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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.
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
REMINISCENCES OF MRA TAPED ON AUGUST 11, 1993 WITH PHIL PORTER, JAMES NEWTON, ELLIE NEWTON, VERN ERIKSSON AND MERYL ERIKSSON
Porter: I think as Vern has probably explained to you, the purpose is just that the generation of people who really put together the MRA on Mackinac Island and subsequently Mackinac College are still with us and have vital memories which we all think need to be preserved. As the historical agency in this area, the Mackinac State Historic Parks, I think it is one of our responsibilities to see that this story is recorded and that any written observations or objects can be preserved so that the story goes on. Today, real open ended, if I could just hear your thoughts, your reminiscences, what you think is important to recall about these early beginnings, and especially your role, which from my discussions with Vern was quite substantial, especially the land acquisition.
J Newton: The land acquisition - I was here for two winters of building. That's something. To come up here in ten below zero, you know. I remember we had tarps and heated the bricks, and heated the mortar, and heated the nails, and heated the men, and everything else to keep building, which wasn't done in those days in the North Country here. But we pioneered a whole, and I understand is done today in the winter, but that was a whole new thing. I would just like to tell you about, for instance, one building that I had a big part in. And I did have a part in the acquisition and in the consolidation of the holdings on Mackinac of MRA. Some was given, all was given, but some actual properties were given. Then we wanted to clear up the titles, make sure they were bullet-proof. I spent months with, I guess, the Detroit or Michigan Abstract Company to make sure the titles were solid. But one winter we built the long building which was three stories brick. We called it C building; I think they call it Mission Court now. And that's three stories plus a little basement. We built that from October to May. I look at it; I say, that's impossible. But we did. And we had the barge bring over the material before the lake froze, so it was all here, you see, and we switched from two story frame to three story brick as we started out, put heavier footings and all that.
Porter: So the original plan was to make it two stories.
J Newton: Yes, but it became three story brick because the State required it. So we had a hundred and maybe ten, fifteen men from northern Michigan who knew the building trade. They would fly in on Monday mornings and leave on Friday afternoon by plane, of course. Then during the weekend. All during the week we had a volunteer crew of expert crew of workmen who came from all over the United States and Canada and other countries to help build these buildings, you see, and give their time. So on the weekends they would do the things that needed to be done so that, sometimes electrical work behind before you could put on plaster, all these things that needed a small crew and would hold up the big crew. By Monday morning it was ready for the 110 or 15 men to hit it, you see, plus the volunteers. So we had tarps, heavy tarps about six feet high, 8 feet high, and these 5OM BTU heaters, heating everything in that building, and it went up and on May, the last of May, the Japanese youth people, a number of people moved in that building that we started in October, just a field then, the first of October.
But that took a lot of dedication. I would spend-- I knew Stewart Woodfill very well, and he was a late going-to-bedder. He stayed up until two or three o’clock and I can remember I found it was a short cut from his house up to Cedar Point, up to where we were, going outside across the ice walking outside of Lang's Dock, the Arnold Dock, a short cut across the ice. Many a morning, two thirty, three o'clock in the morning, I would walk back across the ice. That's quite something. That's for free. But that's the way those buildings were built. All in the winter because you couldn't have machinery, trucks, all the rest, to do things. Also, you would interfere with the tourists.
V Eriksson: If I could just interject here. He had a great background for the acquisitions. He had acquired properties for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which he worked for for years. How many cities?
J Newton: Four hundred cities and towns across the country.
V Eriksson: If I could just interject here. He had a great background for the acquisitions. He had acquired properties for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which he worked for for years. How many cities? He had acquired the properties and had Firestone storage built. So he had a great background for the acquisitions.
Porter: I read that in the book.
J Newton: ... well, that was in the book.
Porter: That's right.
J Newton: The other thing I feel I might, that I was close to, was the airline here on Mackinac Island. There was the most serious strike. I touch on it in the book, but here for the record--it was the most serious strike in the airlines up to date. It was the most bitter and the longest strike, at National Airlines, and they were doing all kinds of things, the union, the pilots' union, and the management were on the outs, and it got dangerous, too. And we asked the management and the head of the labor union, ALPA, airline pilots to come to the shoreline motel where they really began to resolve their differences. Then the other airlines joined in. Pan American was having trouble, invited us there, into the largest overhaul base in the world, two thousand airline mechanics, and that pending strike got solved. Because people became different, you see. The strikers and the strikees, they became different. Then Eastern got into it, we got into there, and so the people realized that their management and labor needed training. So they would send them to Mackinac Island, and plane after plane, and I can remember one time we had Pan American, they sent two planes, volunteer crews, volunteer everything. The company just gave the plane and they picked a number of the management and a number of the various unions in the process and up to Mackinac they came for a week. Two Pan American planes that year; there was one National and one Eastern. They were all here. And I can remember when National had to take off. They were here for a week at the Grand Hotel. You see, that's when we were first –
Porter: Doing the conferences.
J Newton: Yes, we had three years, I believe it was, at the Grand Hotel. And I can remember standing out on the longest porch in the world and all these people from other airlines, when National took off from Pellston, four-motored plane, you see. Skeeter Royal was the chief pilot for the airline. He was piloting it. So he took off from Pellston, he came roaring by that porch just level with us, roaring by and all those people on the plane were waving to the other airline people, and off they went, you see, and then the others. That was wonderful because the other airline people were there waving back, you see. I'll never forget that, right along that porch at the Grand.
So what happened was that from here the training went on from these airlines and then these airlines took it everywhere in the country. Other airlines that had problems, they would send part of their management-labor team that had been trained on Mackinac Island wherever they were. Texas, here, there. In addition to that they took this message. For instance, Pan American flew South America, every city in South America. The pilots during their layover took to the mayors of every city in South America what was happening here on Mackinac Island, you see, and what the spirit was and what it could do for them in their city. And in addition to that, they made the picture, "An Idea Takes Wings," ... with this idea in the industry. And that's a film that ought to be here, started in Mackinac, but I'll tell you the film that I think ought to be, and we'll get it for you if you want it. It's a full length feature film called "The Crowning Experience". You've never seen it?
