrs. Publow, considering them his parents in the United States. During that time he would bring a certain lady whom he had been dating to meet Mrs. Publow. After each visit Joe asked what her opinion of the young lady was, and each time she would say, “She is not the lady for you, Joe.” In the spring of 1945, however, he took Catherine to the home, and Mrs. Publow eagerly responded, “That is the lady for you, Joe,” confirming his decision to ask Catherine to be his wife.

The wedding was planned for August 14, 1945, at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. Mrs. Burns insisted that the reception be held at their home which bordered the Detroit Country Club. Joe was to furnish the food and beverages, which naturally came from the New Center Market.

As the newly married couple emerged from the church that morning of August 14, suddenly church bells rang out across the entire city. Horns began blowing, and people were shouting. Japan had notified General MacArthur its intent to surrender. Joe and Catherine, however, thought the excitement was because of them, especially when the procession followed them to the Burns home. Thus, what had been planned as a small back-yard reception, turned into a party that required several additional trips to the store for more provisions.

The newly married couple settled into a rented apartment in Detroit. Almost immediately, Henry Ford I, offered Joe an opportunity to manufacture transmission parts for Ford Motor Company which was going back into the automobile business since the war was over. He seized the opportunity, sold the grocery store, and purchased a home near Willow run Airport. Along with Alan Chapel, they began Ypsilanti Industries. Alan's health, however, was failing, and in 1947, when Ford established the Lincoln Mercury Division, Joe was offered one of the initial distributorships. He seized the opportunity and took over both businesses which were located at 20 East Michigan Avenue.

The years moved on, and the loving relationship between a couple who, as young persons, started out with almost nothing, continued to grow. Along with hard work and dedication, Joe and Catherine built a relationship with generations of people, a city, a country and a church. In 1965, the Lincoln Mercury Dealership was moved to 950 East Michigan Avenue, where it grew to be one of the premier dealerships in the United States, winning many awards and serving a multitude of happy customers.

In the early sixties, Joe prepared the way for his brother and his family to come to the United States. Although Joe and Catherine had no children of their own, by assisting his brother and his family immigrate to the United States, over time they acquired numerous nieces and nephews, most of whom worked or still work for the Sesi dealership. Joseph Sesi Junior, the oldest of the nephews, started out working in the Service Department at the age of sixteen. he graduated from Eastern Michigan University and worked his way up to General Manager of the Lincoln Mercury Dealership. He eventually purchased the dealership from his Uncle Joe, and today owns dealerships in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor that handle several additional makes of automobiles.

The patriotic fervor, community involvement, and generosity of Joe and Catherine Sesi are legendary in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. Whenever a religious, school, or civic organization needed help promoting a meaningful activity, the Sesi's became actively involved. Many times people would hear Joe say, “America is God's gift to the world!” and that, “Things happened by the grace of God.” Those were not just words, but the practiced philosophy of a couple who loved each other and all people with whom they came into contact.

Over and over, people continue to tell stories about being in places like California or Alaska and when someone noticed their “Sesi” license plate frame, they would say, “We used to live in Ypsilanti. How are Joe and Catherine?” Hundreds, if not thousands of children, have dollar bills that were signed by Joe who would say to them, “Save this dollar, and you will always have good fortune.”

A quotation from their 50th Wedding Anniversary booklet says it all:

“Catherine and Joe have impressed their friends and loved ones with their charm, faithfulness, dedication and humility. They have touched their community with gestures of humanity, involvement and generosity. Above all, Catherine and Joe are a symbol of love and dedication. They share a devotion which draws its strength from a faith in God and a belief in America.”

And that is the faith that keeps Catherine going. Joe passed away in February 1999 at the age of ninety-two, and if you happen to have one of those dollar bills, continue to hold onto it, for surely, “good fortune will be with you.”

From the President's Desk

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Alvin E. Rudisill

The Museum and Archives have been very busy the past few weeks. Last week more than 400 visitors toured the Museum and the number of visitors who do research in the Archives is increasing each month.

