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The Washtenaw Alano Club

Since 1969, the Washtenaw Alano Club (WAC) has fulfilled its mission “to provide a facility and environment conducive to spiritual growth for recovery from addictive behavior” by hosting a variety of 12-step recovery groups and offering social, educational, and recreational activities. 

WAC currently serves 1,500 visitors each week over the course of 72 meetings covering eighteen distinct 12-step programs. Among these are: Al-Alanon, ACOA, AlaTeen, Narcotics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Artists Recovering Through the Twelve Steps. 

WAC supporter, Judge Sandy J. Elden
WAC supporter, Judge Sandy J. Elden

History & Founders

WAC was founded in 1969 through the efforts of a group of people in recovery who decided Ann Arbor needed its own Alano Club. WAC is currently one of numerous Clubs nationwide that host regular meetings and other social events for people in recovery. Some of the early community leaders and members who played a role in establishing WAC are: Leo H. Evans, Grace J. Yesley, Allen L. Rendel, Richard Hammerstein, Judge Sandy J. EldenJames H. FondrenRev. Robert C. Grigereit, Ronald D. RinkerDr. Margaret Clay, Mrs. Robert Harris, James W. Henderson, Dr. Russell F. Smith, Patricia O'Sullivan, Gerald H. Voice, Ed L. Clark, Margaret E. Brooks, Patricia Goulet, Paul Clark, Elaine Ambrose, Barry Kistner, Steve Carr, and Dr. George S. Fischmann

WAC filed articles of incorporation on October 27, 1969, and first began meeting at an older house on North Main Street. However, this location's cramped quarters and lack of parking weren't ideal and by March 1970, business meetings were being held once a month at the Calvary Methodist Church at 1415 Miller Avenue. On July 1, 1971, the Club drafted its first By-Laws, and on April 6, 1973, WAC was officially granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Meanwhile, original charter member, Leo H. Evans, initiated fundraising efforts to find a more suitable meeting space and in September 1975, WAC signed a lease for its first home in the Fourth Avenue Arcade at 212 South Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. They moved in on November 23.

WAC Club Members, 1974
WAC Club Members, 1974

After three years, the reputation of this particular block of Fourth Avenue, which at the time included both liquor stores and adult bookstores, encouraged the group to begin scouting for a new location. For a short period, beginning in August 1978, this location would be an office building at 2500 Packard Rd, Suite 204; then, on November 4, 1980, WAC moved to 2761 South State Street. During the seven years at the State Street location, the Club expanded services to include additional activities and social events such as volleyball and softball teams. 

995 North Maple Road

Late in the summer of 1986, WAC was notified its lease would not be renewed and the State Street building would be sold. With only 60 days to vacate, members scrambled to find a new location. At this time, they learned that the Ann Arbor Public School Board was selling property at 995 North Maple Road - the former Fritz School building - which had served as both an elementary school and alternative school within the Ann Arbor Public School system. Although WAC was not the highest bidder for the property, it was granted the bid of $127,500, due in part to members on the School Board who supported the Club’s mission to serve the community. The Ann Arbor City Council also approved a rezoning request to permit WAC to use the building. 

WAC building at 995 N. Maple
WAC building at 995 N. Maple Rd

WAC now owns the building at 995 North Maple. Set on a large parcel of oak woods with picnic areas, parking, and a rain garden, its interior space consists of meeting rooms, a lounge, and a concession area. Its first major project was to build a parking lot, and a 1992 fundraising drive helped to replace the aging roof. The work of several Board committees has contributed to other improvements to both interior and exterior spaces over the years. 

On May 21, 2013, as part of an effort to rebrand the Club and fulfill a strategic plan to attract more members, the Board of Directors revised Club bylaws to cancel the collection of member dues and changed the name of the Club to Maple Rock. But these efforts were not universally embraced and were challenged by some long-time members. In December of 2015, county judge Archie Brown ruled that the Club was indeed a Membership Non-Profit and, in February 2016, authorized an election to choose new Board members. The Club's name also reverted to the Washtenaw Alano Club.

Events & Activities

Over the course of its history, WAC has sponsored numerous events and fundraisers, including monthly dances held at off-site locations such as Saint Francis of Assisi Church on East Stadium Boulevard. Other annual events include picnics, Christmas tree sales, and free holiday meals. Social activities include potlucks, movie nights, games nights, and sports.  