Porter: I haven't seen the movie. I've seen the book, which I think is based on shots, stills from the movie.
J Newton: Yeah.
Porter: Having a copy of that would be very important for the archival preservation.
J Newton: Yes, well. It's reduced to tape now for video from the film.
Porter: Oh, good.
J Newton: It was 35mm feature film, at Universal Pictures. I was in the Caribbean and in the Caribbean, nine or ten nations, it had three thousand commercial showings. It went back as many as seven times. The theaters asked for it, and I can remember, this Mackinac film, it shows those buildings up there, it shows the carriages, it shows the docks, it really is one of the best things I have ever seen on Mackinac. About a fourth of that picture film. It was, you know, about this educator, Mary McCloud Bethune, who came from nothing, became adviser to three presidents. It's in the film. But, nevertheless, in the Caribbean I can remember one place. In Paramaribo, which is in ... the Prime Minister. Each of these nations would invite his regime and the opposition for opening night. It was quite a thing. And the head of Universal would be there. And Conrad Hunter was a great Barbados vice captain of a world champion cricket team, which I began to learn, tell you something about that when we finish the tape. And then these people would come, and when you'd see them stream into Mackinac and see what a change of heart could do to people who were bitter and who really hated each other. To see what that spirit could do. It's certainly in the world today. My friends are over in Caux in Switzerland, which is above Lake Geneva, which came from Mackinac. People came from Europe and said, "We must have this in Europe”. And that's when, in ‘46 I guess it was, they bought this largest hotel in Europe and refurbished it, and that's when Adenauer, who became chancellor of Germany, and Schumann came, and that's when they began, after a century of three wars - Franco-Prussian, first World War, second World War - France and Germany fought each other, the hatred was so deep, yet those men and their entourages began to find an answer to bitterness and an answer to their own spiritual lives. They were church people and all that, but they needed to go deeper to solve these problems, and between their nations. And today we see, out of it came the Schumann plan, that was the spiritual end of it. Monet had the financial, the Saar and the Ruhr and all those things. He had those things lined up. But the spirit of making it work was not there and it wouldn't work. And now we see what's happening in Europe with the ... Schumann plan, we have them acting as one with their problems, they are moving together instead of apart.
So I branched off on that, but it is an outgrowth of Mackinac. These people were trained at Mackinac, then they inaugurated this at Caux. And right now they have Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet countries and the Near East and South Africa, right now at a regional crisis thing, six hundred of them.
Getting back to Mackinac, the airlines did their part, but going to the Caribbean with this film, one humorous incident: when we were coming, Ellie and I said to the Prime Minister, shouldn't we go to the second city up on the coast of South America. It's a fairly large city but you can't reach it except by very tiny planes or practically by canoe. So we said well, we'll forget it. So Universal sent the film there anyhow, and in a few weeks it came back, turned ... far beyond what I expected. It came back, and a Universal man told me, he said, "You know, Jim, Crowning Experience grossed more than any films ever shown in that theater except the Ten Commandments". Well, I said, that's good. But he said, "No," he said, "It's bad. We can't have the Crowning Experience out gross the Ten Commandments. We're going to send it back in a month or two". So they did, by gosh. And it out grossed the Ten Commandments. Every film ever shown in that theater for over a decade. So I guess...
Well, Mackinac is in there strongly, and it's the heart from which it came. So coming back here has meant everything to me. I look at LaChance, and Beaumont, and Bennett Hall, and all these, the Island House was first, all these places, you see. And at Cedar Point, Mission Point now, you realize what came in the world and what's being used now in the world, and the very serious time of all the little, not only nations, but little cultures coming at each other. What it is, it's bitterness, it's jealousy, it's the things in the human nature that need to be found an answer to. But our creator has an answer if we'll listen.
Porter: Isn't it encouraging to see what a nice job they have done at Cedar Point with the Mission Point resort?
J Newton: Oh, what a wonderful job.
Porter: You must feel, when you look at these different buildings like LaChance, the Beaumont, and all of those, you must feel a certain sense of almost intimacy with them because of your work purchasing the properties and what not. What year did that begin? When did you become active in starting to buy properties? Maybe you can kind of take us through them. Some of the first ones you bought and so on.
J Newton: Well, of course the first was Island House. Mrs. Ford, Clara Ford, suggested it because during the war in ‘42, ‘44, there was this question of getting some cooperation between management and labor in the shipyards and certainly in the auto industry. They were turning out tanks and the rest. And they needed a place where these men could come quickly over a weekend and begin to get a new spirit. So she said well, the Island House is up there. We might talk to the Governor. It's run down, it's not any use to anybody. It needs a lot of fixing up. And these were days, a lot different than Mackinac Island now. Very low, very poor economy. So he said, O.K., we'll lease it.
Porter: The first idea came from Mrs. Ford?
J Newton: Yeah. That was her suggestion. See they passed in an ore boat, they have a, from up in the North Country, the Mesabi Range, Mr. and Mrs. Ford had a cabin on one of the ore boats and come down through the Straits and see this whole thing.
Porter: So they would stop here.
