The ring of the Rotary bell sounded just as sweet at Ann Arbor City Club as President Rosemarie led members and guests in a moving rendition of “God Bless America.” With a nod from Rosemarie, Immediate Past President Greg Stejskal came forward to deliver the inspiration. Greg described the history of the Michigan Union, thus anticipating the presentation of our speakers.
“Because of America’s entry into the war, construction of the Union building lagged, and it did not officially open until 1919, 100 years ago.” Greg pointed out that the RCAA, founded three years before, began meeting there “shortly thereafter.” He then acknowledged an indelible stain: “Women were only allowed to enter the Union through the north entrance and only when accompanied by male escorts. Not a problem for Rotary as it was an all-male organization.” Greg mouthed this unsavory fact with the same reluctance he would doubtless bring to a public admission of his having forgotten his wedding anniversary for two consecutive years. He continued:
“In 1943, the Union was again appropriated for war related activities…RCAA moved its meeting to a local hotel, and the Pretzel Bell restaurant.” 1956 proved a banner year, with the club returning to the Union and rescinding the “north entrance/escort policy [for women].” He also added that the last male-only “enclave, the Billiard Room, was open to women.” Greg concluded by noting that in 1966, “the club’s golden anniversary”, our first meeting occurred in the Anderson Room. Then, in 1987, “RCAA admitted their 1st women members,” admitting a longstanding blunder.
“Thus, for over 90 years the histories of two great clubs have been inextricably connected in the best and the worst of times.” Lastly, Greg warmly thanked Tom Millard for his archival assistance, and Charles Dickens for a marquee sentence.
Past President Downs Herold then led us in song, accompanied by — nothing. “We couldn’t get the piano in here,” he explained, striking a fork on the edge of a glass to provide the key. “Our first song is ‘All Hail to Rotary,’ sung to the tune of ‘Anchors Aweigh.’ Okay…’Mmmmmmmm.'” Indeed, it was a spirited performance. Next was “Auld Lang Syne,” that perennial tearjerker. A galaxy of thought bubbles could be seen popping over the heads of our more senior members, this reporter included, containing images of Maureen O’Hara in “How Green Was My Valley,” of Shirley Temple at Victor McLaglen’s deathbed (“Wee Willie Winkie”), and, of course, by the Christmas tree with the Baileys in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Not a few City Club napkins were left moist on the tablecloths, you can be sure.
Rosemarie then welcomed all Rotarians and guests. Among the birthdays acknowledged were three very special ones, those of Eldon Beery (94), Fred Beutler (92), and Jeannine Buchanan, the teenager of the trio. All rose to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to Eldon and our other celebrants. (Lucky for us that company doesn’t sue anymore for singing their darn song.)
Rosemarie held up a special guest — “This is Polio Bear. He’s from England. As you know, this club has a long [commitment] to the eradication of Polio AND to world peace. Marcia Lane will speak to us about a special upcoming peace initiative.”
Marcia, who is chair of the Peace Committee, came to the podium to describe “Peace in the Streets”, taking place from Friday, October 25, through Saturday the 26th at Wayne State University (the 25th), and across the River at the University of Windsor (26th). “We’ve gathered some remarkable people as speakers. Please register to attend.” The price is $25 for either day, or $45 for both, which includes lunch.
Rosemarie then welcomed Bill Feldt, a longtime Rotarian from Seattle, to address the room. “I was in Long Beach, California, when I met Bill, who talked with me about malaria.” Bill came to the podium and began with a stunning statistic: “Malaria is the cause of over 60% of
the deaths of children [in Africa and Asia] under five years of age. I recognized two big facts regarding this disease: 1. Malaria is the greatest killer of humankind in the history of the world; 2. Rotarians are uniquely qualified to eradicate malaria because of your success against polio.” Bill showed a slide highlighting the corporate donors to Rotarian Malaria Partners, among them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The Gates Foundation is matching every dollar raised by any [Rotary] club; this turns one dollar into $6.5 dollars, and possibly, more. Every organization we approach wants to join with Rotary to fight malaria,” Bill emphasized. Rosemarie remarked also: “It’s a science-based program, with a $1.2 million grant coming soon.
