AA’s 75th Anniversary Being Marked In Akron
By Kathleen Folkerth
AKRON — Founders’ Day, which marks the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), started out as a modest gathering in Downtown Akron.
Bruce (who like all AA members goes by just his first name), of the AA Intergroup Council Office in Akron, said he isn’t sure how long June 10 has been marked.
“But even when [AA founders] Bill and Bob were alive, they would meet on a Sunday morning at the Mayflower Hotel for breakfast,” Bruce said.
Dr. Bill Wilson and stockbroker Bob Smith together founded AA in 1935 after Henrietta Seiberling introduced them and they gathered at the Gate Lodge on the Stan Hywet property. Wilson and Smith were to meet for 15 minutes but ended up talking for five hours, setting the stage for what would become an internationally known effort of alcoholics helping alcoholics using 12 Steps.
Founders’ Day is held on the weekend closest to June 10, the date Dr. Bob took his last drink in 1935, Bruce said.
The annual event has come a long way, he added.
“It’s gone from an event that was held in the Mayflower dining room to last year’s, where just shy of 12,000 people on [The University of Akron (UA)] campus registered,” he said. “It was just a breakfast and now it’s a three-day event.”
Bruce said he isn’t sure how many people will flock to Akron this year for Founders’ Day events, which will take place June 11-13.
This year is special because the 75th anniversary of AA will be marked, Bruce said. The significance will be noted with a new flag ceremony.
“One person will be picked from each attending state and each attending country,” he said.
That event will take place June 12 right before another significant event — the traditional Saturday night meeting that will be held at UA’s new InfoCision Stadium.
Bruce said the meeting is often a big draw. While Canal Park was used one year for the event, it usually is held at the James A. Rhodes Arena at UA, but there isn’t enough room for everyone who wants to attend. Those who couldn’t get in had to watch the meeting via simulcast at other locations.
This year, organizers expect there to be plenty of room for everyone at the stadium, Bruce said.
“We’re real happy that this year everyone will be in the same venue,” he said.
Founders’ Day activities are open to anyone, but registration is required. Many events take place at UA, while local sites with historical significance to AA also welcome attendees.
In addition to AA meetings and tours, there will be events for members of Al-Anon, which helps family members of alcoholics.
Details on Founders’ Day activities can be found at www.akronaa.org/foundersday or by calling 330-253-8181.
Here’s a rundown of Akron’s historic sites related to AA:
• The Gate House at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens was officially declared the birthplace of AA in 2000. It was restored and opened to the public in 2004.
The cottage, located just to the right of the entrance, was originally a caretaker’s house. Henrietta Seiberling was the daughter-in-law of F.A. Seiberling. As a member of the Oxford Group, a spiritual movement popular at the time, she met Akron resident Dr. Bob and his wife, Anne. Seiberling knew of the doctor’s struggles with alcohol, so when she heard from Bill W., who got her name from the Rev. Williams Tunks, she arranged for the two to meet in the small library at her home.
Today, the library is appointed with a small table and two chairs. Three recordings — of Henrietta Seiberling, Dr. Bob and Bill W. — can be played that talk about the events that transpired to help set the stage for AA.
During Founders’ Day weekend, admission to the Gate Lodge will be free. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 11-12 and 9 a.m. to noon June 13. Activities will include live performances by Mary Lyn B. on June 12 at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. According to her website, www.twelvesongs.com, Mary Lyn’s mission is to share her recovery and carry the 12-Step message in music.
At other times, the Gate Lodge is included on tours at Stan Hywet, located at 714 N. Portage Path. For more information, call 330-836-5533 or go to www.stanhywet.org.
• Dr. Bob’s home, located at 855 Ardmore Ave., is another West Akron site important to AA members. The house where Dr. Bob lived from 1916 until his death in 1950 was turned into a museum honoring the AA co-founder in 1985.
The corner home features much of the home’s original furnishings placed as they were when Dr. Bob and his wife opened the doors to many seeking help. A pot of coffee is on in the kitchen, and those who come in are invited to sit down at the table in the kitchen, just as many visitors to the home did years ago.
In October 1985, Gov. Richard Celeste named Dr. Bob’s home a State Historical Site. In addition, through the office of U.S. Congressman John Seiberling, Henrietta Seiberling’s son, Dr. Bob’s home was declared a National Historical Landmark.
Ardmore Avenue runs between South Portage Path and West Exchange Street. The home is open every day but Christmas from noon to 3 p.m. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcomed. For more information, call 330-864-1935 or go to www.drbobshome.org.
• Dr. Bob’s grave is located in Mount Peace Cemetery, Akron’s second-oldest cemetery. The cemetery is located at 183 Aqueduct St., a few blocks north of West Market Street.
Cemetery officials said the site attracts people throughout the year who want to pay their respects to the Akron doctor.
One of the most popular events of Founders’ Day is a motorcycle procession to the grave and a memorial service. That will take place June 13 at 7:30 a.m.
Signs from the main entrance to the cemetery direct visitors to the grave. Many AA visitors leave their Sobriety Coins, which are given to AA members to mark the anniversary of the day they stopped drinking, on the gravestone in tribute to Dr. Bob.
The cemetery also features a bronze plaque with the Serenity Prayer on it not far from the grave. Adjacent to that is a columbarium, which holds cremains. The columbarium is dedicated to AA and Dr. Bob and allows those wanting to have their final resting place near Dr. Bob to have their wishes granted.
Cemetery officials said the cemetery is open from sunrise to sunset every day. Visitors also are welcome to stop at the office for more detailed directions.
For more information, call 330-253-4551.
• Summa St. Thomas Hospital is the site of the Sister Ignatia Heritage Center, which is located in the chapel on the second floor off the main entrance at 444 N. Main St. The site recognizes Sister Ignatia Gavin, who worked as a registrar at the hospital and is credited with starting the first hospital program in the country to help alcoholics.
According to the Summa Health System website, Sr. Ignatia worked closely with Dr. Bob to admit patients even though alcoholism was not considered a disease. To avoid the disapproval of her hospital superiors, she admitted patients between shifts and recorded their ailments as gastritis.
Eventually, she was able to convince hospital officials that the need was there to treat alcoholics, and the hospital created a ward dedicated solely to their treatment. Today, Summa’s Ignatia Hall Acute Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center is a six-bed unit that provides alcohol and chemical dependency detoxification for Akron adults. The hospital also offers the Ignatia Hall Intensive Outpatient Program.
The Sr. Ignatia exhibit is free and open to the public. Visitors may tour the exhibit seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call 330-379-9841.