J Newton: Oh, yeah. So they were familiar with the North Country, and some of us were not. I knew them very well, as you know, in the book. So that's how we got started. I came first in 44, I was in the Army. That's before I went overseas, and I remember that everybody pitching ... I had three days leave, and I spent one day getting up here from Virginia and one day getting back and one day here, and I was fixing ceilings in the Island House. I was painting. I said, boy, I really spent a day, I think three days in one. But that's the sort of dedication you got to put that in shape and have it. And then they came from ... shipyard, they came from the UAW, from the management of the companies, so this Mackinac, if you could ever trace the number of movers and shakers who have been here. Those murals had some of them, but there are so many more. I remember coming across on a steamboat with Artur Rodzinski, who was then conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and he had his first violinist with him, and of course the Shepler's boats then were little boats that ran with spray all over. And when he saw that spray he got up under the hood, not the hood but under the bow of the boat and put that violin, it was probably a Stradivarius, whatever it was, he put it up under there. But they kept coming back. And people like that who came to find a change of heart. And that's what Mackinac has done. It has given a change of heart to the world. And it is worldwide. Ellie and I were three years ago at a conference at Caux with 65 nations, and their opening was, around this huge meeting hall, a person each with a candle which they lighted--65 nations of the world to start in that way a week's conference. But I was going to say Ellie and I were ... She's a great partner, this young lady, my wife. We've only been married 50 years. We think it will last... But we were flying up from Cayenne in French Guyana. We had circled Devil's Island, you know, ... And we had this fine experience, dubbed in perfect French, perfect Dutch for the Dutch Islands, perfect Spanish, and of course perfect English, and we were flying up from there and we came over this city in Dutch Guyana, way up over Paramaribo, and I looked down and I said to Ellie, That's the place that's out grossed every film in history, including the Ten Commandments, and none of us has been there. The good Lord can do it without us. The good Lord and Universal. But these are little things. But it's all then, we think of Mackinac. We think where it came from. Because this was the heart. This was the heart for the whole world. They came here from the world. It wasn't--there was no Caux, historically. There was no Switzerland. It was here. It was it. And it grew. And of course one property after another was acquired on the Island because they needed expansion.
Porter: Did you have to move out of Island House? Was Island House sort of falling apart, or was that the problem with the Park Commission and Mr. Doyle that you decided to get out?
E Newton (?): We didn't decide to get out. They got another tenant.
E Newton: I think. Willard might have mentioned that...
J Newton: It wasn't falling apart. The volunteers put it together. It was falling apart when we got it and nobody would have it. That was it. And so the same was true in Caux, the one that took the place of Mackinac in Europe. And it was just done to build another Europe, Caux was, but it's the whole world now. And so I'm anxious to see and all of us are anxious to see, now that these have been redone. I talked with Shufelt, a couple of hours or so with him, about they should come back here to Mackinac because he's got those buildings in shape and really, it's amazing what he's done. I don't know how much he's spent, but they ran down evidently after the college, and I was amazed about the loyalty of those college kids, two hundred of them, the faculty, the whole works during this time. There's no reason why MRA shouldn't begin for America, and Canada and South America to begin to use this, like Caux, and begin to make some sort of arrangement that was in reason so that they could come.
Porter: That would be great...
J Newton: Again, because here is the origin, you see. I don't know whether you have any questions or whether Vern or Meryl has any.
Meryl: We haven't asked you about the procurement of the different buildings, but I wonder, what you just asked, Phil, about Island House, I think that after we weren't meeting in the Island House the only big enough place then on the Island was the Grand Hotel. And we arranged with Mr. Woodfill to use it for three years in a row for special conferences, for like two weeks in a row. Wasn't that it? For the airline people. Has Vern said anything about that?
Porter: Yes, that was our first discussion. And while you were meeting at Grand Hotel, you were making plans to then get a place of your own again.
J Newton: Well, we did.
M Eriksson: There was Bennett Hall.
J Newton: Existing buildings, first. Then we built the non-existing buildings, you see. And it went on and on. One reason we went from two story to three story in that brick building was we needed the capacity because they were coming from everywhere in the world. And see, this could take a thousand people. Caux can only take 550 or at the most 600. And you have to lease hotels outside. But the acquisition of these buildings. For instance, the National Cathedral in Washington had Stonecliffe, and they offered it to us for a very nominal price. As of today, it would be quite nominal. Because they had nothing to do with it, they had nothing to use it with, they had it. So we had that, and one after another these things came up where we could buy, and in those days there was nothing like the price today. It was sort of a run down, not run down, but it wasn't difficult to buy property in those days.
Porter: There's a lot of property out at Stonecliffe. Was there ever any thought of putting the center out there rather than down at Mission Point? Or is that too inconvenient, too far away.
J Newton: I don't know whether I can answer that or not, except that there were partial conferences. In other words, a number of people would like to have on a certain subject, education, or whatever it might be, they could meet out there because we owned the facilities and put them in shape. So they could meet out there and have their three, four, or five days right there. But I suppose as it expanded and expanded, everything was used. And that was amazing. What a dinner? Of course, it resurrected Harrisonville. I mean, employment here was zero. They say they used to sew up in their underwear for the winter, you know. Until spring came there was nothing to do. And there was a high incidence of alcoholism and all that, which always happens when there is nothing to do. And it gave these people work, not just the construction crews, of which there were many from here. But also the laundries, the cooking, this and that. There was employment in running an establishment like that. And Meryl and Vern ... Meryl knows the Island like nobody I ever heard because they lived here. We lived here; we had a home up there, right across from where the explosion was.
M Eriksson: The end of the line Azar's (?) house, the Newtons used to own that land, and their house burned down.
Porter: Was that the old Davenport house?
M Eriksson: Well, there was a Davenport, then there was the mayor's wife, and the Newtons’ house, and all three of those are...
Porter: They are all gone now.
J Newton:Yes, they are all gone, and I don't know what that little house next to Bloswick's is.
Porter: That's Dennis Brodeur's house.
J Newton: So then came the Beaver. We got the Beaver which would haul things across. All these buildings, of course, had to be hauled across either by Arnold Line or the Beaver, and they had to be hauled across before the freeze became solid. And that was a logistical problem, too. Not just to be ready on Monday morning for all the backup work and the small crews, but the big crews to hit and...
