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The following document is one of four that has been saved at the Mackinaw City archives of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. One of these is a typed document called “An Informal History”, created in 1973 by Frances Roots Hadden. The other three documents are transcripts of taped conversations with Phil Porter, Director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. These conversations happened in 1992 and 1993 with, variously, Willard T. Hunter, Vern and Meryl Eriksson, Basil Entwistle, and James and Ellie Newton. These people were present when the events took place on Mackinac Island, and were often participants. As such they were able to speak with credibility. All except Phil Porter are now deceased.
WILLARD HUNTER AND VERN ERIKSSON CONVERSATION WITH PHIL PORTER AT FORT MACKINAC, JULY 29, 1992
The original source was an audio tape. A typed transcript was created from this tape by staff of the Mackinaw City Archives. In 2009 the hardcopy transcript was converted to computer-based files using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and was then edited by Susan McGregor using Microsoft Word. The editor corrected verifiable errors in wording, in spelling and in names, but made no changes that would affect the meaning of the original document. The transcript clearly reflects the oral nature of the conversation and no attempt has been made to alter this. The editor chooses to preserve the original source instead of editing for clarity or readability.
Mackinaw City Archives
Brian S. Jaeschke
Mackinac State Historic Parks
P.O. Box 873
Mackinaw City, Michigan 49701
(231) 436 - 4100 Ext. 107
(231) 436 - 4210 Fax
Susan R. McGregor
154 Brixham Crescent
London, Ontario, Canada
TAPE OF WILLARD HUNTER AND VERN ERIKSSON CONVERSATION WITH PHIL PORTER AT FORT MACKINAC, JULY 29, 1992
Eriksson: I wonder if it would be helpful if we just gave, in a very brief way, preliminaries to Moral Re-Armament coming here. Would that be helpful?
Porter: That would be good. Maybe I could explain some of the things I would be interested in. And we as an organization would be interested in.
Porter: I think we recognize that there is a very significant portion of 20th century Mackinac history that took place here based on the activities of Moral Re-Armament, back beginning I think in 1945 when they came.
Porter: '42 and extended all the way through the college, and what I see is that so many people associated with Moral Re-Armament and with the college are gone now, and at one time many people lived here, had their home, and I'm afraid with them goes so much of this history. My concern is that some of this be preserved in terms of a narrative of what happened. Also this organization has an organization that collects and preserves Mackinac history and can also be the repository for reminiscences and artifacts and photographs, and that we, as an organization, can protect that history by collecting and protecting those archival materials as well. Which we have already started doing. We have about 12 rolls of film that were shot at one time of various early photographs, the makings of the buildings, so I also wanted to express that concept, that we be the repository for that kind of thing as well. And there is also a public interest. I was just talking with Jennifer Defoe today. She runs the Chamber of Commerce and she asked me is there any sort of one page description of what Moral ReArmament was? I said I would be talking with you gentlemen this afternoon and that's another by-product for our staff and people downtown who do ask, what was MRA? Tell us a little bit about them. It would be nice to have a one-pager as well as a more substantial collection. So those are some of our concerns and interests. Start with an overview and outline of history and contributions and activities.
Hunter: I'll start in and you jump in and ask questions if you want.
Porter: I would like to get a copy of the tape you are making.
Hunter: I come with some disclaimers. My connection with the island here continuously was 1942 to 1956, and I was in on the negotiation that established the center here in the first place. I gave all of my time to the program of Moral Re-Armament from 1938 to 1956. I was a close associate with Frank Buchman. I ran into this when I was in college, and it changed my life. I was on my way into politics and I went to Harvard Law School and I finally decided that was not for me. I gave that up and went into this because I felt that people were going to change things and not organizations and institutions and treaties and whatever. So that was what I gave my life to and a lot of people did. And Buchman was a very charismatic leader. He himself ran into a spiritual experience. As a young man he came out of Pennsylvania Dutch background in eastern Pennsylvania. Born in 1878. We just completed his centennial celebration in eastern Pennsylvania last year. He found an experience and found a way that through a change of heart in himself he was able to pass on this experience to somebody else, and he said if we could do that, if human nature can change, then this is the answer. So he began to work this thing out in Pennsylvania State University. He was the YMCA secretary there for 5-6 years. He did quite a job, turned around the whole atmosphere of the campus according to objective reports. And after this sort of laboratory experience, he says if this works for these kids in college it is going to work for anybody. So he went on the road himself in 1921, first known as 1st Century Christian Fellowship because he was getting back to the basics, the essentials, kind of skipped the stained glass and ...what this does for people. In 1928 it began to be known as the Oxford Group, really because a number of Rhodes Scholars and others in Oxford got the idea and took it back to their countries. It was known as that for 10 years, went really around the world at that time, and then was known from 1938 on as Moral Re-Armament. Buchman felt as the war was coming up, everybody knew it was on its way, that in the middle of this armaments race, what the nations needed was moral and spiritual re-armament. So that was an idea that better expressed the idea of the program than the Oxford Group which sounded a little more like a debating society. So the MRA began to take over and of course it was easier to put in headlines as MRA. And the basic idea was that God has a plan for everybody and everybody can find out what that is. Not just to make you feel better, or make your family better, but this was an experience that could get labor and management together, to get international people together and it was based on four absolute moral standards, absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, under the guidance of God. That was basically the experience of a lot of people. In the 30s, as you may know, a number of alcoholics got changed through this, turned their lives over to God, got dried out, and they were so excited about this, we would like to do this for drunks. And Buchman said, "Well, fine, but we've got a lot of other problems beside alcohol, and let's all work together to remake the world". And they said, "No, we just want to change drunks". So they spun off and took principles, and formed Alcoholics Anonymous. The twelve steps they acknowledged were Buchman's principles, a codification of Buchman's life-changing principles. So if you want to know what MRA is really, look at those 12 steps and that's it.
