Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
Alcoholics Anonymous in the Columbia River Basin
Our History AA in Benton & Franklin Counties
- The History of Washington State Alcoholics Anonymous, 1941-1966: Everett K, 1966
- Our Stories Disclose … A History of the Washington Area of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1941-1986: Washington Area Assembly of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1987
Reference 1 was the result of an almost single-handed effort by Everett K to sketch the early years of AA in Washington State. AA experienced significant growth in Washington after Everett’s work Area was published, the vast majority of groups were formed in the years following the period covered by Everett’s work.
As such, the 1984 Washington Area Assembly in Pasco voted to authorize the formation of a Committee to investigate the viability of updating AA’s history in Washington. The 1985 Assembly in Olympia subsequently approved the Committee to proceed with this activity. The Committee gathered information throughout the Washington Area and also uncovered several letters from the G.S.O. archives in New York. Reference 2 was published in 1987 and reflected the results of the Committee’s effort.
The history of District 4 given below was taken from Chapter VIII of Reference 2, with permission of the 1987 Washington Area Assembly of Alcoholics Anonymous. This material is somewhat dated, and does not reflect the growth and changes in District 4 over the past 12 years, nor does it recognize the formation of Washington State East Area 92 in 1995. ‘Our History’ will be updated as more information is written and becomes available.
In the early days of the Washington Area, District 4 was the southeastern portion of the Area. This region formed one of the larger districts. It extended from the Oregon border in the south to Othello in the north and from Richland in the west to the Idaho border on the east. The district included Lewiston, Idaho.
It is difficult to determine who first brought the message to the region. Strangely, it appears that the oldest group still meeting is the Pioneer Group at the Washington State Penitentiary, now a part of District 26.
The size of District 4 has been reduced over the years with the formation of District 20 and 26. Othello chose to merge with District 5; when the Prosser Group got going, it became part of District 4. Today the district averages about eighteen registered groups and many meetings, largely in the Tri-Cities area.
There are some old-timers from Pasco who insist that the first meetings were held by railroaders at a back corner table in the old Past Time Cafe across from the Pasco railroad station.
We do know that A.A. was alive and well during this period. The first group in this area to register with the Alcoholic Foundation in New York was the Pasco Group. The group was registered in 1948 by Ed W. and Bob L. Gabe L. and Jack R. were also early members of this group. For many years this was the only registered group in the Tri-Cities.
Richland, from 1943 to 1955, was basically a government housing project; everyone who lived there either worked in Richland or on the Hanford Project. A lot of the early work around the reactors was classified and those working had to have security clearances. This was to create problems with anonymity.
Alcoholics were considered security risks, whether they were practicing or not, so members guarded their anonymity very carefully. For that reason, the group remained quite small and did not register with the Alcoholic Foundation for fear of an accidental breach of anonymity. For a long time the active members of the group were Howard J., Bob J., Paul, and Hank. Howard J. was one of the most active members in the Tri-Cities for a number of years. In June of 1944 he had been one of the original founders of the Pioneer Group at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla and for years acted as the institutional representative. He later became active in the Area structure and became the third Washington Area Delegate, serving during 1954 and 1955.
Both groups remained quite small for a number of years. There were a number of members who came, stayed for a short time, and went back out-just as it is today. The members tried everything they could to lend a hand to the suffering alcoholic who made the call for help. An old-timer describes those days:
There was no detox available, only the drunk tank. There were very few friendly doctors who would do much to try and help a drunk. You needed their help to get a drunk into the hospital because the hospital didn’t want them either. If you could get the person into the hospital, they would put them in the “psycho” ward which had only two beds. If they were full, that was tough. You then tried to sober them up wherever you could. If they had a place to live you took them there. You fed them coffee, honey, fruit juice or anything that they could hold down. If they didn’t have a place to stay, you took them to one of the member’s homes. Members took turns working with them until they got on their feet. You cleaned them up as best you could and tried to get them some better clothes if the ones they were wearing were shot. You tried to get them to eat decent food, and if they went into D.T.’s you’d give them a little booze to ease them back down. If you had any tranquilizers, you tried that too. They were practicing medicine without a license.