M Eriksson: Did you run the Beaver?
V Eriksson: If I could just interject here. He had a great background for the acquisitions. He had acquired properties for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which he worked for for years. How many cities? No, but Sam Reid did. He has already written about the Beaver and Phil has that.
Porter: Very fascinating reminiscence about how the Beaver was used.
J Newton: We saw it come across as we were having breakfast across the street. It came across yesterday and today. It stills your heart to see that Beaver still running. About 100 ton, self-propelled. And you know of the March miracle when we ran out of material and sent the men off the Island Friday, don't come back Monday, and the ice parted in late March, and they got in 100 tons of the specific needed material. It was sitting over there. We got it here and called the men all over Michigan saying come back Monday. And these little planes would fly in, you know.
V Eriksson: What was the name of the guy who was a bush pilot, and got two or three more planes?
J Newton: Anyhow, they came in. The florist, who was the mayor, landed in a tree one time with a plane. That's when they lengthened the runway. They asked us if we would give some Stonecliffe property because it was too short a runway. The mayor approved that after landing in a tree.
M Eriksson: That story Jim just mentioned is in "Mackinac Island in Renaissance”... Actually all the workers went home on the Friday night in March and weren't going to be able to come back because there were no materials left, and amazingly the waters parted on Saturday morning and here on the Island and there was solid ice in St. Ignace, they broke through 16 inches of ice, wasn't it, Vern, and then they ran back and forth and so Monday morning the workmen came back and the waters closed up again.
V Eriksson: It was a miracle.
J Newton: That last trip was rather hazardous, but they got in and it froze up right behind them as they went across. It was, you just felt there was something looking after us that we couldn't handle. And that was because, imagine these hundred men, all volunteers, just shut down. But it wasn't until -- and of course in early April it opens up and then we could get going. Well, you may have other questions. I think I have given you a picture of the Caribbean, and it was known what Mackinac did because when you have a picture coming back for engagements, three engagements, four engagements, five engagements to the same city in the same country in the same theater, there has to be a demand for it. Have you ever seen "The Crowning Experience"?
Porter: No, I'd love to see it.
J Newton: Oh, you'll have a thrill. Because Mackinac is portrayed there in an amazing way and a very historic way. Because this woman who was Mary McCloud Bethune is still there, you know, in Florida.
M Eriksson: And she had come to Mackinac, Jim, because of her...
J Newton: Yeah, well, that's it, but that's in the film. She said, I want on my gravestone, Moral Re-Armament has been the crowning experience of my life. That's where the title came from, crowning experience. These are things that Mackinac, it was a revitalization. In the wintertime it was just completely, and of course in the summer when we would take a thousand people at a time up there, the boats, shops, everything, at a time when you needed it because it was not a... I look now and I see these people. Gee, whiz. I watch those boats, three at a time, bing, bing, bing, go back and forth in 16, 18 minutes.
Porter: Tell me a little more about your own experience. You said you spent two years on the Island, you and Ellie did.
J Newton: That's right.
Porter: What years were those?
J Newton: I think it was the mid-50s.
E Newton: The mid-5Os. I think it was during the building of the great hall and then the building of the men's residence. It was the men's residence ... that actually the building was getting way ahead of the architect, Jim, and that's why you stayed that winter, wasn't it?
J Newton: Yes, when we switched from second to third floor and had to go from frame to brick, the architect was in Los Angeles. Great architect, but he got behind, and we had some volunteer expert men, engineers and architects, right here, residents. I kept telling him, you're behind, get us details, just one stack, we'll do the rest. So he thought he would proceed a little bit, a little bit. So I said, you've gotta get up here. So he hopped on a plane in Los Angeles, got up and Mission House. I met him at the speedboat, walked up with him toward Mission House and he got where he could see this building and he thought it was probably three feet above the footings and we were on the second story. Well, he stopped. He could not believe it. Well, it's happening. We gave you full notice. We're going ahead. We've got winter. We've got people coming in May from all over the world. We've got to go. So he took one of the offices downstairs in Mission House. We got him a drawing board, T-square, all kinds of this, that and the other thing, a telephone for his office, and he kept designing.
Porter: Hang 'em out the window, hm?
J Newton: Every morning early we'd have a meeting before the workmen got here and decide what had to be done that day. And what we were ready for with the little work, the six, eight, ten team work over the weekend. Then, I have never seen such coordination of material, men, adversity of winter and adversity of transportation. It just was there. If you should build on the mainland, a two-story long, three-story high, two block long, two city blocks, if you were to build that in seven months in the summertime, it's a problem even today.
Porter: So that was the reason you stayed one winter, and that was the mid-50s. What was the reason you stayed another winter?
J Newton: Well, the reason the other winter was there was more construction to be done. We had built the main lodge and built the residences behind it, the B building we called it, A and B building. C was the long one.
V Eriksson: Huron Court.
M Eriksson: Huron Court was A and B.
J Newton: We needed to build on the ground floor. We needed to build a commissary because the food was coming in for a thousand people, and we had carloads shipped of apples from people who gave them in California, carloads of this, carloads of all kinds of things. In fact, we had carloads of cement and that for the buildings, but this was for people to eat, you see, and we needed a place where you could stack it up. We didn't eat a carload of apples the first day. And so Buchman, you know, was quite a, he was a Pennsylvania person who really had a sense of what was needed; and he felt what was needed then, a coffee lounge where these people from various nations, after the meetings and after the meals and between meals, could get and really begin to talk and know each other. So there was the first floor was the commissary, the second floor which was level with the other buildings was the coffee lounge, long one. And I called Vern.