A guy named Howard Blake and I, another fu11-time person older than I am, I talked to him on the phone just the other day, were sort of in charge of the work in the Middle West, at least setting up, for the oncoming of the task force. At that time, during the war, 1942, we had a show called You Can Defend America. And a lot of people who saw that said, "We knew what we were fighting against, but this is the first time we saw what we are fighting for". And it did a tremendous lot in the war industries around Detroit and Grand Rapids, etc. and we had this big show put on in the....auditorium night after night and I've got a picture of Henry Ford and his wife, who were there and Murray Van Wagoner, the governor, and everybody, the top auto makers and auto workers were there, and they began to say, "Well, this is great to have a show that gets lots of enthusiasm and new ideas, but how do we follow through and make this available, so people can hook onto it". Murray Van Wagoner, the governor at that time, said, "We got a place up there on Mackinac Island, Mackinac State Park, called the Island House, and it's just sitting there. It has gone back to the state for back taxes. They went belly up. We'd like to have that used". So that began to start that spark. And I remember Howard Blake and I sat down with Van Wagoner, and I'm not sure if I've got his name right and that's why this is one of the disclaimers I want to make, I haven't gone into the research of some of my documents, so my names and dates may be a little bit off. But this is a preliminary talk and to get the bottle open. Well a guy named C.W. Lucas, I think that was what his name was, I believe he also had something to do with publishing the newspaper in Harbor Springs, but anyway he was the administrative assistant of Murray Van Waggoner, he was the guy that worked out the details and he got hold of Bill Doyle, being the chairman at that time of the Mackinac State Park Commission. Doyle was enthusiastic about this. Another guy by the name of Wendell Lund, I don't know whether you know him, he used to have a cottage, I think he is no longer living. Swedish background. I don't know what he was at that time. I think he was a member of the Tourism Promotion commission or something like that. Anyway he was in on this. And they invited Howard Blake and his wife and Skiff Wishard and his wife to spend the summer in 1941 here at Mackinac and talk about it. They did, and the result was they worked it out for I think it was $1 a year. I don't know what it was but the state was so anxious to get the thing going and bring people in that it was really a quid pro quo basis. Well, of course, the Island House was in terrible shape. Somebody said it was slowly being carried away by the rats. And so we had a squad of people who went in there and it was amazing the miracle, ice on the floor all winter, and grease on those kitchens...it was just a mess. But very creative people and they really put that thing to work, started opening up the rooms, getting new beds, all that kind of stuff. So they began. First thing that happened: back in 1940 at Lake Tahoe two things happened as we began stage presentations. Up to that time it was meetings and people testified as to what happened to them. In 1940 we began the idea of a stage presentation, how this thing worked out in family, industry, etc., on the stage where people could see it. The other thing that Tahoe did was for the first time we began operating our own quarters. Up to that time the so-called house parties - that was the big thing, that's why the house party, Buchman got known for it - they ran a hotel and paid for it and so forth, but at Tahoe and the following year at Maine we developed a center where we did the work. We got the beds together, got the cooking etc. together, and that's why we were kind of prepared for this Mackinac experience by those two years of experience. So in 1942 that began and the first stage things happened, The Forgotten Factor, an industrial stage play dramatizing teamwork between labor and management. Very powerful. Showed the families of labor and management how they both had the same kind of problems, just a question of getting together, being honest and sitting down, and so forth. It was a very powerful play. And the other thing I mentioned, "You Can Defend America", an American show. There was something in Canada going on at that time called Pull Together Canada. Those two shows were both put on up at the Grand Hotel.
Eriksson: Also, if I could interject, in Britain it was called Battle Together For Britain. I was over there in the Canadian Army, and it had been shown there.
Hunter: And Pull Together Australia.
Eriksson: Also in the Netherlands. As a matter of fact I had taken a copy of Battle Together For Britain and met one of the leaders of Moral Re-Armament in the Netherlands and gave him that and he introduced it and got it going in the Netherlands.