Alano Club Members meet, December 1984
WAC Officers, December 1984

Learn More about the Washtenaw Alano Club:

Articles from the Ann Arbor News

Photographs from the Ann Arbor News

Washtenaw Alano Club's 50th Anniversary Video

Highlights from oral history interviews with Mark, Jess, Kathy, and Nan

Library Threads

For nearly two centuries, volunteers and professionals have connected local readers to a wider world.

From its earliest days Ann Arbor has been a reading town with enthusiastic library supporters. Its first library was launched in 1827, just threeyears after the ci!J was founded. Even so, the history of our libraries is not a straight line from then to now. Different threads, professional and volunteer, paid and free, have woven back and forth ever since.

Today those strands are woven tightly together: we now have the professional Ann Arbor District Library and two independent volunteer groups that work closely with it. The Friends of the Library turns sixty-three this year, and the Ladies Library Association celebrates its sesquicentennial this month -- jointly with the AADL, which is marking its own twentieth year of independence (see Events, October 1).

We know about the 1827 library because in 1830, George Corselius ran an article lamenting its deficiencies. The editor of the Western Emigrant sought "twenty or thirty individuals" able to pay $3 each to expand that small collection into a more robust "circulating library." For that fee, readers could read Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans or the Encyclopedia Americana. Other private libraries followed, as well as reading clubs whose members bought books to share.

It wasn't until 1856 that the city had its first free, publicly accessible library. When the Union High School opened that year at the comer of State and Huron, citizens could use the library in the superintendent's office.

In 1866 the Ladies Library Association was formed as a subscription library. According to the group's history, the thirty-five founders -- "a determined group of socially prominent local women" -- paid $3 to join and $1 a year in dues for the privilege of borrowing books from its collection. They also sponsored lectures, concerts, art shows, and readings.

After renting various places, in 1885 the LLA bought a lot at 324 E. Huron. The club hired Chicago architects Allen and Irving Pond -- whose mother, Mary, was a member of the LLA -- to design the city's first freestanding library there.

Four years later, in 1889, the school board moved the high school library into its own room, and hired twenty-three-year-old typist Nellie Loving as the district's first librarian. She stayed for thirty-nine years and was an energetic advocate. "She even went to the firemen at the station," recalled Elizabeth Stack, a founder of the Friends of the Library. "They were just sitting around. 'Why don't you read something?' she asked." She followed up by bringing them books, which they later returned asking for something "livelier."

Loving's response is not on record, but the ladies of the LLA didn't just want to entertain readers-they saw themselves as "a force for intellectual and moral improvement." The minutes of the group's 1872 annual meeting observe that though the demand for fiction exceeded the supply, "we are happy to state that a large proportion of the books purchased during the year are of a character to stimulate earnest thought and fully meet the needs of the intellectual mind."

From its start, the LLA women wanted a free public library -- but they couldn't get the city to fund it. Finally, in 1902, LLA president and school board member Anna Botsford Bach suggested that the two groups apply jointly for a $20,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who was building libraries all across America. However, they deadlocked over the location: the school board insisted that the library be in or near the high school, while the LLA wanted a separate site.

The problem was solved two years later, but at a high cost: in 1904, the high school burned down. Luckily students rescued most of the 8,000 books in the middle of the night; they were stored across the street in the Methodist Church's parlor.

The school board applied for and won a new $30,000 Carnegie grant. The library was built alongside and connected to the new high school, but the school faced State St. and had a skin of brick, while the library faced Huron and was finished in stone.

In 1916, on its fiftieth anniversary, the LLA gave its collection of several thousand books to the public library, and its building to the school board. The building was used by the Red Cross in World War I, and later by the Boy Scouts. It was tom down in 1945; its site is now occupied by the fortress-like Michigan Bell building.

In 1928, Nellie Loving's successor, Frances Hannum, separated the school and public collections. She moved the schoolbooks to the third floor and made the bottom two floors a public library, with the lower level the children's room.

In 1953, the city sold the high school to the U-M, using the money to start work on what is now Pioneer High. The university renamed the old school the Frieze Building, after a beloved classics professor. When it was tom down in 2007 to make way for North Quad, the library's Huron St. face was incorporated into the wall of the quad-what preservationists call a facadectomy.