If the person was married, the members and their families pitched in with food, prepared meals, cleaned the house, baby sat the kids and did whatever it took to get the family on its feet. Sometimes the family got tough with the husband and had him thrown in jail until he promised to straighten up. There were not all the social help programs available that there are today.
There was a lot of visiting between groups. Richland and Pasco were constantly going back and forth, but there were frequent trips to Walla Walla, Yakima, and Lewiston. Visiting and working with the inmates at the State Penitentiary was an important part of group activities.
In July 1951, when Brook B. and Bob J. took Mel H. to his first meeting, the Pasco Group had eight active members. They included Charlotte B., Brook B., Scotty G., Bob H., Gabe L., Bob L., Ed W., and Alvira W.
The group fluctuated from eight to twelve very active members. Some of these were E. P. B., Bill C., Hank C., Earl D., Jim D., Curley E., Earl F., Roy H., Johnnie, Bob J., Jack R., Norm S., and Frank W.
The meetings did some moving around also. They began at the Navy Homes Administration Building, and moved to the old Navy Base Administration Building, occasionally meeting at Mel H.’s house in Burbank. For about ten years the A.A. telephone was at Mel’s house. When a twelfth-step call came in, Mel’s wife would contact some of the members and Mel, when he could, took a lot of the calls himself. Curley E. was a favorite companion on these calls and they spent many a night bringing the message to suffering alcoholics.
Members socialized with others in the Fellowship. It was wise to keep some extra items of food that could easily be fixed because the members never knew when they would be visited, or by how many. These visits generally included the whole family. It seemed that no one wanted to go home-often these meetings lasted into the wee small hours of the morning.
There was only one formal meeting of the Pasco Group each week; this was held on Tuesdays and lasted anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes. It was usually a discussion meeting on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The chairman would call on a person, give him a limited time to speak, and if the person ran over, shut him off! It was not considered out of line for another member to offer a comment or disagree with a speaker.
In the early days the members didn’t discuss with their families the contents of their meetings. After it was apparent the program was doing some good they didn’t care who they discussed it with.
There was no such thing as public information as we know it now. The members of both groups tried to inform the public as best they could. For literature, only the Big Book and what little that the Alcoholic Foundation had available was used. To inform the public on what A.A. offered, information meetings were organized much as we do today. Before long the members were receiving invitations to speak at the schools and many of the service clubs.
In 1953 the groups had a television program on the first local TV station in the Tri-Cities. It was located in Richland but went out of business in a few months. The members sat with their backs to the camera and answered questions called in by the listeners. It was very popular while it lasted.
The Richland and Pasco groups were not experiencing much growth. In December 1955 the groups merged and started meeting in an old building they rented at the Richland ‘Y’. They chose the building because it was between towns and was cheap. The building was dirty and run-down and required a lot of elbow grease, but soon it was in shape. There was room to sit and talk as well as play pinochle and poker.
With the move came such rapid growth that they had to find still larger quarters. In the fall of 1957 they moved to an old church in Kennewick which was later to become the Apple Seed Gallery. As cold weather set in the church proved too expensive to heat-in fact they almost froze to death.
Their Higher Power must have been watching and waiting for them, because the ideal place was found in the basement of the old Commercial Inn in downtown Kennewick. The place had been a club room, had a bar and facilities to fix food, and had enough room to allow growth in the group. There were two meetings a week now, one closed and one open. Al-Anon started meeting there too, after having met in members’ homes since about 1953.
The rapid growth in the group became a problem that had to be faced. A committee was chosen to find a building that the members could buy and start an Alano Club. Not too far from the Commercial Inn was an old church building at 102 E. Kennewick Avenue. The building was in tough shape, but in 1963 it looked beautiful, and more important, affordable.
By 1963 most of the members had moved to the Alano Club. There were a few, however, who decided to continue meeting in the basement of the Commercial Inn and so formed a new group. The members who moved to the Alano Club decided to split into three groups. They were the Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland Groups. Each had a plaque mounted on the wall of the Alano Club. Two of the plaques were made by Bob J.