Hunter: Well, I remember at that meeting at the Grand Hotel I think it was in September a big thing and there were a lot of people who hadn't gone home yet and there Bill Doyle stood up and he said, "You know, when you brought a new spirit for the whole darn country, we hope you will make this your permanent national headquarters". I think that was the last kind word that Bill Doyle ever said about MRA. I think he meant it then, but I never understood why he became such a bitter opponent after that. We felt that maybe he was up to something in the state that might be damaged if a new spirit of honesty and purity got going, but anyway there are a lot of things that might have happened, and you might speculate about motives, but anyway we had a terrible time with Bill Doyle for 10-15 years. He was just throwing rocks, and I don't know why. Well, anyway...
Porter: What were your numbers like in those days, in 1942-43? How many people were at the conferences?
Hunter: Well, I think between 100-300. We have a picture of Logan Roots...front of Island House.
Porter: I've seen that picture.
Hunter: Hope you have a copy of that for your archives. Oh that's great.
Porter: It also raised another question in my mind. And that was, how and when did Bishop Roots become involved? Because his family had such an ongoing presence on the island and it still does with Fran and Dick being in St. Ignace.
Hunter: That goes back to something like 1917 and 1918. Bishop Roots was the Bishop of Hankow in China, the Episcopal Church for maybe 30-35 years. And Frank was out in China, and conducting meetings, and he did a tremendous lot with the missionaries at that time. Because a lot of missionaries had sort of gone onto a flat level and lost their zip and all that, and Frank... and some people said, sure that's right, they've got to change, and other people said they don't want anybody talking about their sins, so there was some opposition there too. But Logan Roots was one who said yes, this is what we need in the mission field. And so he became quite a close worker with Frank until the end of his life, when he died, it is on his tombstone up there. Logan Roots was an amazing person because he was so gentle and yet he was so firm. He was a good friend of Chou En Lai and also a good friend of Chiang Kai Shek. He was always trying to get those two together. His influence is still - you can still feel it. His daughter, you've met...
Porter: Yes I know her quite well.
Hunter: She's been back to China and Chou En Lai invited her and her husband to be the first pianists or the first Americans to be back... so I don't know... anything else about Logan Roots? The best story on that is the Buchman biography by Garth Lean...
Porter: That is in the library.
Hunter: Good. That's called On the Tail of a Comet in this country. And that's got an excellent story about that whole China thing. About Logan Roots. Most of that is based on notes that Frances Roots provided to the biographer. So that's the best source on Logan Roots and his association. But he traveled after he retired; he traveled all over the world with Frank. He was at the Oxford assemblies, he was here. Wherever he was needed he was. Of course he had a lot of prestige and influence because of his senior years as well as his great spirit.
Now, Prentice Brown was in all this. He was senator at that time. He wasn't close but he was cooperative, and of course I think he owned all or part of the Arnold Line at that time. Maybe that family still does, I don't know. I remember when I was with Frank Buchman down in Lansing in 1941 and maybe the spring of 1942 when Frank said he was on his way up to Mackinac, there was a guy who was running the Olds Hotel at that time. He may have owned the Olds Hotel. He may have been a descendent of R.E.Olds. I have a little vague feeling about that. But he was a very influential figure in Lansing and of course the Olds Hotel right across from the capitol, has always been a very hot political spot. He had dinner with Frank and he said, "Well, when you get up to Mackinac Island, there are two people you've got to see. One is Otto Lang, of the Arnold Line, and he runs the transportation, and the other is Stewart Woodfill, and he runs the big hotel". And Frank got in touch with them or was introduced to them when he got up there, and both those men were very supportive of Frank's work all the time. Particularly Woodfill, Woodfill was very articulate, Otto Lang wasn't so articulate, but Woodfill was...
Eriksson: When Frank Buchman passed away Stewart Woodfill chartered a small plane and I was with him on it, with people from here, who flew up to Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the funeral service, and flew back. So Woodfill was a real friend.
Hunter: My note here on 1942 was that the first big event was Bunny Austin's birthday, which was, I think, in August. Bunny Austin was a great tennis star, won the Davis Cup for 3 years in a row. He was twice a finalist at Wimbledon. He threw in his whole life in 1938-39 with Buchman for the rest of his life. So we sort of made something of Bunny's birthday, and that was when we invited all these people in for the show. He's still living. I've got a letter just last week.
Eriksson: I saw him a couple of months ago when he was in Florida.
Hunter: It looks like I've covered a lot. They called it the Willow Run of the war of ideas. Some newspaper man called MRA conference, Mackinac Island, the Willow Run of the war of ideas. The idea being, it's great we've got to knock off Hitler and all that, but what happens as far as ideas are concerned, do we have a big enough idea to answer Fascism, to answer communism. And that's what we were trying to work out here in people's lives and industry. Also, Buchman was so good in this reconciliation business between countries, he was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, once in 1951 and 1952, and he was decorated by a lot of governments.
Porter: How did these people who came from such varied cultural backgrounds find common ground in worshiping God?