The school's move again brought up the question of where the public library belonged. The Friends of the Library was organized in 1953 to lobby for a downtown site: the comer of Fifth and William, where the old Beal house was for sale. Elizabeth Stack organized the Friends' first fundraising book sale on the grounds of the house. Friends member Bob Iglehart recalled in

The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885. a 1995 remembrance that "it was a rather pitiful affair, not a whole lot of books, but there were also homemade cookies, potted plants, and the general aspect of a ladies church affair." And it raised enough money to rent a bookmobile to take books to playgrounds that summer.

The schools did buy the site, and the new library, designed by Midland modernist Alden Dow, was dedicated on October 13, 1957. Clements Library director Howard Peckham said that the shared civic space "added an extra room to each of our houses." The Friends moved their growing collection of donated books out of Stack's garage and into the library's basement, and their sales to its sheltered front porch.

The new library was still run by the school system, so the Friends lobbied for a citizens' committee to advise the school board on the library's needs. Fred Mayer, a committee member in the 1960s, recalls that they dealt with such issues as fees for nonresidents, problem patrons, new programs, and summer reading.

Finances got easier after 1973, when the school board put a separate 1.3-mill tax for the library on the ballot. It got more votes than the schools millage, and in 1974, the library added a 20,000-square foot addition. Designed by architect and book lover Don Van Curler, its high wells of windows and enclosed garden fit with the original Dow design. In 1991 Osler/ Milling designed a second addition, adding two floors to the Van Curler addition, renovating the older part, and updating mechanical systems.

In 1980 the Friends expanded their annual sales into a bookshop in the library's basement. Elizabeth Ong, who organized it, is still an active volunteer. The shop was managed for many years by volunteer Mary Parsons, who stressed in her final report that "the sales should always be considered a community service first." But in addition to getting books into the hands of new readers, the sales also raised a lot of money. The Friends used to sponsor the "Booked for Lunch" speaker series and many other services and amenities such as literacy programs, staff workshops and scholarships, and taking books to hospitals and senior residences. They also advocated for the new branches and led millage campaigns.

In 1994, when the state's Proposal A took away school boards' authority to levy taxes for public libraries, the schools and city council sponsored creation of a new district library. An interim board was created, with Mayer as president, to divide the buildings and land, and reconfigure services that had been provided by the schools.

On June 10, 1996, voters in the Ann Arbor School District overwhelmingly approved a two-mill district library tax, and elected the first library board. Of the original seven members, only Ed Surovell remains today. Twenty years later, he says, "We're dramatically better, with higher attendance and a higher number of programs." He points to advances such as more foreign language books, the incorporation of the county library for the blind, and the construction of three new branches, Malletts Creek, Pittsfield, and Traverwood, plus the expansion of the Westgate branch.

As for the Internet, Josie Parker, director of the library since 2002, says, "We decided, instead of fighting it, to use it as a tool." Parker points out that "the public can now use the library's catalogue 2417 wherever they may be." Reserving or renewing books and getting books from other libraries are also much easier. The online Summer Game attracts 7,000-9,000 players, from children to adults.

Although Ann Arbor voters have a history of supporting library funding, in 2012 they turned down a millage to build a new downtown library. Since then, the AADL has been figuring out how to best use the present building, make necessary repairs, and, in Parker's words, "match the collection with the space." Fiction has been moved to the second floor and magazines and local history materials to the third floor. The first floor still has art prints, DVDs, and new and Zoom Lends books (high-demand volumes that rent for $1 a week), along with art, science and music tools. These are stored on wheeled carts, so a large area can be cleared for special events such as the Maker Faire and a comic book convention. A library board slate running in November (seep. 35) says they'll make a new millage vote a priority.

Like the library itself, the Friends now make greater use of the Internet. In Parsons' time, when they spotted valuable books or documents, they worked at either finding a place to donate them, perhaps to the Bentley or Clements, or sold them. The Internet has made this process much easier. (It helps that many of their sorters are retired librarians or specialists who are good at identifying books of interest.)

When the elevators failed during a routine inspection in 2014, the Friends bookstore moved up to the first floor. Business was so good there that they stayed. The group now annually gives the library $100,000 or more; the money is used mostly for children's activities, including library visits for every second grader in the district. The Friends' former basement space is now the AADL's "Secret Lab," where children can work on messier projects such as cooking or art.

