Pioneers of A.A.
“Beer and wine were not the answer.”
Joe’s date of sobriety was April 1936. He was 12th stepped by Dr. Bob, and was probably the first Roman Catholic in A.A.
He was born in Germany and grew up on “good Rhine wine of song and story.” His parents wanted him to become a priest and he attended a Franciscan school at Basle, Switzerland. But although he was a good Catholic, the monastic life did not appeal to him, so he became a harness-maker and upholsterer.
He drank about a quart of wine a day, which was common in his part of the world. Everybody drank wine.
He did his compulsory military service, and took part in the Boxer Rebellion in China. There he experimented with more potent beverages. When he returned to Germany he resumed his wine drinking.
At age twenty-four, he came to America and settled in Cleveland where he had relatives. He founded a mattress factory and was doing well with his general upholstering work, and there was every indication that he would be financially independent by the time he was middle aged. By this time he was married and was paying for a home.
He thought American wine inferior to German so drank beer instead. When Prohibition became law he quit drinking altogether, since he couldn’t get what he liked. He hardly tasted anything for two years.
Soon like his friends, he began to drink home-brew, which was a lot stronger than he had been used to. More and more he started doing some of his business in the speakeasy. There he could buy whiskey, which was easier to transport than beer or wine, and he developed a taste for hard liquor.
It soon became obvious that he had a problem with alcohol. He became a periodic drinker, and was eased out of the business he had founded and was reduced to doing general upholstery in a small shop at the back of his house.
His wife complained about his drinking, so he hid bottles all over the house. At times he would resolve never to drink again and pour out full pints and smash the bottles, only to find himself frantically searching for any he missed so he could have a drink.
He began to absence himself from the church where he had formerly been a member of the choir. He never asked the priest to give him the pledge like many other Catholic alcoholics did. (It was common at that time for Roman Catholics who had problems with alcohol to pledge to a priest that they would stop drinking. It usually didn’t work if the man was an alcoholic.)
Then occurred the event that saved him. Dr. Bob visited him. He did not ask any questions except whether he was definite about his desire to quit drinking. There were no more than four or five in Dr. Bob’s group at the time, but they befriended him. He was advised “You’ve been trying man’s ways and they always fail. You can’t win unless you try God’s way.”
He had no problem with what they were teaching him because his church taught the same thing. He put into practice what he was being taught and soon Dr. Bob sent him to talk to other alcoholics.
The first few months were hard: business trials, little worries, and feelings of general despondency nearly drove him to the bottle, but he made progress in the spiritual life.
“As I go along I seem to get strength daily to be able to resist more easily. And when I get upset, cross-grained and out of tune with my fellow man I know that I am out of tune with God. Searching where I have been at fault, it is not hard to discover and get right again, for I have proven to myself and to many others who know me that God can keep a man sober if he will let him.”
Dorothy S., the wife of Clarence S. (“The Home Brewmeister”), was eager to help this group reach other alcoholics. She approached Rev. Dilworth Lupton, of the First Unitarian Church in Cleveland, concerning the group, but he was negative about the Oxford Group and wanted nothing to do with it. After the Cleveland members broke away from the Oxford Group, she approached him again, this time with a copy of the book and with the names of some Roman Catholics who were members. Among the names was that of Joe D. The fact Joe D. was associated with this new Cleveland group was sufficient proof to Reverend Lupton that the alcoholic fellowship had indeed broken with the Oxford Group, and he offered to help in any way he could.
He preached a sermon called “Mr. X. and Alcoholics Anonymous,” which Dorothy arranged to have covered by the press. It was later made into one of the first pamphlets used by Cleveland A.A.