Hunter: That's a very good question. I don't know whether you know anything about Alcoholics Anonymous but Bill Wilson said, we turned our lives over to God as we understood Him. I think he picked that up from MRA, because there wasn't any sort of desire to be theologically correct, or to be theologically argumentative. The idea was, you open up your life to whatever you think God is, and particularly base your life against those moral standards as an avenue to finding out what God was, then He is going to tell you what kind of guy He is and you don't have to put up any barriers, so you're right, you have conservatives and liberals, and you had this and you had that, and Muslims who come to Caux, Switzerland, which was based on Mackinac Island, and they say, you know, "This is what the Koran teaches us to do, only we're not doing it". What Buchman was always trying to do was to bring you back to what you believe, what your faith was, and back to what you knew was right, not try to superimpose something; to revive what you felt, what you believed already. That's what the point was, was the quality of life that he featured and not sort of a standard of belief, level of belief. It's a matter of record that in Detroit, where MRA was at work, absenteeism went down, production went up, and strikes were settled. Dale Reed, who was the machinist in charge of Lockheed, this was not in Michigan, this was in California, he said, "There are planes over the fighting fronts today that would not be there if it weren't for Moral Re-Armament". That was what we were trying to do, was to try to get you to do better what you are doing, without making a judgment about what you are doing, but you do better what you're after.
And then in '44 the Democratic National Convention, we had quite a squad down there. Harry Truman was Frank Buchman's point man in Washington all the time he was in the Senate. From 1939 he appeared at the big MRA meeting in Washington which launched MRA in the United States, June 4, 1939. President Roosevelt sent a message of support. He selected Harry Truman to read this message. He was a loyal New Dealer, and Harry did, and from then on Harry said this is what we need. He became Chairman of the Watch Dog Committee for the senate on the war industries. He went around and made sure there wasn't any waste or corruption in war contracts. And people were doing what they were supposed to, a kind of senate overview. He spent a lot of time on the road on that. And he saw that in the industries where MRA was at work, they were doing better, more bang for the buck. And he was very much impressed with that. And also with the quality of life, so from then on until he came to the White House he got busier doing other things, but I remember I was in the Stevens Hotel in Chicago on the 22nd floor, or something, and there was a big fight - Roosevelt was happy with Henry Wallace but nobody else was. They needed to dump Wallace like people talked about dumping Quayle. You can dump Wallace but who are you going to... And more and more it began to center around Harry Truman because he was honest, everybody trusted him and he was a good guy and all that. And nobody else frankly had all those qualities. I remember when I left here going down to that convention, I predicted, I said Harry Truman is going to be the guy nominated. I got a lot of credit for that. But a guy on the 22nd floor of the Stevens Hotel, his name was Jack Kelly, father of Princess Grace Kelly, he was the big Democratic boss in Philadelphia, a bricklayer, brick business, I ran into him in the hallway and he congratulated me on "putting our man over" at the convention. I don't think we had any influence, but anyway it was interesting, he said that a couple of times.
Porter: How long did MRA stay in the Island House and when did they begin to develop Mission Point Resort area?
Hunter: That's hard to say. I remember Bill Doyle saying... well I guess we began to see the writing on the wall. I mean, Doyle was doing what he could to squeeze us out of there, and we started building it must have been the late 40s or 50s.
Eriksson: I first came after I got out of the army in '46, I came to the conference.
Hunter: There was a woman lawyer with 2 sons that I think that Bill Doyle, we really didn't have a lease or contract or anything, he really wanted to develop commercially and he leased this thing out from under us to this woman. They had a bad time. I don't know when that was, it must have been in the 50s. Were out of it when we built the theater, in 1954, and the theater was the first major construction down on Mission Point. What about Cedar Lodge? That was started in the fall of 1954 and it was dedicated on Frank's 77th birthday. I remember that, I'll tell you why. On June 4th, 1955, Ole Olsen, Helzapoppin, and Chick Johnson, he had a big Broadway vaudeville show, really corny stuff; well anyway he was quite interested. His daughter married Lear of Lear jet. He was up here, and he said in his speech, "You know I just came from Las Vegas” and he said, “in Las Vegas 7 is big, but when you multiply by two and make it 77 years, you're really in". He was referring to Frank's birthday. Reginald Owen was there on that occasion. He was quite a popular British actor, bit parts, Broadway, and he was up on the stage with Ole and he was feeding lines to Ole. It was all very spontaneous, and Reginald said, "So it's come to this, a straight man for Ole Olsen". He also said his daughter married a Lear and they had two daughters and they didn't know what to name them, one was Gonda and one was Chanda. There were a lot of people like that came up here. For the big assemblies we used the Grand Hotel. We had one there in '51 and another in '54, big international conferences.
Porter: When you say big, 300-500 people?
Hunter: Well I would think more like 1000-1200, something like that.
Porter: What was the rationale behind building the theater first? Was there a master plan and then housing units, and to move the headquarters down there eventually?
Hunter: This thing never did run on master plans. It was much more intuitive.
Porter: In response to the times.