The Ladies Library Association also is still active. One of its earlier members, Alice Wethey, "was a terrific treasurer," says Joan Innes, a member for sixty-three years. "She was a tremendous investor and put our money into blue chip stocks." The LLA's twenty-woman board, which includes both Innes and her artist daughter, Sarah, uses the income to support the library's purchase of art books, framed fine art reproductions that patrons can borrow, and art-themed games for the children's department. As the new branches opened, the LLA also bought original works by local artists to display there.

The library has just hired its own volunteer coordinator, Shoshana Hurand, formerly with the Arts Alliance. "It's a real breakthrough and will offer volunteers a wider variety of opportunities," says library board member Margaret Leary. Parker explains that until now library volunteers have been handled by whoever answered the phone for the specific project. Now one person will see where volunteers might fit-maybe with kids' sewing or art projects, or online help, or in many other ways. The Friends will stay totally separate, although both entities will probably send people to each other.

On October 1 (see Events), the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ladies Library Association will celebrate their twentieth and !50th anniversaries, respectively. The event will feature a talk by Francis Blouin, U-M professor of history and information and retired head of the Bentley Historical Library, entitled "Connecting the City."

"We talk a lot these days about 'connectivity' that now means being plugged into the Internet and all the information it provides," Blouin explains. "But being connected certainly predates the arrival of the smartphone. Ann Arbor in the nineteenth century, though a small town, also wanted to be connected to the wider world." Thanks to generations of avid readers and hardworking library supporters, those connections now are stronger than ever.


[Caption 1]: Founded in 1866 as a subscription library, the Ladies Library Association continues to support library purchases. Artist-member Sarah Innes envisioned an early meeting (left) and painted a group portrait today (below).

[Caption 2]: A $30,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie paid for the city's first dedicated public library. Only its facade survives, on North Quad.

[Caption 3]: The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885.

A City Made Beautiful By Gardens - The History of the Ann Arbor Garden Club

The Old News collection of Ann Arbor News articles and photos on the Ann Arbor Garden Club spans more than 80 years, starting in 1930, and chronicles not only changes in the club itself, but in women’s role in the world. When the club started in 1930, it was an era when women were known by their husband’s name with a Mrs. in front of it and took their position in society based on his profession.

The club was formed by a merger of three community groups - The Garden Sections of the Faculty Women’s Clubs, the Woman’s Club of Ann Arbor, and the Ann Arbor Garden Club. Of these three entities, the faculty women’s club appears to be the most active. They had started a yearly garden show in 1926, held in the Hudson-Essex agency on East Washington, and in the years following, at the Detroit Edison building (where the Detroit Edison parking lot is now). Their most memorable activity, a year before the merger, was a visit to Mrs. Henry Ford’s garden arranged by Mrs. Ford’s sister, a Mrs. Grant, the president of the Dearborn garden club.

The new garden club’s mission was “to make Ann Arbor beautiful by improving individual gardens.” Most of the meetings were held in the afternoon, possible in the days when women generally didn’t work out of the home. Their events - elections of officers, meetings in homes, speakers, public service projects - were given full coverage in the Ann Arbor News, often accompanied with pictures of women posing in their gardens dressed in formal attire. The Ann Arbor Garden Club was the first federated garden club in Michigan and took a leadership role in the state as other communities organized.

Ann Arbor Flower Show Salesgirls

In the early days the emphasis was on educating themselves and the community on the basics of gardening. Meetings were full of practical information such as the use of herbs or how to grow vegetables. Special interest groups led meetings with talks on their specialties such roses or perennial shrubs. Eli Gallup, the city’s first superintendent of parks, spoke to the group on trees and soil. Larger events open to the public included “A Pilgrimage to God’s First Temples,” a noted expert speaking in 1935 on his “round the world trip to see the rarest and most beautiful trees, illustrated with tinted stereopticon pictures which his wife had colored using notes from the trip.” A 1940s program featured a plant geneticist showing stereopticon pictures “in natural colors of flower fields in Michigan and California.” A talk from the associate editor of Better Homes and Gardens was co-sponsored by U-M’s school of landscape design.