V Eriksson: We were in Edmonton, Alberta and he called and said, Frank says we need that coffee lounge by May. We were planning to build it in the summer and we were doing work out there, and Jack Freebury and I jumped on the next plane and began transporting cement across with snowmobiles across the ice, and we got enough in that we could go right to work and it was ready in May.
J Newton: That's right.
E Newton: That's the present Freighters Deli...had to dynamite that side of the road...
J Newton: That's the reason I stayed that winter and, as I said, a Floridian didn't look forward to that. But Mackinac winter is magnificent. It really is. The stars are brighter, everything is crisper, you know.
Porter: We've had seven winters here. My wife and I and kids, and it is special. Now did you get a leave of absence from work to do that or was that after?
J Newton: No, I was on leave of absence then, and I never really went back. I went back for about three months to help the Firestone family with the big church they were building, but I never went back. I went back with Mr. Firestone. He was my friend until he died, you know. I tell in the book, he passed away in Miami at his home there when I happened to be in Fort Myers, but his young, his son, his second son, who was my great friend, were the beginning of AA, you know.
Porter: That's right...had a drinking problem.
J Newton: That's right. There have been two books written about that this past year or two. But he called me up and said, Jim, Dad just died, can you come. So I drove over there in my Ford and got over there in a hurry, and we held the fort until a number of the brothers came, and then we all took him up in his special car to ... for the funeral. So I was on leave of absence, and I stayed on leave of absence. I went back, I think I mentioned that in the book, I went back to Mr. Firestone and on the way out as we were leaving him, we were on the way to Europe on this industrial thing. And I said, you know, I'm still on leave of absence and I'm not sick, I'm healthy, I'm--maybe so it won't embarrass you more, I should resign. Oh, he said, Jim, don't resign. You're part of it forever. And I had a standing invitation to come back. They said if there is no job, we'll make one. I just thought this was more important. Business, like Firestone, was important and I had a key position there. But this, in those days, was more important and today it's even more important. And we see today this strange phenomenon of changing from national confrontation to cultural and ethnic confrontation. And it's even deeper I think than national because it's in the cultural background, like in Bosnia, hundreds of years. How did France and Germany get over their hundreds of years of wars, not just bitterness but wars? How was that cured? Well, it took something very powerful. It took God Almighty to do it. But to let Him into our hearts, no matter what our Presbyterian, Baptist, whoever had that faith in God no matter where they were, they could find that answer to bitterness and hatred. I've had it in my own life ... and whenever something comes across my path very suddenly and I think, "That son of a gun’, you know. It's in all of us. I'd like to just pop him in the nose. But there's an answer to that. At Firestone, not just management and labor, we had it between management, me and somebody else. One guy tried to stab me in the back about twenty times. I must have looked like a porcupine. But one morning I listened as I usually do in my heart to whether there was anything that had to be said. Insoluble, really, and I remember it came to me that you have a real bitterness and resentment toward Bateman. Well, I knew that, you see, but the next thing that came to me in my mind which I felt came from the good Lord was, "It's your fault". Well, I didn't buy that. This guy started it. I may have retaliated recently and built some fires under him and put his foot in the hole three or four places, to the detriment of Firestone, incidentally. But he's the guy that started it. So I listened, I finally said, "Okay, Lord, I'll admit the reaction is my fault, not what he did, but reaction, but I can't handle it. I'm bitter. But if you take that bitterness and resentment, I give it to you, and if you can heal it in me, please do it". I got up and I felt better, for two or three days I felt fine, except that it came to me, go tell Bateman. Well, he was an anti-social guy. Wouldn't eat in the executive dining room with us. He just was ... he just had steel eyes. So I made a deal. I said okay, I'll go down to his office and if his secretary is not there - we all had these offices with big glass windows - and I said, if his secretary is not there, I'll go in, but she wasn't there and I didn't. So I said, are you a mouse or are you a man? Well, I said, I'll make a second deal. If she's still not there, I'll go in. And she wasn't there and I went in and I sat down in front of him and he looked at me and what on earth are you doing here? And you could see the hatred. And I said, Bateman, I just want to let you know something. I've got a real bitterness and resentment toward you. It doesn't agree with the life I'm trying to lead, and I just want to let you know it's gone. And I'm sorry, it was my fault. And we just sat there. It seemed like two weeks. It was probably a couple of minutes. And finally I saw something change in his eyes, and he said, "Newton, I never knew you were like that inside. Years ago, I was hurt badly inside and I decided then and there I would get the other fellow before he got me. And your coming to Akron and taking charge, and I figured I would do that to you". And that guy, we talked for an hour; I don't know what but he became a different guy. The secretaries would watch him come in in the morning with a smile on his face by those glass windows, you know, and he just --our relationship. My secretary, late that afternoon he called on the phone. She didn't know about this. She said, "It's Bateman”, and was ready to hang up. And I said, "Hello, George”, and she turned around, dropped the phone, thought I'd made a mistake, and heard us settle something over the phone that was best for Firestone, not what would put each other's foot in the hole, you see, and that can be applied to Ellie and I when we have a little argument, it can be applied to nations, has been applied. It's human nature, and it's the answer. But this is the thing you will see in "The Crowning Experience". It's the answer to bitterness that is centuries old. It's been reduced from 35mm as I said to video.
Porter: That would be easier.
J Newton: That's a lot easier to put in your television set.
Porter: Were you involved with MRA during the transition times to Mackinac College? Did you have an involvement in the evolution of the college?
J Newton: Not really.
M Eriksson: I think that was the time that we were in the Caribbean. We went down with Up With People.
J Newton: I was not directly involved, I knew of it, with the college as such. That was when, where was I then?
M Eriksson: Well, see, Up With People, Sing-Out was travelling to the Caribbean and you and Ellie were with them.