Hunter: We needed it because at this stage it became central to the presentation of the message. As far as housing was concerned, we were able to do housing all over the island - we rented places - so the residence areas came along after that. C building came after the Great Hall. You've seen Mackinac: Island of Renaissance. That's the story of the construction of the Great Hall. You should have a copy of that for your archives. It's a good movie, well-documented, good construction shots, shows the hard work that went into it, around the clock and around the calendar. You know, we get credit for being the first people to do any construction in the North Country in the wintertime. Jim Daugherty who was the editor of the Petoskey News Review did a big article. He came up here a couple of times, he did a big feature. He was so impressed that everybody else shut down on Labor Day, everybody shut down Thanksgiving, and they didn't come back, and we just bashed through that and we made it work. Since that time there's been a lot more construction going on. We sort of felt that was one of the economic breakthroughs we helped to provide along with many others.
Porter: We still have employees on our staff here who got their training down there, like Ike Bunker and other people like that. A lot of people got good training down there.
Hunter: That's right. Bill Stubbs and Harold Sack were really first-class craftsmen and they were good teachers.
Eriksson: Bill Stubbs was an engineer and Harold Sack was trained at Georgia Tech in construction. We used to have volunteers come and work on the construction, but at the same time we had people like Ike and Dale Gallagher and Ron Cowell and these fellows who worked with us. Meryl and I at that stage would stay on the island all year, through the winter. And I would be superintendent on the construction at that stage for the classroom building, and we built it through the winter. The volunteers, Jerry Nelson, took them to some warmer place, and we didn't lay off the local people and kept them on the payroll.
Hunter: Another thing that caused some comment when we built the theater was Jim Francis and Chuck Dufina were competitors, and for the first time they worked together on that thing. Two carpenters, they put that thing up and it was kind of a healing reconciliation that went on there.
Porter: Tell me a little bit about the productions there. It sounds as though the theatrical productions were first live and later, making movies became a very important way for Moral Re-Armament to communicate its message.
Hunter: It was kind of a shoehorn. They didn't try to...the message, but it was a way of reaching people. That was the reason for Mackinac Island. We reached people down there but then what happens after you reach people. Get together and talk about how it works. That was the purpose of Mackinac.
Porter: Actual training sessions.
Hunter: Yes, right. We had really top industrial leaders and businessmen here. And they could get together here in an atmosphere where they weren't under the pressure of their own peers, and they could really talk and let their hair down. People found they could get together here where they couldn't back in their own milieu.
Porter: Did the motion picture productions grow out of the idea that started with the live presentation? Tell me how that evolved, and the construction of the sound stage.
Hunter: That's kind of a sad chapter. That sound stage. I remember one day when we had too many people in the Great Hall and there was a tremendous morning meeting and Sam Graham, the Dixie Cup guy, he was quite an influential businessman. He was very dedicated to MRA and a great friend of Frank Buchman's, and he turned to Frank after this meeting, "This was a tremendous meeting, Frank, but this ought to go on television, so people can see this. This is fantastic". So Frank said, "Fine, fine, you do it". But I don't know beyond that how the decision was made, but it just seemed like a good idea, we should make it more available to more people. It was a good idea, but it was just not thought through.
Porter: In conjunction with that I remember when I was a kid there were the sets out of Stonecliffe, the street scenes, and those were constructed for making big motion pictures.
Eriksson: Actually we did produce several motion pictures there. The Crowning Experience. The African film The Hurricane was made in the studio.
Hunter: I remember we had the opening of that down in Hollywood, and Joel McCrea and his wife Frances Dee were the chair people of that. Very prominent people in Hollywood, and they got it in just before the first of January so it could be considered for the Oscars. It didn't quite have that professional skill yet. It was very highly thought of.
Porter: It would be interesting to see photographs of the making of those movies as they were taken. What was the reaction on the island? Was that sound stage used for the making of those movies or did that come later?
Eriksson: No, it was used. We had very skilled people that worked with us, writing, music, directors.
Hunter: That film was made all over the island. It was made at Stonecliffe, some down here, and then they used C building as the dormitory for Bethune Cookman Col1ege down in Daytona Beach. A lot of that was filmed here.
Porter: What were the years in which the movies were being made?
Eriksson: 1956-1960. We can verify the dates.
Porter: Why did they stop making movies in the 60s?
Eriksson: Something happened in the 60s which was called Sing-Out, which developed into Up With People. That started here.
Porter: So it became another theatrical, getting away from stage to the movies, now it was Sing-Out and Up With People.
Hunter: So the same energy went into that, and the money went into Up With People. At one time it was thought that Up With People was a successor to Moral Re-Armament, just the way Moral Re-Armament was the successor to the Oxford Group. But it became apparent that the two things were different kettles of fish, different motives, different impact, different moral challenge, different a lot of things. So they separated off. So there is no connection between them now.
Porter: But Up With People is still a going thing now. I see them performing at the Super Bowl and things like that.