We are still in the process of negotiating with the City of Ypsilanti to purchase the museum and archives property at 220–224 North Huron Street. The purchase of the property by the Society would enable us to expend funds on deferred maintenance to the buildings and property. Any such agreement would include a “Right of Reversion” clause so that if the Society stopped using the property as a museum or archives the City would have the right to buy back the property at the same price it was sold to the Society. We are all interested in preserving the historical artifacts and written records of the people and places in Ypsilanti and the surrounding area and the transfer of ownership of the property to the Society seems to be a win-win situation for both the Society and the City. We hope these negotiations will result in a successful agreement.

A proposal was made to Eastern Michigan University to assign two graduate interns from the Historical Preservation Program to the Society. I am pleased to report that EMU President Fallon has approved the proposal and beginning July 1 we will have two twenty hour per week interns working in the Museum and Archives. This will allow us to make significant progress on our collection and preservation efforts. In addition, we are discussing the possibility of increasing the number of hours the Museum and Archives will be open each week. It may be possible to increase the number of open hours of both facilities from nine hours per week to as much as twenty-eight hours per week by using a combination of interns and volunteer docents.

Our sincere thanks to our advertisers and sponsors who make possible the publication and distribution of the “Ypsilanti Gleanings.”

News from the Fletcher White Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2006,
Spring 2006
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

What a weird and wonderful winter we have had at the archives. It started very cold and then became almost spring-like in January and February. Seems that everyday was a complete surprise either because of the weather or the people that came from all over the United States to visit. I know that the spring weather will bring even more people from distant places to our doorstep. Now we only have to convince our members who live locally to come and visit. We have even had producers from PBS who are doing documentaries about this Ypsilanti area. They found the archives rich in information and pictures from the past. So break in those expensive sneakers you got from Santa Claus and run on down to the archives! We are open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and Sundays from 12:00 noon to 3:00 pm.

To say that we have been busy is an understatement as we have been inundated with graduate students from Professor Ligibel's Historic Preservation Studies program at Eastern Michigan University. It is refreshing to see that they are being taught how to think and deduce the “who,” “what,” “where” and “when” of ownership of some problematic properties within the city of Ypsilanti. This is not always as easy as one might think when studying the histories of some of these parcels of land. The recording of ownership and transfer of properties was not always correctly attended to at the time it actually occurred, and this has required the city to find answers to some issues 50 to 100 years after the situation occurred. This has been a terrific learning experience for these students as they work with primary records, surveys, and directories. Dr. Ligibel's students bring vibrancy to the archives and we welcome them.

TA-DA! Our antique 1890 and 1865 maps are back. Through the generosity of Dorothy and Rodney Hutchinson they are now protected and preserved for generations to come, and they look
As you may or may not know, they were experiencing some problems that only a professional preservationist could handle. Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Hutchinson for caring so much!

We will probably be selling copies of the 1890 map in a very limited, full sized edition, on special acid free paper to raise funds for other preservation projects involving our Ypsilanti City Directories. The directories are in heavy use every day and we have to come up with a way to be able to use them while protecting them. We will keep the membership advised through the “Gleanings” about the map and preservation projects. If you are interested in purchasing a map or would like to see what this is all about, come and visit the archives. We will be taking orders in March; the cost will be about $50.00. We expect to make no more than 100 copies and we expect an early sellout. Call me at the archives at 482–4990 during regular hours or at home at 572–0437. The maps will probably be available in May and will come in their own protective tubes.

Patrick Roger (P.R.) Cleary

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2006,
Spring 2006
Original Images:

Author: Ann Cleary Kettles

Patrick Roger Cleary, known in Ypsilanti as “P.R.” arrived in Ypsilanti in 1883. He chose not to use his given name in this country because of all the “Paddy and Mike” jokes in fashion at that time.

