THE MICHIGAN COMPANY OF MILITARY HISTORIANS AND COLLECTORS

At the turn of the new century Well, maybe not stormy, but it had snowed and Jim Stone’s sidewalk hadn’t been shoveled that night of January 19, 1968 when Bob Gryga, George Carr, and Bill Alexander arrived for the first meeting of what was to become the Michigan Company of Military Historians and Collectors.

Jim Stone was the prime mover behind the meeting. A recent AT&T transplant from Detroit, he was a long time Napoleonic buff and sometimes figure painter with widespread contacts among military historians, dealers, and figure societies in New York and New England. Upon arriving in Grand Rapids, one of Jim’s first acts was a reconnaissance mission to Betty Meyer’s Hobby Shop in search of kindred souls. Did Betty know of any figure painters in the area? She did...and Jim had first recruits, Gryga, Carr and Alexander.

Within the next two months, the “First Four” pulled in other potential members, and in March the Michigan Company of Military Historians and Collectors was formally organized with twelve charter members. George Carr became the first Commandant, Jim Stone, Executive Officer and Bob Gryga, Adjutant.

For the first year monthly meetings were held in member’s homes, but with expanding membership, this became increasingly unwieldy and in March of I 969 the meetings were moved to the Grand Rapids Elks Club.

The 1969 roster listed 26 members and member ship since that time has remained fairly constant, ranging between that number and the present 52.

When the company first organized, it attracted several members serving with the armed forces, among them were Capt. Frank Surdu and Major Robert Barrett, but military assignments limited their participation in the group primarily to reports from stations abroad. Five of the twelve charter members however were service veterans: Jim Stone, Bill Connolly, Bob Johnson, and Bill Alexander from W\Ml and Bob Gryga from Korea. Over the years, they have been joined by others from all periods through Vietnam and the Cold War. In 1983, Bryan Thomas became our oldest veteran member (honorary). He served as a mechanic in Eliot White Springs 148th Aero Squadron Durron in WWI.

During the formative years, Jim Stone was the center of Company activity. He maintained correspondence with numerous other societies and individuals, including a satellite group, the Detroit Detachment. He also obtained review figures from manufacturers, promoted public displays, and edited — and mostly wrote — the quarterly “Cannon Report”, 14 to 20 pages of figure reviews, unit histories, uniform details, and painting techniques. The extent of his contributions was underscored when a heart attack, in late I 969 forced Jim to limit his future company activities.

The original focus of the Company was on figure painting, that being the primary interest of the majority of the early members.

However, with the addition of new members diversity began to appear. Chuck Hasek formed a group of war-garners who gathered monthly to fight Chuck’s “Mittwoch” game in medieval, 18th Century and WWII versions.

In addition, collectors of military memorabilia, builders of ship, aircraft, and armor models joined the Company ranks. Beginning with his first tour of duty as Adjutant, Bob Gryga produced a monthly newsletter of editorial comment and Company activities. After the discontinuance of the “Cannon Report” in its original format, Bob’s letter became the Company’s regular vehicle of communications. In I972, Chuck Hasek joined Bob as co-editor and producer, giving the letter a name, “The Mace and Chain” and adding a section on war-gaming news

In I 973, Chuck was also responsible for conceiving and organizing the Company’s first annual Open Mess, patterned after traditional British regimental custom and ceremony. The Open Mess has now become a Company tradition in its own right.

As the Company grew, some of the informal aspects of the earlier primarily social meeting grew into features of a more structured meeting agenda. Pass in Review was inaugurated to provide a showcase for members’ latest works, and later an awards program was established to recognize excellence in individual accomplishment; former discussions dealing with “How to attain realism” in painting and war-gaming quite naturally evolved into “What was and is reality?” And meetings began to build around programs by both members and non-members speaking to the question of historical reality from the expertise or experience.

A continuing but far from complete list of varied and excellent programs by non-members would include those by Max Gratzl, who helped develop Germany’s Walther rocket engine; Jim DeVoss, who flew 105’s and was rescued by helicopter following a crash in Vietnam; Charlie Juhasz, a Rumanian MIG pilot who es caped from Hungary in 1956; and M.C. “Brud” Vanderveen, USMC, who fought in the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea.

While collections of figures, models and military memorabilia remained a substantial interest, Company emphasis was moving in the direction of broader historical inquiry and activities. We also moved geo graphically, from the Elks Club in late I 972 to the old Red Coach Inn, and from there to the Ramada Inn in 1974. In 1978 we returned to the Red Coach which had become Mike and Johnny’s where we had a special, secluded room of our own. Then in 1983, when that room was remodeled into “The Sizzlin’ Lounge” we went home-hunting again, arriving at Brann’s on Alpine. Since the closing of Brann’s we moved to Sayfee’s Restaurant for a few meetings, then to the Legend Restaurant on Stocking. We currently hold our meetings at Radisson Hotel Grand Rapids Riverfront.

Many years have been added to the history books since that snowy January night in I968. The world has changed immeasurably since then and in many ways, so have we. Unchanged however from the first tentative beginning is the Company’s purpose as expressed in our General Regulations, “…to advance the study, understanding and enjoyment of military history in all its aspects.”

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