Hunter: Yeah, right. I've got a nephew on the road with one of the casts, he is in Europe with one of the casts. They've got five casts on the road. They stir up a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm. It's show biz, clean show biz, family show biz, and it's wonderful for what happens to the kids. My other nephew, it just changes their whole perspective on life. Wider horizons, public relations, how to deal with this, and there is an attempt to deal with the ongoing quality of life in any community.
Porter: Tell me a little bit more about the 60s, sort of the evolution of MRA into the 60s and the decision to construct the college. That was a big step.
Hunter: Well, I would say that formation of the college came somewhat out of that same Sam Graham type of story. Here we had this tremendous plant, and it was being used only two months out of the year. All these buildings, to make it really useful and...
Eriksson: Frank Buchman had died and Peter Howard had taken on leadership in 1961. Peter Howard was working closely with him and was a brilliant journalist, and his life was really transformed in London. He headed up the work for the next four years. He died in '65. He was on a speaking tour down in South America.
Hunter: It was his idea to do the college. Mainly to use the buildings. People said, well it's pretty remote and all, but I know, we can do it. But it was entirely just too expensive.
Porter: Tremendous challenge to attract a faculty.
Eriksson: Our son and daughter both went to the college. And then they finished off. One class was graduated. The idea of a large college in a remote place like this was too hard to finance, to get the students. You needed to be more central. So that was when it was decided to close the college, and of course it was a disappointment to the faculty because they were quite enthusiastic about what was happening in the lives of the students. And of course, there have been reunions of Mackinac College at Mission Point Resort. They did it for four years.
Porter: It went from 1966 to 1970, right? Graduated the class of 1970. Did the college drain financial resources from the MRA such that it was hard for them to regroup after that? Because it seems that the college there wasn't as much of a revival as some of the earlier MRA efforts.
Eriksson: Well, there was another factor, and that was Caux. These people from Switzerland were at the conference here, at the end of the war, two guys, one of them is going to be here the end of September, and they got the vision of buying up a hotel that had been used for refugees during the war and it was going to be sold and trashed, and rebuilt.
Hunter: They felt they needed another Mackinac over there, for the reconstruction of Europe after the war. They called it Mountain House, because this was Island. They wanted to have an Island House in Switzerland.
Eriksson: So they pulled that one off and that is going strong today and has played a major role in Eastern Europe over these past years, and now especially so when freedom has come. So that became the main conference center. There wasn't the same need for a conference center here and I guess that was part of the reason.
Hunter: This whole Up With People business; Blanton Belk was really designated as the successor to Peter Howard. And Blanton had this Up With People thing and he thought that was the way to go for a youth program. That didn't sell worldwide with the other people in the other direction. But at the same time, he had enough support so that the properties that were sold on Mackinac Island, Dellwood, New York, Los Angeles - those properties were sold and the money went into Up With People. So you had energy and money and almost 200 staff ended up with Up With People. He took with him all kinds of people that started the thing up. So, as you say, MRA was out in the breeze, but people felt that still needed to happen. So that slowly started coming back. Our centers in Richmond, VA, Washington, D.C., Cambridge, Mass, St. Paul, Minn. Seattle, Portland, these are MRA centers now and they get together and raise money. Mostly they are doing sort of quiet, behind the scenes work in developing the cities, city problems of racial animosity and bringing people together. They are not in the headlines like they were back in the 50s, but they're doing that. And they are also sending people from the different cities off to Caux especially in the summertime. Continuity to it.
Porter: When the college closed in 1970, did MRA and Up With People slowly begin selling off the Mackinac property? Stonecliffe and homes downtown? When was that over with? When did they liquidate?
Hunter: 1971-72. I don't know. We can find out. Was Jim Newton involved in the sale of those properties?
Eriksson: He was involved in the acquisition of properties.
Hunter: This guy Jim Newton you've got to meet. He is 87 years old now. He's brought out a book, an autobiographic book. He was a personal friend of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, with whom he worked for 8 years, Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh. He's got all this in his book Uncommon Friends. He's a great real estate man, and he was responsible for almost all the real estate stuff we did over 50 years, at least. He helped acquire these properties and he probably helped us liquidate it too. I don't know. There was a guy named T. Henry Williams who invented tire molds in Akron. He was very dedicated to MRA, a friend of Frank's and he provided a lot of the financing for the whole Cedar Point developing, etc. It was in his home that Alcoholics Anonymous began. He was leader of the Oxford Group when they were part of the Oxford Group at that time.
Porter: Was almost all of the money raised for MRA through private donation? There was no industry that you developed or service that you sold.
Hunter: No, it was mostly through small givers. There wasn't any big foundation grant or anything like that. Mostly it was people where something happened in their lives and they wanted to have a part in it.
Porter: You alluded to this before, this business with Mr. Doyle. There was, from my own view, and I'm very ignorant so excuse me if I step on toes, but there were feelings of animosity between the local community and MRA. I just heard them but I have no idea what they were about. How would you describe what those animosities were about? I wouldn't say they were universal but you would hear about things.
