Clarence Snyder the “Home Brewmeister”

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clarence snyder

Clarence S., Cleveland, Ohio.
(OM, p. 274 in 1st edition, p. 297 in 2nd and 3rd editions.)

Pioneers of A.A.

“An originator of Cleveland’s Group No. 3, this one fought Prohibition in vain.”

Clarence had his last drink on February 11, 1938, according to the article he wrote for the A.A. Grapevine November 1968 issue. Fifteen months later he organized the first Cleveland group.

Clarence was born on December 26, 1902, in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of three brothers. He dropped out of high school at fourteen, after his father’s death, and went to work. He later took many night courses studying economics, business, credits, and collections. This prepared him for later employment at the City National Bank in Cleveland, from which he was fired for alcoholism at the age of thirty-two. It was not the only job from which he had been fired.

After holding good positions, making better than average income for over ten years, he was bankrupt in every way. He was in debt, he had no clothes to speak of, no money, no friends, and no one any longer tolerated him except his wife, not even his son or the saloonkeepers. He was unemployable. He said in a talk he gave in 1965 that he couldn’t even get a job with the WPA. His wife, Dorothy, who worked for an employment agency, couldn’t even get him a job.

Then Dorothy heard of a doctor in Akron who had been successful in treating alcoholics. She offered him the alternative of going to see Dr. Bob or her leaving for good. He agreed and that was the turning point in his life. He entered the hospital (after first going on a three-day drunk). While in the hospital a plan for living was explained to him, a simple plan that he found great joy and happiness in following.

He became an enthusiastic 12th stepper, literally dragging prospects for A.A. off bar stools.

Clarence started the first A.A. group in Cleveland in 1939, in part because some Roman Catholic priests in Cleveland were refusing to let Catholics attend the Oxford Group meeting in Akron.

This was the first group to use the name Alcoholics Anonymous. Nell Wing, Bill W.’s long-time secretary, said that Bill had been using the name since 1938 in letters and a pamphlet, but on this slender basis, Clarence forever claimed to have founded A.A.

Dorothy also was very active and did much to help A.A. in Cleveland. They were divorced before Clarence was drafted into the Army in 1942. Dorothy and their son moved to California.

Unfortunately, Clarence had an abrasive personality, and as one of his friends said, you either loved him or hated him. According to Nell Wing, had he not been so abrasive he probably would have been considered a co-founder of A.A.

When Clarence left Cleveland for military service a farewell party was held for him and he was presented with a wristwatch as a gift from all the West Side groups who acclaimed him for his pioneer work in Cleveland and particularly on the West Side. In a letter from basic training, Private Clarence S. said the going was rough, and he wished he were fifteen or twenty years younger. He supplied his address at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for anyone who wished to write him, and said he missed the association of the groups and was looking for other A.A. members in Kentucky.

He became very hostile toward Bill W. He opposed the traditions and continued to use his full name in public. He led a small group to oppose the Conference and the General Service Office.

After the war he married his second wife, Selma, who worked at the Deaconess Hospital, where her father was the director. Clarence often took alcoholics there to sober them up. Clarence and Selma moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. Eventually they divorced.

Clarence then married his third wife, Grace (also an A.A. member), and joined her as a member of the Assembly of God Church in Winter Park. They did much A.A. work together and conducted many religious retreats. Unlike Bill W., he always used his full name in public, and was honored with several prestigious awards for public service during his life, which he did not hesitate to accept.

He remained very active in A.A., and his A.A. work became increasingly Christian fundamentalist in nature. He and Grace lived at 142 S. Lake Triplet Drive in Casselberry, Florida, until his death on March 22, 1984.

He was buried in Cameron Cemetery in Cameron, North Carolina, in Grace’s family plot.

Clarence Snyder leading a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1982.

Sources for some of the information about Clarence’s later years are: “How It Worked, the Story of Clarence H. Snyder,” a book by Mitchell K., privately published, and “That Amazing Grace, the Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous,” by Dick B., Paradise Research Publications, San Rafael, California.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.