In the summer the club organized garden walks, open only to members, where they visited a selection of each other’s gardens. The garden shows, however, were open to the public as part of the club’s effort to improve gardens city wide. Called the “Ann Arbor Citizen’s Flower Show,” the only requirement was that the flowers be grown in Ann Arbor. During the months leading up to the show, the News articles were full of requests for people to participate, even with clip out entry forms and ads in the paper during the event urging people to attend.

Children Prepare Flower Arrangements for Ann Arbor Flower Show

To beautify public areas of the city, the club at various times provided flowers for the Michigan League, the public library, and the post office. In 1937 they sponsored a City Beautiful contest, giving awards for gardens in a wide array of categories such as homes, industry, businesses, fraternities and sororities, and institutions. They also visited schools to teach children about gardening and nature and helped them build bird houses.

In 1938 the Ann Arbor Garden club hosted the state convention of the Federated Garden Clubs. In addition to many displays - how to do ikebana, drawings and photos of plants - the event included visits to prominent member’s gardens. Mrs. James Inglis, considered the club’s founding mother, invited attendees to breakfast. (Her house on Highland has been owned by U-M since 1951.) Mrs. Harry Earhart invited people to tea at her house (now part of Concordia) to see her gardens complete with one of the rare green houses in town. The event ended with a ball at the Michigan Union with gardenias given as favors. The Ann Arbor News photo shows Mrs. Alexander Ruthven, wife of U-M president, presenting a flower to Mrs. Frederick Coller, whose husband was head of U-M’s Department of Surgery.

Hospital work varied but was always one of their major projects. In the 1941, after hearing a talk on flower arranging, they decided to start every meeting with a member demonstrating a different arrangement, after which the sample was given to the hospital. In 1942 they committed themselves to keeping the ninth floor of University Hospital filled with flowers. They first collected vases that their members were not using. They then arranged that every Wednesday members could bring flowers to the ambulance entrance and hand their contributions to an attendant, thus avoiding the need to park.

Handing Out Corsages at the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan Convention Banquet

The first mention of World War II in the garden club articles occurred in January 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor, when members putting together the club book announced that it “was designed to meet war conditions.” They assured the group that they had taken into account a shortage of materials and increased costs and added information on Victory Gardens. The club finished out the year with a speaker on vegetables and a garden walk, after which there is no mention of the garden club for the next seven years. These same ladies were no doubt using their organizational skills to do war work. See “Ann Arbor Goes to War” in Old News.

Articles about the Garden Club reappeared in 1949 with the announcement of an exhibit at Clements Library that included books and drawings about flowers and gardening. In the post-war era the club returned to many of their original projects but with less of an emphasis on basic gardening techniques and more interest in the wider world. Their new beautification project was raising money for a Shakespeare Garden at the Michigan League. The garden was to contain plants mentioned in the Bard’s works. An art walk through selected gardens was organized, with sculpture loaned by the Forsythe Gallery. Programs often focused on other nations, such as a talk by a member who had returned from Japan on the gardens of that country or a Christmas program on Christmas tree decorations of others lands.

Club members were interested in, and became experts in, a new field called “garden therapy.” They worked with patients at the County Hospital (where the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center now stands) teaching them how to make corsages and do flower arrangements. They visited children in University Hospital, showing them how to work with fresh flowers. They also continued working with children through the schools, planting bulbs at Eberwhite, working with Wines’ students to set up a flower show, helping Thurston students plant fir trees to later replant nearer the school building, and awarding a conservation scholarship to a teacher for summer camp at Higgins Lake.

The intense coverage the News gave the garden club in the pre-war years lessened as the town grew and more activities vied for attention. In the 1980s women gradually began being referred to by their Christian names, sometimes used interchangeably with Mrs. in the same article.

In 1991 the garden club took on the big job of reinstating the yearly garden shows, which they had stopped in World War II. After the war they held events that they called garden shows but they were small events reserved mainly for their members. The new one was, and is, for the whole community, as were the original ones. In 2001 garden club president, Kathy Fojtik encouraged “a large contingent of people to bring their plants, something they’ve spent time raising.”

In the twenty-first century the News gave the garden club much less coverage, with only an occasional article, usually about events open to the public such as an upcoming garden show or garden tour. The last one in the collection is a 2006 article noting that the garden club gave Matthaei Botanical Gardens a decorative garden gate.


View all articles about the Ann Arbor Garden Club.

View all photos about the Ann Arbor Garden Club.