Hunter: Well, I think in the first place, when you have a force that is trying to develop a moral force, you're going to have people resisting. That's one thing. What Bill Doyle was up to I don't know, but he would certainly spread a lot of stuff around, dug up negative articles whenever they happened, and what his motives are, as I say...
2nd side of tape
there was always a lot of evangelism going on, and sometimes people resist evangelism and I remember one time Frank said, "Don't try to change any of these people. Leave them alone, they're OK". That was kind of a relief to everybody, and I think that probably eased up some of this animosity. I know our kids went to Thomas Ferry School, our two older boys learned to read and write at Thomas Ferry School. The kids would call it "More Rotten Apples" - MRA. They felt the heat of this. They still think about it.
Eriksson: One day my son came back from school for lunch and when he was going back he came up to me and said, "Will you come with me"? I said, "Why of course David. Is something wrong"? Then he told me about this gang that said they were going to cut his ears off, and they waited in line outside of school. And they were going to mob him. He was afraid they really meant it, that they would cut his ears off. He was riding his bike home. He stayed in school after everybody had left for a while to get them to clear out, then he was riding his bike home and they jumped him, and he jumped off his bike and ran like a scared rabbit and got away. So I went back with him, and we picked up his bike where he dropped it. There was this gang across the street waiting for him. I walked with him to the school, and that was the last I heard of it. They really scared him.
Hunter: I think whenever you get a group, whenever a group comes into a community, they're different. Anybody that is different is suspect. Racial, different color of skin, different attitude, different ideas, I think that's basically the problem. You'll find it both ways. For instance Jeanette Doud, I hope you get an oral history interview with her. What she says about the impact of MRA on the island. You'll get a snootful. Because there were people like that, that this has been the salvation of their lives. When we came in here, you could have shot a cannon down the main street. You wouldn't hit anybody. And a lot of people realized that, and we brought a new life and spirit to the place.
Porter: Stories at the Grand Hotel during the 30s and 40s, during the war, I think it was 1941, 11 people in the hotel in July, and.... That was the bottom of the barrel. It was a very tough time from the depression through the end of the war. It wasn't until the end of the war that the economy revived and MRA came in and sparked the island and tourism.
Hunter: I think you'd have to say we probably made some mistakes too. I imagine there were things said by people that were unfortunate and had the wrong idea. We're all human beings, and these things are going to happen. You have to balance one thing off against the other.
Porter: It must have been a tremendous change to go to the end of the college where there are 200 employees with a lot of students and a lot of activity, to 1972 two years later and everything's so... What a dramatic change. I've never heard how that must have been. That must have been a real drag. What were the years you left here?
Eriksson: 1968, I guess it was. David was still going to school, right. We had practically closed down. I had stayed on as property manager at that point until I decided what to do next, which was go into real estate.
Hunter: Did you know Mary Metivier? She ran a little news stand downtown. You know, we had a very brilliant song writing team called Geo. Fraser and John Morrison. Both Scotsmen. George is buried here. I thought I should sing you this song he wrote for Mary Metivier.
Porter: Was she in business with Susan Van Dusen after a while? I remember it was on one end of the Murray Hotel.
Hunter: Yeah, I think so. You probably ought to have copies of these songs, the Mackinac. Let me give you a little... (sings)
Oh Mary Metivier, we just want to give ye, this little refrain to say that you reign in our hearts and our favorite store. No trip to the harbor, post office or barber, is ever complete unless we can meet the first lady of Mackinac.
Then we sang a song for Stewart Woodfill:
Tell me true, oh tell me if you can just what would we do without this man, he's the finest on the island and he's more as well, he's the man the very man who runs the Grand Hotel .... the loveliest view and the longest porch in the world.
Then the Mackinac Song.
Eriksson: When the music group gave a concert last year, they ended up with the Mackinac song:
Hunter: Where the great lakes mingle, by the wind kissed shingle, there lies an island paradise. There's an old fort standing just above the landing... Island breezes, skim the water, and from lake and land I hear the watchful bell. But how men united so that wrongs were righted, stories of Mackinac will tell.
Porter: There was always a lot of theatrical, a lot of performing, a lot of creative, and you know who continued that tradition after most of them left was Sheldon and his poetry. I lived here for 7 years, year round, when I first worked for the park and 1975 was my first winter, and '76, and we lived right behind Sheldon in Jack Harvey's house. Invariably, at any event when Sheldon was invited, he came with a poem that was dedicated to the person or to the event. And same tradition, same idea, of performing arts kind of token. I always thought when Sheldon was alive, I hope somebody is collecting and putting them away and at some point, after Sheldon is gone, would have a compendium of his poems, because he did a lot of poems ... a light bulb went out ... a lot of poems, and yet if you look at them over the course of time, they've sort of reflected the current events, the history of that time. I don't know if anybody has collected them.
Hunter: They probably went up with the fire. I don't know where else they would have been.
Eriksson: I know the Haddens have been trying to replace some of their library; they had a music library...
Porter: The moment you started singing that song, it's the same, the same...