“Oh, and now, the Hat is Back!” At this, Social Committee chair Susan Smith Gray came up to announce a special event. “We’re hoping all of you will join us to welcome our New Members at The Session Room, on Jackson Road, on Wednesday, October 16, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. We’ll have a wonderful time getting to know our new members, and each other, better.”
Next, Jim Egerdal, chair of the Rotary Readers Committee, reported on the success of the reading program in our schools: “Rotary Readers is growing,” Jim declared, “but we need more readers” for the children. “Please contact me or Carol Senneff if you would like to join us.”
Speaker: John White came to the podium and warmly introduced our speakers, Susan Pile and Amy White, overseers of the renovation of the Michigan Union. “It is my honor to introduce Susan and Amy,” John remarked after citing the importance of the Union to the history of the Club.
“We were with you in the summer of 2017, to describe the plans for the renovation,” Susan began. “So, here we are, two years later, to discuss the results.” Susan regaled her audience with a brief history of the Union’s construction, including a factoid not generally known: “The Union was built by architects Allen and Irving Pool. Their home had actually stood on the site of the future Union building. Irving, a graduate of the U-M, also scored the first Michigan touchdown in 1879! Today we’ll focus on the architectural integrity of the building — and, thanks, Greg, for your historical inspiration earlier.”
Amy then came to the mic. “One question I would get all the time was ‘You’re not going to screw up the Union, are you?’ [laughs] No — in fact, we’re going back to the graciousness that had been messed with over the years.” She showed some slides of Motawi Tileworks. “Motawi is working with us to restore or replace the original tilework in the building.” In addition to decorative details, one big project was conservation of the windows. “More than 700 windows were restored by hand, by a local-ish company,” Amy explained. “This company did the windows in the Law School. Look at these photographs…You’ll continue to see the windows being reinstalled. Now, back to Susan.”
Susan brought the audience’s attention to several slides highlighting portions of the ceilings. “We found the original arches above the old drop ceilings. There were other screw-ups like this — walls put up, and other features covered. We found and had restored the original Torazo tile in the Ballroom and in the adjoing corridor and overlooks, where people like to have wedding pictures taken. Wood has been restored — the finials, posts, etc. — and old brick exposed.” Indeed, her listeners were clearly amazed by the decades of institutional disregard of some of the building’s most sumptuous details. Showing a slide of the cleared out lobby, Susan described the special attention lavished there: “We restored the old information desk, where guests of the hotel would check in and out. It’s been relocated to its original location across the hall. (Good news for West Side Book Shop owner Jay Platt, who worked the front desk during his college days. He still remembers helping the renowned scientists and politicians who stayed in the old hotel rooms above.)
Perhaps the two restorations that fascinated the audience most were those of the enclosed, sky-lit atrium, which can be enjoyed now all year long and observed from overlooks on three floors. By the way, the student organization offices have been relocated from fourth floor obscurity to the atrial perimeter, now easily accessible to students. The other was the massive re-configuring of the North Entrance, once the sole entrance permitted to women during the dark ages. “The North Entrance appeared during the addition built in the 1950s. People would often remark that it didn’t look like a proper entrance to a building as important as the Union.” Indeed, it evoked the spirit of a railway terminal. “It has been restored in the style of Pond and Pond, and looks like a real entrance. An interior ramp has been installed — no longer that narrow outside ramp from before.” The video showed an elegant bump-out, marquee-style overhang, complete with beautiful lanterns. Everything, in fact, was done with first class attention to detail; a fitting homage to one of the University’s premier landmarks. (The other, of course, lies near Burton Tower, and sports those lovely Art Nouveau windows. This is mentioned by way of proof that your reporter is no fool.)
After thanking City Club general manager Greg Fleming for his hospitality, Rosemarie closed the meeting with an apt declaration: “We are so happy to be going back to the Union!”