Founders’ Day 2007 Akron, Ohio

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Bill W. said it best while in Akron in 1945; “It was here that the miracle really happened. This is the hill where the AA beacon was lit 10 years ago. From here the light spread outward to guide others…” Akron, a Greek word meaning summit, sits on a ridge overlooking the surrounding Ohio countryside.

Each year at the weekend nearest AA’s birthdate, some 10,000 of us converge from around the world to convene at Akron’s University of Akron.

We attend the formal events and/or simply hang out with other alcoholics from everywhere. The typical first event of the weekend is a one-step-per-hour meeting stretching from 10 am to 10 pm that day. Old-timers, Young People, Al Anon/Alateen, Spanish-Speaking, Traditions, Alcathons, and Speaker meetings fill the weekend as well as plays, skits, historic presentations, and dances, dances, dances. Sunday morning is very special. Starting at around 7:00 am the motorcycles start to line up for the procession to Dr. Bob’s gravesite. Started in the 1970’s, hundreds of bikes and vehicles gather in a line long enough that when the first vehicle arrives at Mt. Peace cemetery, the last vehicle has yet to leave the University.

An educator by trade, Gail L. organized the history of AA in pictures and narrative adorning the two fifty-foot-plus halls of that office. It starts with a life-size stained glass rendition of the Grapevine’s “Man on the Bed” painting, proceeds to “Embassy Row” (a complete collection of all the Big Book translations into other languages), and then launches into our history from the precursors of AA all the way through to the last International Convention.

Founders’ Day offers bus tours of the historic sites in Akron. Visitors to the Gate Lodge are often startled when they see the library where our co-founders first met. Their mind’s eye envisions something grander than the very small room where a hung-over doctor gave “this bird fifteen minutes” and ended up talking for hours. Somehow, the humility of this simple room makes the story all the better.

No tour is complete without a stop at Dr. Bob’s house. “Welcome home!” their volunteers greet you. The small size of the house as well as the large crowd wanting to see it makes for long lines at times.

The tour ends at the Intergroup Office where volunteer guides share in the awe of over a thousand visitors to the office during the weekend. One of the wonderful perks of volunteering at the Office is you don’t take living in Akron for granted. The volunteers vicariously view their city through the grateful eyes of their visitors. Dr. Carl Jung, who figures in our history, penned the term “synchronicity” to define happenings like us where so many unrelated events all came together to make something wonderful.

The Office hosts old-timers and newcomers alike. A young woman, two weeks sober, was visiting the archives and asked, “Were Bill and Bob brothers or something?” The long-timer archives volunteer told her the story of the founding of AA, the sacrifices the early members made so that she and others would have the opportunity to have the gift of recovery, and before the story was finished both were crying. That is the miracle of Founders’ Day, for despite the vast difference in sobriety and age, both are exactly the same—recovering alcoholics.

The “JAR” (James A. Rhodes Arena) at the university can seat nearly 5,000 and so is big enough for all but the Saturday evening meeting. This often takes place at a local stadium.

The weekend is put together by the Founders’ Day committee of the Akron Intergroup. Five Co-Coordinators are joined by five members of the steering committee to organize the millions of details that go into putting on an event of this magnitude. It is a ten-year service commitment, and a tribute to the dedication of this committee.

When did Founders’ Day begin? Well…in October of 1941, Bill and Bob both spoke and Bob traced the early history of the movement. On November 8th, 1942, Bill W. spoke at the “annual AA Meeting” in Hotel Carter in Cleveland to an audience of 1,000. Dr. Bob and a Cleveland AA also spoke.

Bill’s 10th Anniversary talk on June 10th, 1945 at the historic Mayflower Hotel was the precursor of Founders’ Days to come. It finished with a weekend gathering hosting Dr. Bob and Bill in Cleveland’s Music Hall. It garnered 2,500 AAs from 36 states, Canada and Mexico.

These anniversary meetings continued in Cleveland in ’46 and ’47, moving to Akron in 1948 where 5,000 of us attended. In ’49 neither Dr. Bob (his wife Anne had just died) nor Bill W. came. Meetings continued through the 1950’s taking place mainly at Goodyear Hall until 1957 when a meeting was held at the University of Akron and events covered two days for the first time.

The first Saturday night speaker meeting and first memorial service for Dr. Bob was held in 1961. The first dance was in 1962. “Modern” Founders’ Day began in 1965 when the event was held Friday through Sunday for the first time.

Our tribe, the children of the bottle, share a commonality. We have witnessed events that few people experienced and we had seen forms of human behavior about which we never speak until we come together and feel that we are painted with magic, that Founders’ Day had been created just for us. And that is what Founders’ Day is all about, gathering from all over the world to celebrate recovery.

By Bob M., Gail L., & Jay M.

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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.