Hunter: That's right. It's a tradition. Frank Buchman, he was great on... a poem. He had these guys with him all the time, entourage, he would lean on for stuff like this. Mike Barrett was one. So Frank said, "Now let's have a poem for so and so". "Here's to John, best of all, you finish it Mike", and Mike would finish it.
Porter: In many ways, did the strength of Buchman's personality and his charisma and his vision, did that really carry MRA during its years of great success? I don't know any of the other people, but did it begin to taper off because that leadership was gone when he died?
Hunter: Yes. I would think so. I would suspect that one of the problems of MRA was that it was so dependent on one personality, and when he got older... I remember I was here, and Vern too, reponsib1e for the work here at Mackinac Island when Buchman was in Switzerland. It was a lot different then. You didn't have that zing. You could do all the same things but somehow the old spark wasn't there. I can understand that. Every once in a while these people come along, and he was one of these people. He had a trolley line up there or something happened.
Porter: Well I certainly appreciate the insight you give me today. I would like a copy. If there is anything you think should be preserved, documents, letters, that we can copy for our archives, I think that is a very important thing for us to do.
Hunter: You can make copies of movies here, can you?
Porter: Yeah. What we would do is make videotapes. We have just built this building, it is a half million dollar building, complete fire protection, humidity control, temperature control, air filtration, fire-proof cabinets, it's really a state of the art museum collection, and if we can get these records into that facility then I think we have done an important job in preserving the MRA story.
Hunter: You certainly should have a copy of The Crowning Experience...
Porter: Bring it next summer when you come.
Hunter: OK and that Mackinac: Island of Renaissance that tells the story of the construction.
Eriksson: Somebody would have it.
Porter: That's important, not only because it is a movie by MRA but because it tells a story of what happened here, the buildings that are still here.
Hunter:That's right. Then there's the Beaver, that old barge we had out there, showed the picture of Don...
Eriksson: It hauled in all the things for the buildings.
Porter: What year did you acquire the Beaver, do you recall?
Eriksson: Sam Reid, he is living down near where I am.
Hunter: Well, it wasn't here in '54 but it was here in '55 I think. I would say it was '55. It was not here at the time of the theater but I think it was here the time of the Great Hall. It was based here at Harold Sack's old house, the pier back of that. Mapleview.
Porter: You refer to a place called Cedar Point and the Great Hall. Could you explain what those two buildings are down there?
Eriksson: Cedar Point is the conference center with the dining rooms and all that. And the Great Hall is part of that - the tepee. We called it Cedar Point. Now it's called Mission Point Resort.
Porter: But they were built in two different phases?
Vern: Well, they were continued, one big project.
Porter: I still think it is one of the most beautiful buildings... I love the tepee...
Hunter: I think Herman Smith, we never thought of it being a tepee, but Herman Smith, he was one of our operators, Indian background, went up there and said, "It's like a tepee". And it's been called that ever since. It's kind of nice.
Eriksson: Well, we'll do what we can to help you.
Hunter:One thing you ought to know, that there were logs brought over for the theater we cut on BobLo.
Porter: We heard that, is that true also for the tepee room?
Hunter: They came from somewhere near Taquamenon Falls. Those are big. These came from BobLo. Reggie Shepherd who is an old Canadian bushwhacker, he knows wood and all that stuff, he and Bob Amen and I, Bob Amen being an engineer type, and I went over and I was sort of a gopher. And we cut these trees, and an old gentleman, John Bible, helped us. And we finally got them all together and we got them trussed up. And we only had a motor boat; we towed them in the water. The wind came up and we weren't making any progress at all. You know, put-put, and we were almost going backwards. We saw we were not going to make it; we were going to run out of gas. So we cut the logs and they went back with the storm and piled up on the beach, and a couple of days later, when the weather got better, we got the "Buddy L" and Dick Welch and brought them over again. And they worked. We found them there, blown back on the shore. It's a great story.
Eriksson: There's a man in St. Ignace who had a lumber company and we worked with him in getting these logs from up north. He trucked them down. We towed them across with the Beaver.
Hunter: Well, I hope that you regard this as kind of a first olive out of the bottle. This is a preliminary, and if you want us to come back and talk again and hear some more stuff... if you have more questions, we would be glad, but be sure if you're interested in Logan Roots, the best source is that book On the Tail of a Comet.
Porter: I think that would be a good thing for me to do, go to some of the literature that already exists, and maybe write some questions I have. Anything that has been written about the Mackinac experience from 1942 to '70?
Eriksson: Not as such. Half a dozen books - the librarian has ... we'll get more for her.
Porter: I look at this as a long-term project, and the more information we can add to the file, the better.
Hunter: You've got a fascinating position, I envy you.
Porter: I enjoy it.
Hunter: It's an extraordinarily interesting place, the crossroads of history on Mackinac Island. Very, very exciting.
Porter: The interesting thing about Mackinac history is that it is very long, a long period of time, and varied. Not just a place known for battles, for missionary activity, for industry, it has significant components for many different themes. And that's what makes it so fun. I really enjoy it.
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