J Newton: We had been down there before with Crowning Experience, and when Sing-Out, which became Up With People, when Sing-Out came it was quite an experiment because in Puerto Rico you had this anti-American, and Cuba generated this anti-American thing, and we had the university and the great theater at the university, and they came down, and one of the things that happened, the whole cast phonetically learned Spanish. They may not have known exactly what they were singing, but they had it perfectly, some real Spanish teachers taught them phonetically how to do this. Well, when they opened up on this stage with this huge cast from many nations and sang to them in their own language, it just about blew the roof off. Then the people, the infiltration in that university, only then about 16,000 - 17,000 people, 30 now, but they began to see this was dangerous to what they were doing, the Commies. They didn't call themselves Commies; they just were infiltrated with the ideas. So then they tried to stop it. About the fourth show they planted these - I used to think Puerto Ricans were little but some of them were very big, 6 feet 3-4 - and they planted these big guys, three at a time, all over this theatre, and in the middle of it and I remember Ellie and I were sitting beside about six nuns, they were all in their white habits, behind us and in front of us. We listened and they were singing, Up With People, I guess it was then. And these guys got up and yelled to try to drown them out, you see, and the audience was stunned, and finally they got up and shouted these guys down. The cast sang right through. They were disciplined. It didn't deter them, they just went right through with their singing, you see. And this happened about four times.
Porter: It's very similar to the Japanese.
J Newton: Same experience.
Porter: We talked with Basil Entwistle last week and it's the same thing. They put the infiltrators in and the crowd shouted them down.
V Eriksson: Exactly.
J Newton: Then they realized. Incidentally, it was so crowded that the head of the university had to be let in the back door, and the banker, whose daughter had said you must come, had to hang on to the pillars. That's how crowded it was. And tons of them outside with speakers. That's the thing. And then finally one of the men, young men students who was very much in this type of life, told us it switched the psychology of the campus. They had absolute control idea-wise. And it turned the thing around, that show turned it around. That's how powerful it was.
Porter: You know it's interesting. We've talked about this before. It seems as though one of the methods of communicating some of the messages of Moral Re-Armament has always been the theater, theatrical performances, whether it's a sing out, or a movie that's been created, or skits or whatever. It kind of is reflected in the fact that the first building that was built down there was the theater.
J Newton: That's right.
Porter: Where does that concept, that idea come from of communicating through theater, through live presentations?
E Newton (?): Didn't it start, Jim, when the war industries, didn't it start when we had those ... reviews in Canada?
J Newton: Well, it started actually in Nevada when we had what was called “Jotham Valley”. Of course there are more cattle than there are people, you know, in Nevada, and these two brothers, this one rather successful one, this rather rigid in a sense one, was one brother, and the other was not too successful and drank a lot. And they were a mile apart and bitter and hated and so forth. And one of the brothers, I think it was the guy who was rather stiff, began to get some spirit in him and began to trust the Lord, and he got the conviction that he had helped his brother get the way he was by stonewalling him, not really being a brother to him. He went to him, told him what had come to him, he wanted to help him. In other words, there is a story there. Well, they wove it into what ultimately became a musical called “Jotham Valley”, which had the whole rhythm of an Oklahoma. That became a floor show because at Goldman's, a big theater and ... I had been given, it wasn't a theater it was a big hall, and ... in Taco where we were for several months and people came up from San Francisco. Yes, I remember I was part of that. I was the MC, and I was a cowboy. I was 18; I had been a rancher in Arizona. I had my boots and spurs, but I couldn't remember everything, so I had the papers in my hat which I would take off and hold in my hand and I could look down and get my cues. I would walk around all these tables while they were changing the scenes and tell them what was going to be next. And then they started in with the cowboys on the range, it was night and they were around the fire, and all this philosophy began to come out, and then the two brothers and what had happened to them. And they were not the brothers, but actors who could sing, incidentally. They were volunteers, and the songs came in and finally the music was written by a number of really expert music and lyrics people. We had a lot of Rogers and Hammerstein type things.
E Newton (?): We found that it was a better way to communicate with people than giving them a lecture in church or something else. People understood music and it went to people's hearts. So that was really, after “Jotham Valley” was written, was how plays began to be a way of communicating.
J Newton: That's right. And it portrayed, better than a speech or telling about it. So that's when. It was just a floor show, then. But that became a play and went to Broadway. It was quite a play, you know, it was a terrific play. But out of it came these other things. But I would say this, too, I know it went back to the centuries when St. Francis, he had his troubadours, remember, he could get the message over of depth of feeling and depth of faith by these troubadours that went from town to town and sang and acted. And that was a way of communicating.
Porter: You know, it's not unlike our programs at the Fort where we have interpreters in costumes doing programs, and our philosophy is that people would rather hear the story in an entertaining way from a warm, friendly human body than go into a room and read it on a very long label. It sticks with you.
E Newton (?): That's true.
Porter: I think it's interesting, too, that Up With People is still going today and is very active and continues that thread of communicating through performance.
J Newton: That's right.
E Newton (?): In a sense that's what's happening in the world today. Rock music and all other things. Other ideas are being communicated that way and reaching a lot of young people, and you've got to have an alternative.
J Newton: And now, of course, they have their ballads and all that because it is a way of communication. And it was taken full advantage of because we had the volunteer people who had something happen in their lives, who could write the music, who could portray what needed to be portrayed, who could write the lyrics, who could do the work, who could sing. Two voices in that “Jotham Valley” were amazing. And that was the crank off. Then came "The Crowning Experience".
