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First of Series: How It All Began

(Editor's Note: The roots of the Alcoholics Anonymous in Youngstown and the Alcoholic Clinic go back to 1939, only four years after the fellowship got its start in Akron. This story and others to follow are from people who were there, namely, Marion Kennedy and Jack D.)

Dr. Bob, co-founder of the Alcoholics Anonymous, led the first AA meeting in Youngstown. It was held at the home of Neil and Marion Kennedy on North Heights Avenue.

The meeting was held in the late summer of 1939 and meetings continued there for a number of months. As the group became larger, meetings alternated between the Kennedy home and the home of Jack D. on the north side.

The group sought other meeting places as the members increased and moved to Legion Hall on Spring Street and remained there for a number of years.

It then moved to the Unitarian Church on Elm Street where it still meets on Tuesday nights

These are the recollections of Marion Kennedy, Neil's widow, of the early days of AA in Youngstown and the beginning of the Alcoholic Clinic of Youngstown.

Neil's sobriety date was Mother's Day in 1939. Marion had much to do with pointing Neil toward AA. While Neil was still drinking, she heard from her sister in New York about a man, who was a friend of her husband's, who had stopped drinking after being the terror of parties they had attended.

Her sister told Marion about an AA book and that the man had recommended that they get it. She sent Marion a copy of the Big Book. Both Neil and Marion read it and Neil stayed sober for a couple of months.

Then a friend of Neil's from his college days came to town and Neil joined him for a few drinks. After a 10-day interval, Neil returned home and they decided to call the man who had referred the book.

He asked Neil if he was going to any meetings. Neil admitted that he knew nothing about any meetings and the man suggested that he go to Akron and talk to Dr. Bob.

On Mother's Day in 1939, Neil and Marion went to Akron and met Dr. Bob. Marion recalls that Dr. Bob's message was: "There is a meeting at King's Sdhool here on Wednesday night. Be there."

On Wednesday, Neil and Marion went to the meeting. They didn't have a car and Neil's mother loaned them a car.

That was the beginning. They went regularly and kept hoping that some one else would join them. Finally, that prayer was answered and Orb and his wife joined them in making the trip.

After a few weeks, as others joined them, Dr. Bob suggested that they start a meeting in Youngstown. It was that first meeting that Dr. Bob and his wife, Annie, attended. Bill W., the co-founder of AA, also, attended some meetings here during the time they were held in their homes.

Second Of Series: The First Clinic

(Editor's Note - The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous in Youngstown and the Alcoholic Clinic go back to 1939, only four years after the fellowship got its start in Akron. This three-part series is from people who were there, namely Marion Kennedy and Jack D.)

The Lincoln Avenue Hospital Inc. was incorporated on February 25,1946 and opened for treatment of alcoholics in March of 1946.

It was a private venture. The incorporators were Jack D., his wife Mary, and an attorney, Lynn R. It was from this beginning that the present Alcoholic Clinic of Youngstown emerged.

Jack D. had gotten sober in July 1940 in Cleveland at a small hospital for alcoholics. He returned to Youngstown and was active in the early days of AA. Meetings were held at his home and at the home of his mother on the North Side of Youngstown.

In his attempt to help alcoholics he found that the nearest place to take them for detoxification was Cleveland.

On one occasion Jack says he feared that the man might die while he and Mary were taking the patient to Cleveland.

Jack began thinking of a hospital in Youngstown. He talked it over with Neil, who encouraged him.

There was a house available at 115 Lincoln Avenue. Jack bought the house through a local real estate dealer, putting down some cash and assuming a mortgage for the rest.

This was in the fall of 1945. Neil suggested that many steelworkers, who were on strike and who were trying to stay sober, might help in the remodeling.

Some were carpenters and plumbers and they volunteered their services.

As the work was completed, Jack hired a doctor, nurse and two cooks and in March they were open for business.

It was a few days before the first patient was brought in. Then as the word got around others came for treatment. The cost was $50 for a five-day treatment.

Jack and other members of AA traveled to meetings in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and let it be known that there was a hospital here. The population grew and at one time there were as many as 18 patients in the hospital.

With the help of Dr. John Renner, Jack was able to get approval of the Mahoning County Medical Association.

Neil was operating an insurance business in downtown Youngstown and also a center for information and speakers on alcoholism.