P.R. was born in Nenagh, Ireland in 1858. When he was eight years old both of his parents died. His father had been stock manager on the Tuthill estate bordering the river Shannon. When he and his younger sister, Annie, were orphaned, the Tuthill family took them in and cared for them for two years. During these years they received the education of English children which was not available to the Irish. When P.R. was ten and Annie was eight, the Tuthills put them on a ship sailing to the United States to live with their older siblings who had emigrated years earlier because of poor job prospects in Ireland.

The two children landed at New York and then traveled to Hubbardston, Michigan where P.R. worked for a time in the lumber camps and later attended grade school in town. He managed to finish grade school in two years and then went to the area high school, again finishing in two years. After again working, he applied to attend Valparaiso University in Indiana where he studied business subjects, all taught in a most practical method. He became very proficient in penmanship. This was most important in business at that time for it was well before the invention of the typewriter.

After graduation from Valparaiso, he set himself up as an itinerant penmanship teacher. He would publish an ad in many small town papers in Lower Michigan, and travel from one site to another, setting up penmanship classes. In his travels, Ypsilanti struck him as a perfect place to settle, for he could also teach at the Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University). In 1883 he opened his first class with two students on a second floor space on the corner of Michigan and Washington.

In 1885 he had enough funds to build a new college building at the corner of Michigan and Adams. He developed a Board of Trustees to advise him and help fund the college. After he had settled in Ypsilanti and built his college, P.R. resumed his courtship of Helen Clarke Jenks of St. Clair. She agreed to marry him and moved to the house he had bought at 11 North Normal Street. They both became very involved in Ypsilanti business and social affairs. They also had four children, Charles, Marjorie, Ruth and Owen, all attended Cleary College and the Normal College, later each worked at Cleary College either as recruiters of students or teachers.

P.R. and Helen later sold their home and moved to larger quarters at 7 North Normal, immediately next door. Helen was an early and active member of the Ladies Literary Club. She also was a gracious hostess to Cleary students at their new home where college parties were held.

P.R. continued to grow his college, adding courses in bookkeeping, accounting, shorthand, and later typing. During the early years of secretarial studies, all students were required to take dictation from P.R. prior to graduation. He kept up with changes in the business world in order to keep his curriculum current. He met with Ypsilanti businessmen and corresponded with men in Detroit, notably J.L. Hudson.

P.R. served as president of the college from 1883 until he retired in 1938 at the age of eighty and planned a trip to his homeland of Ireland. He purchased three tickets on a steamship, but Helen was ill and unable to go. The trip was planned for the summer of 1938 when Ruth was not teaching and could go. With the other ticket left, P.R. invited Owen's wife's sister Elizabeth to join them. He shipped a Ford car on the same ship so as to have ground transportation for their travels throughout Ireland. This of course was well before Hertz or Avis rental car services. He began the tour in Nenagh where he had been born, also the Tuthill estate where he had been cared for, then Dublin where he visited Eamon deValera, Prime Minister of Ireland and the legislative house where he was recognized as an accomplished Irish emigrant. He also traveled to England where he was introduced in the House of Commons. He was happy to go to his “home of birth” and reflect upon the opportunities life in the United States had afforded him. The following year Helen died leaving a deep void in his life.

In 1938 Owen J. Cleary, son of P.R. became President of the College and served in that position until the United States entered World War II. Owen was requested by the Governor to form the “Michigan State Troops” after the call up of the Michigan National Guard in 1942. P.R. again returned to the College as President and turned his large house into four apartments in response to the housing shortage in this area created by the influx of personnel to operate the defense plant at Willow Run Airport building B-24 aircraft. He asked Owen and his family, Marie, Ann and Patrick to move into the apartment across the hall from him, as he was alone in a very large house and aging. P.R. remained as President of the College until the end of WWII when he again retired and Owen returned to the Presidency.

After His retirement he began writing a history of Cleary College and posed for a bronze bust which is now displayed at the College, now “Cleary University.” P.R. died in 1948 at the age of 90, having left his mark and contributed greatly to the lives of many students and friends.

Note: For more information on Cleary College, read the History of Cleary College by Nancy Snyder, available in the Historical Museum Archives.

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