We had a man who had had his troubles. He was quite a guy, he was quite an author. And he came down home to lecture, I guess, General Motors at Captiva, they have a place there, a hotel, and he came over to see us one night, and we told him about the things that had happened, and he had seen "The Crowning Experience", and he said, "I walked a good bit of that night ... and the thing that came into my mind was that song, The World walked into My Heart". You'll hear it. That was the way it came to him that he ought to open his heart and not be rigid. And this was just two or three years ago. So these songs go on, and once you hear that "Crowning Experience", it's a musical, you see. They came from everywhere. She was offered while she was doing "The Crowning Experience", this Muriel Smith, she was offered the lead by the Hollywood people in Porgy and Bess. He said, whatever you are getting. She said, I'm getting nothing. He said, well, whatever you want, name the price, and she thought it over and said I will not:(a) I'm doing what I want, and(b) I will not take a part like Porgy and Bess, which, I don't remember what it--it does not do the audience or my race anything positive. And she turned it down. Muriel Smith. She had done Carmen, and she did these other ones.
Porter: One other thought that comes to my mind now after talking with you and Basil, and Willard, and Vern, and Meryl, I don't have a sense of disappointment among the people who were here and started MRA with the fact that there is nothing more on Mackinac Island. The college came and it had to fold. MRA has been here and has left. I don't get a sense of disappointment, but a sense of a couple things. One, that it was a very positive experience, and two, that it's still going on today. So that in a sense that although the buildings are sold, and the Mackinac College no longer exists, what's important is that the work and the philosophy still goes on today. Is that the reason why there isn't this sort of wringing of our hands?
E Newton (?): You would have been thrilled to be there last Saturday night, and we are sorry you couldn't, because one of the men said, "We are the college". I mean there were 210 people, and here it is twenty years later, and those students that graduated are saying, "We are the college". And this is the spirit, and they still have it. It was amazing to us.
V Eriksson: And they decided they wanted to come back for another reunion.
J Newton: And their kids were there.
Porter: So the buildings are sold, the college is closed, the MRA is off the Island, but there is something still burning inside.
J Newton: It's an experience that was generated here. And with this crowd it focused here on Mackinac Island.
E Newton (?): You know, Phil, one thing I felt about the Island when we came back three years ago, that the Island was quite a different place, and we wouldn't have evaluated it, but the whole thing was depressed, and Harrisonville and the village and the town were all fighting and the churches were fighting, and now you have the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church doing projects together.
You have that up there in the community hall in December where the whole community is doing things together, and we were really struck with that, and we felt that the 15 years or so that Dr. Joe Solomon was on the Island as the Island doctor and then mayor the last few times and really living the spirit among the people, providing medical care for them through the winter which they never had on a steady basis as they did when Joe was there. Actually we felt very much as we came back, what Jeanette Doud has done in her column, they didn't used to write about the Harrisonville kids' birthdays. They didn't all write about everybody in the same column like they do now, you know. We felt there is a real spirit that's been ongoing here that was created from those days. They didn't understand what was happening, but it is here. We really felt it when we came back. Gee, the Island is working together, and while there are still factions and all of that which there always will be in any situation, still you feel a thread, a positive thread, that wasn't here in those days. People were insular. They didn't understand about the world. They stayed on their little island through the winter, and all of that. I think there is quite a difference. I don't know, I wouldn't take all of the credit, but I think a lot happened that we don't realize.
J Newton: That's true. As I said they used to sew themselves up in their underwear.
M Eriksson (?) Someone, like Jack Freebury who worked on the buildings, and his wife, Mary Jean Carlisle, she had a 4-H group with a lot of Island girls, the Bodwins, Margaret Doud, Mellie Alford, a lot of these girls just wanted to see her now. It's the first time she's been back in 25 years. They said, the next time you come we've got to get all our 4-H girls together so that basically, many of those kinds of things that are going on today started in those days. I think that's why we don't feel disappointed because we see the spirit that's here.
Porter: Not only here, but from your conversations it's carried on to the college, carried on to Japan, carried on to the Caribbean.
J Newton: Yes, it's carried on literally around the world because that film I just happened to be with Ellie in the Caribbean where there were 3,000 commercial showings and 2,000 of other films later that they needed. They had the market and Universal wanted them, you see. They had a sub-company that they wanted those films. Then what happened in Brazil, in Doxa(?), Brazil. All these things. Mackinac, Mackinac-- and all I can say is Mackinac has gone to the world because this film in these languages showed in France, showed in these various languages, speaking in their own languages. They did some wonderful dubbing. I don't understand enough of any of them, but the people who did understand said it's magnificent. They even synch the lips, the way they could synch the lips, the French and the German, with the lips in English. It's a scientific job to do that, and they did it.
Porter: I really look forward to seeing it.
J Newton: The best of everything. Quality was it. And the quality of those dubbings and the quality ... Harold Sack was a bear. He was one of the superintendents on it, and quality! Everything had to be right, but it had to be quick. If you had to tear it out and make it right, but it had to go quickly. And we were always under that gun. How to have an early spring, the farmer used to say, sign a 90-day note in the fall. Well, we had an early spring all the time. We had to stop construction.
Porter: To schedule a conference.
M Eriksson (?): That's what you are doing at the fort, actually. You are putting quality in because it's important. And that's the thing we feel in society that we all need to give our very best. And anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it.
J Newton: One of these 4-H girls that this teacher said, their aim when she began to teach them, was get married, have children, have a job washing or ironing, and here she met one of them who said, "I've just gotten my Masters in education". Well, that made her feel good. Because here was a different approach to life, a different aim in life. I've got my Masters in education. And that's just the other day.
M Eriksson (?): That's right. And the other day one of the Koreans that worked with Vern on the classroom building called up to say he was coming to this reunion, and he wanted us to know that he had gotten his Ph. D. at the University of Utah. And when he got here, we found that the nine months that he had been away from Korea after he finished high school, and worked on the buildings for three or four months and then was with Sing-Out and Up With People for the rest of the time, when he got back to Korea, his entrance exams, he didn't do quite as well at as he might have. He had wanted to be an architect, but he didn't make the cut on that, so what he chose instead was to take Middle Eastern studies, and he got his Ph.D. and he teaches Arabic.