Jack provided an office for Neil in the hospital where he could talk with patients and other recovering alcoholics.

It was a 24-hour a day job for Jack and Mary. Mary looked after the details during the day and Jack at night

Jack recalls a couple of incidents that made him realize the heavy responsibility he was carrying. One man leaped from a second story window and was badly injured.

And one night a gas station next door caught fire. Fortunately it was brought under control and no one was injured.

It was at this time, after operating the hospital for 18 months, that Jack decided to sell the facility.

Neil and a small group of recovering alcoholics and others interested in the treatment of alcoholics, felt that the treatment should go beyond detoxification provided at the hospital.

The group turned to the community and 66 persons representing all segments of the population were brought together in a committee. The committee was incorporated under the laws of Ohio as the Youngstown Committee on Alcoholism.

It again turned to the community to raise funds to buy the Lincoln Avenue Hospital. The necessary funds were raised without difficulty and the committee took over the hospital, renamed the Alcoholic Clinic of Youngstown, with Neil as director.

Concerning the operation of the hospital, Jack recalls: "I didn't make any money and it was a great deal of work. But it helped to keep me sober. And that was the important thing."

Third of Series: Today's Clinic

(Editor's Note - The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous in Youngstown and the Alcoholic Clinic go back to 1939, only four years after the fellowship got its start in Akron. This three-part series is from people who were there, namely Marion Kennedy and Jack D.)

The Youngstown Committee on Alcoholism, a nonprofit corporation, was organized in 1946 to increase public understanding of alcoholism and to help the suffering alcoholic.

The organization actually began in 1945 when a small group of recovering alcoholics opened an information center and provided speakers on alcoholism

This group provided limited funds for an office and full-time employee, Neil K.

When the private hospital opened on Lincoln Avenue this office was moved to the facility at the invitation of Jack D., who was operating the hospital.

By the time Jack D. decided to sell the facility, the original group had expanded and 66 people were brought together as the Youngstown Committee on Alcoholism.

It was incorporated under Ohio law and a constitution was drafted with the guidance of the National Committee on Alcoholism.

Then in 1947, the committee turned to the community for funds to purchase the privately-owned hospital.

The funds were raised and in October 1947, the purchase was made.

It was the first community operated hospital in the United States devoted, on a non-profit basis, to helping alcoholics.

By 1950 it became apparent that a larger building was needed. A larger building directly across the street became available and the committee again turned to the community.

Because of the recognition of progress in three short years, the necessary money was raised. The total investment in the building, equipment and remodeling was $65,000.

The new location provided for 25 male patients and for the first time facilities were available for five female patients in their own wing of the building.

At this time it was determined that although a large community-wide committee was helpful in organizing the operation, a smaller group should supervise the daily operations.

A group of 14 was elected and an executive secretary was hired. He was Neil Kennedy who served until his death in 1962.

Marion recalls that she and Neil talked it over. It was a considerable sacrifice because Neil was operating a profitable insurance business at the time.

But the decision was made and Neil sold his business. It is now one of the larger insurance agencies in the city.

The Clinic remained at the Lincoln Avenue location until 1965. At that time Youngstown University was expanding and needed the property occupied by the Clinic for the university's complex.

The Clinic operation was moved to the TB Santorium Nurses' Home on Kirk Road and remained there until Dec. 18, 1967. The property was leased from the Mahoning County Commissioners.

During this period, the committee again appealed to the community for funds to build a permanent and expanded facility in the city.

The community responded again and along with funds from the sale of the Lincoln Avenue facility, the $ 250,000 hospital at 2151 Rush Blvd. was built. It is debt-free.

Upon the death of Neil in 1962, Phillip Ley was named executive secretary of the committee and director of the Clinic. He served until his retirement in 1977.

Gerald Carter was hired as director and executive secretary in 1977 and is presently serving in that capacity.

Until 1977, the Clinic had operated principally as a detoxification center. More than 30,000 patients had been treated since 1947.

In 1977, upon the recommendation of Carter, the Committee voted to provide intermediate care up to 10 days beyond the basic five-day detox period.

Then in December 1977, the Committee voted, again on the recommendation of Carter to expand its services.

  1. To provide up to 28-day care.
  2. To provide for the indigent patient who might be referred.
  3. To treat persons who might be referred from the court system.

To provide these services and establish a comprehensive care facility, the Committee also voted to seek federal.