It was tough keeping the club going. When things got tight, a special meeting was called and members were asked to chip in a little extra. Virgil N., during the first year or so of his sobriety, practically lived at the club and became an expert at spotting members who might have an extra five or ten dollars to help pay the bills. He became the club treasurer and served faithfully for many years.
The club did not remain open all the time. Members who were paid up in their dues could use their keys to come in anytime; otherwise, just before meeting time, a member would come down to fix coffee and unlock the doors. The doors would again be locked after the meeting unless something special was going on such as a dance or bingo.
In 1972 the first Washington Area Assembly to be held in the Tri-Cities convened at the Red Lion Inn in Pasco. It was followed by the 1974 Assembly at the Rivershore Inn in Richland. Ten years later, the 1984 Assembly was again held at the Pasco Red Lion Inn. Two Pacific Northwest Conferences have been held in the Tri-Cities area: the first in 1954 and the second in 1978. In March 1972 the Holiday Inn in Pasco was the site of the first Pacific Region A.A. Service Assembly. (P.R.A.A.S.A.) held in the Washington Area. In the spring of 1980 Shorty H. chaired the first Inland Empire Roundup, an event that has proven successful to this day.
Pasco No Smoking
Pasco Wednesday Night Group
The group first met in the basement of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church Rectory in Pasco. It was a general discussion meeting lasting ninety minutes, (or longer, according to the whims of the chairman) but gradually became a one-hour meeting. The group moved to the Episcopal Hall, the K.C. Hall, and the Lutheran Church on Road 40 (they were driven away from there because of their smoking). The next move was to the Grange Hall and from there to their present home at the hospital. They laughingly nicknamed themselves the Nomad Group.
The group strictly adheres to the Twelve Traditions and has a solid core of members with long-term sobriety. They are very active in the Tri-Cities area and for the past three years have sponsored the Old-Timers Meeting in February, two dances every year, and several workshops over the years.
The group has about a dozen home group members, but the Wednesday night meeting room is almost always filled to capacity. A business meeting is held regularly on the first Wednesday of each month. A.A. birthdays are celebrated on the last Wednesday with a birthday cake.
The goal of the group is to provide a meeting where women can meet and share on a frank, honest, and totally open basis the problems they have encountered as women alcoholics.
Sunday Morning Group
Grass Roots Group
Today it is a very solid group with twenty-two calling it their home group, with attendance ranging from eighteen to thirty-five. If sixteen are present they count off one-two, and the two’s go to the next room. If there are more than twenty-five, they count off one-two-three and split to three rooms. Active, regular members range in age from sixteen to seventy-seven. Basic A.A. as prescribed in Chapter Five of the Big Book is strictly adhered to. A sponsor is insisted on. It works!
Friday Night Group
Persons new to the Fellowship during their first visits are encouraged to put their name and their A.A. birthday on a white 3 x 5 card and put it in a slot on the “Badger Club” board under the appropriate month. The “Badger Club” is a way of keeping track of those who have birthdays and to make sure that they “keep coming back.” As time passes, the card turns increasingly brown from the nicotine in the air. It has become possible to tell how long a person has been in the program simply by the shade of the card.
Friday has always been one of the toughest nights of the week to get through for the alcoholic so it has always been important to have meetings available. For that reason Friday Night has always been a popular meeting. During the WPPSS construction days, attendance of seventy-five to one-hundred was not uncommon and birthday nights attracted overflow crowds. For a number of years it was basically an unstructured meeting.
In the fall of 1978 Ben B. asked Ron P. if he would help him form a group and take responsibility for the Friday night meeting. Ron was new to the Program and accepted the challenge. With Ben B. as G.S.R. and Ron P. as alternate secretary-treasurer and chief coffeemaker, the group registered with G.S.O. For years this was it until Lea G. showed up to take care of the birthday cakes. Later the group got a secretary in the form of “little” Dorothy (the club had a lot of Dorothys) and the group again grew.
The basic theme of the group is to enjoy sobriety. They have sponsored pie socials, box socials, sock hops, and speaker nights. Birthday night at the club is the main event Many members celebrated their first birthday at the Alano Club and have found it important to return, even from out of state. These members have joined other groups, but an A.A. birthday isn’t a birthday unless it is shared where it all started. This is where everyone seems to come to do the sharing.