J Newton: Now he's a professor at the University in Seoul, teaching Arabic.
Porter: Oh, my gosh.
J Newton: And he came here with his wife.
Porter: Came back for the conference.
J Newton: Oh, yes. Then he is going out to Utah, where he graduated, with her. And within ten days he will be back in Seoul.
M Eriksson (?): But he was in Saudi Arabia for about ten years because he spoke Arabic.
J Newton: But he also said he meets once a month with the men who came from Korea, 25 of them came to work on the buildings. The ones that are in Seoul, a dozen or so, meet once a month still. They met together at Mackinac.
Porter: That experience has still galvanized them.
J Newton: It's still galvanized them.
Mrs.(?): And he had actually just come from Hong Kong where he said we had MRA camp. We had people from Malaysia, Australia, China, Japan and Korea for ten days before he came here.
J Newton: If you put it all together, no one person can put it all together. You are doing the right thing, I think, in getting whoever is here to share their part. It will weave into a tapestry. Because when Vern wasn't here one year, he was around the world with "The Vanishing Island", which was made here.
V Eriksson: Yes, Howard wrote it and it was produced in order to go with a statesmen's mission around the world to build bridges between warring, previously enemies in the war. And it was produced here in Mackinac and polished off in Hollywood, and then we went for fourteen months with it, three airplanes around the world, 26 countries in fourteen months. I was part of the chorus with it, but there were over 200 people. And there were leaders of industry, labor, government, members of Parliament, and they would meet their opposite numbers wherever we went, in that society, and then the plays would be given and the leaders of the nations came. There are some fascinating stories of change that took place there. That was quite a thing. Meryl was still here with the kids.
M Eriksson: While he was doing that, I was living at Bay View Cottage, Yoder's Bay View cottage, all through winter, while our children went to the old Indian Dormitory school.
Porter: While your husband was jet-setting around the world.
M Eriksson: That's right. And the kids, he sent them post cards from every place, and the kids felt fully included. They didn't feel, gee, our father is gone for fourteen months. They felt as if they knew what he was up to the whole time. Fully supportive.
Porter: I think your observations are very perceptive in that it is a real tapestry. You get a piece here and a piece there. I'm just collecting. Somebody else down the road, probably in the next generation, will write this all up, but I think it's important that we gather these tales, these reminiscences, these stories, and these impressions and guard them and preserve them and let the future historians at least have the words from the people who created the history. So, I thank you for your time today. Appreciate it very much.
J Newton: Well, it's been wonderful to meet you and know what you're doing because it needs doing now. Can't do it ten years from now. It needs doing now, while some of us are still hopping around.
M Eriksson: Actually, when Jim was 20 or 21 and met Mr. Edison first and then Mr. Ford and Mr. Firestone, they wrote him personal letters and he has a lot of memorabilia about that, and that collection, all of his papers have been given to Yale University.
Porter: Oh, good.
J Newton: They asked for it, you know.
M Eriksson: And so basically a researcher in the future can go to that collection and get the first-hand things, some of which he told in his book.
Porter: I'm glad it's being preserved.
J Newton: And Ellie, Yale has asked twice, and we just sent them 6,000 letters she wrote from all over the world, and the people she met here at Mackinac, in their own countries. She wrote to her mother or sister almost every day wherever she was, whether it was India or South Africa, or wherever it was, and Yale's librarian, friend of hers, spent five months getting them organized into decades and they just went two months ago to Yale, and they are already working on the South African which is 1920s. Ellie was there. The letters from there, and 500 letters came from South Africa to Ellie before and after she left, so they're working on that. They waited for that box, which was special. So that filled a need at Yale at their library. So these things, now Ellie was one of the first at Mackinac. She was the first woman to work with Frank Buchman, and went to Oxford and was in charge of the young women's work there, but the people who stirred up South Africa were Oxford students who went back for their holiday. And stirred things up. That's where the word, Oxford Group, originally came from, because the porter in the railroad, they had compartments you know on the railroad, and this group of six guys were headed for another city, Johannesburg or wherever it was, and the porter said, well it's a group from Oxford, and he put Oxford Group, and that's where the name came from. But Ellie, she's a kid, she's only...
M Eriksson: 94, isn't it, Ellie?
J Newton: They give her a ticket to the moon, she'd go. She's a mountain climber, all the rest. She's done more things. She's a great partner, and we still buzz around the world by the grace of God. We've just been to California and back. I was to Richmond; Ellie was to New York and Connecticut. I went to Akron, Ohio, to meet some of the survivors of the Firestone. One of them was just 89. So we're getting around, thank the Lord, and she's here at Mackinac. It's part of her home, here, and went out from Mackinac. Mackinac is really a world, I used to think. You know, in Mr. Edison's yard down there they have trees from every tropical place in the world, one was what they call a dynamite tree, and it has what we call, not walnuts, but those things that fit in the pods like this, and when they break they explode like dynamite and that's the way in the jungle that the seeds go. Well, this has been a dynamite tree. Mackinac is a dynamite tree. It's exploding. Look at those 200 went out again from here and said, we are the college, we are the ideas the college created in us. Now they're passing it on to their children. But it's the dynamite tree. It's a little thing, but if it hits you in the head, too bad. But you hear this in the jungle well that I learned at Edison's, I learned 65 years ago. He died in '31. That's 67 years ago now, 68 years ago, so it was before that. No, he died in '31. But I knew him from ‘25 on, but that tree always inspires me when I think of the way, Tchooo, but a place like this is not a great population. It's in the Straits of Mackinac, the heart of the continent, and yet these ideas have gone out, and these people have gone out. The big thing is people. That's what they said up there that night. Someone told me, buildings are buildings, but people have gone out, that's the thing.
Well, I'll tell you it's wonderful to see you and know you and I compliment you on what you are doing.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
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