Tuesday Night Big Book Study Group
Having belonged to study groups in the past and having been involved in the starting of a group in Castle Rock in 1979, Annie began to ask around to see how other members felt about starting a group. After some discussion several members decided that a Big Book study would be helpful to their sobriety.
The search began for a meeting place in January 1984. After checking on several meeting places in town, they decided to meet in the basement of the Tri-Cities Alano Club. The first meeting was held in April 1984 and consisted mostly of setting up a meeting format, etc. The group decided to meet each Tuesday for one hour to read a chapter and discuss it. There were seven original members, including Glen R., G.S.R.; Mary E., alternate G.S.R.; Annie H., secretary; John S., Central Office Representative, and Nena A. Hoping to follow the simplicity of A.A., they voted to name the group the Tuesday Night Big Book Study Group. Of the original members, four still regularly attend and attendance is ten to twelve members.
In time the group voted to extend the meeting to an hour and a half. A pattern was set to read for a half hour and have discussion conclude the last hour. They started reading the stories, which newer members really enjoyed, but have since found the group conscience is to read from the preface to the end of “Dr. Bob’s Nightmare.” They vary this pattern by reading one or two stories and then returning back to the beginning of the book. The information in the forward, preface, and The Doctors Opinion is so valuable they always include these portions in their study.
Richland – Prosser – Burbank
Richland Fellowship Group
In 1975 the group moved to the old Sacajawea School. Members met in room 130 until 1982, then in room 134, which enabled them to install an outside entrance.
The group has continued to register as one group, but there is at least one meeting every night and several day meetings. The format includes Step study, Big Book study, and open meetings on Saturday and Sunday with open discussions. Coffeemaker and chairman rotate on a somewhat irregular basis. Business meetings are held on a Tuesday.
The group’s focus is on basic A.A. The regular membership is about fifty, but the meetings attract a lot of visitors from Pasco and Kennewick as well as those who come to Richland on business.
In the spring of 1963 the meeting moved to the old library on Sheridan Street. There the first men came to stay, Leonard being one. Then a woman, Harriett W., came and stayed. Now there were four. Don C. was also an early member, coming to meetings when he was home on leave from the Navy.
The Prosser Group still thrives and continues to meet on Tuesday nights. A closed study meeting was started in the 1970’s; thus, the Tuesday and Thursday meetings make up the Prosser Group. The meeting place moved to the new library when it was built in the early 1970’s.
Claire worried about the first room being big enough to hold the four members. In December, sixty people gathered in that room for the first Prosser potluck. Later, in the new library, the potlucks were held in the basement. The potluck outgrew that facility and is now held at Smith Hall in the Catholic church. This event is attended by well over 250 and is always held on the first Sunday of December, as the first one was.
The group has twice hosted D.C.M. quarterly meetings and participated in district activities. Several members have been involved in Area service.
Other than losing the money out of the treasury several times over the years, the group has been relatively problem-free. It has had a good sense of balance, for the most part, and problems are solved before they become issues. There are about twenty people that call the Prosser Group their home group. There is now a Sunday night Prosser Young Peoples Group, which meets at 7:30 p.m. in the Prosser Library and a Monday Morning Group. So with the original group, there are now four meetings a week available.
The framed Serenity Prayer has been with the group since the first year. An A.A. fellow at the Washington State Penitentiary made the frame out of an apple box and gave it to Claire on one of his visits. Claire says “Punchy” could have gotten shot bringing it out. Seems as though Punchy saw Claire arrive and came running towards him. He couldn’t wait for him to come inside. We have several wooden plaques with A.A. slogans made for the group by Shorty H. from Kennewick. He also gave us a copy of the original manuscript of the Big Book.
The group has a good cross-section of people attending meetings, such as the young, the court ordered, those from treatment facilities, etc. If you are ever in the neighborhood, plan on attending a meeting here. They are great.
Burbank Tuesday Night Group
The members of this group currently meet in Burbank High School and are very service-oriented. The group is always looking for ways in which to interest others in service.
Alcoholics Anonymous in the Columbia River Basin