The Maple Shade Tuesday Night Group: Our History
Updated Spring, 2007
By Jimmy S
A.A. Groups that survive the passage of time have a special sense of belonging. With that feeling of belonging, there exist shared memories of the past. When we, the Maple Shade Tuesday Night Group, look over the past 46 years, we remember the people who started the group, and those who kept it going. We remember how we used to do things and how they evolved into the way we do things today. In the end, it is about how we stayed sober.
The Maple Shade Group was originally founded in 1962. One of our founders was Alex W., a well-known local newspaper editor who, in keeping with the spirit of our co-founders, opened up his home, a small apartment in Camden, to folks who were struggling to maintain sobriety. A.A. meetings were held in his home in those days, and Alex was even known to allow some of the more down-and-out men to stay at his humble abode while they got back on their feet. Because of their advanced age and their seeming propensity to resume drinking after brief periods of sobriety, this motley crew came to be known as the “Golden Slippers.”
As the membership of the group steadily grew, Alex could no longer accommodate the meetings in his small apartment. In the months and years that followed, the group began to meet in a variety of locations around Maple Shade. The first place they began to meet after they outgrew Alex’s place was in the Maple Shade Police Station – a venue with which a few of these early members were already acquainted for other reasons. Eventually, the local VFW served for a brief time as the group meeting place. That spot’s tenure as our meeting place was short-lived however, after our founder, Alex, cut-off a long-winded speaker one night and the resentment was settled outside. Once again, the Maple Shade group was forced to relocate. It was at this point in time that the group began to meet at our current location, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. It was now 1963, a landmark year for us. We were first officially listed in the General Service Office Directory in New York, as the Maple Shade Group.
The group anniversary has been a long tradition in the Maple Shade Group. One particular group anniversary back in the sixties was held, not here, but in the police station. (Those old-timers just couldn’t seem to stay out of that police station). The group actually invited the public to that anniversary to let the community–at-large know something about AA. At this meeting, the speaker was Noel L., whom many an old-timer will remember. He was a member of the Maple Shade Group who served as Delegate to the General Service Conference for two terms, and as chairman of the Southern New Jersey General Service Assembly. He was also instrumental in founding the now defunct detox, Starting Point, in Mount Holly which served so many early AA’s in the area as a launching pad toward a sober life.
The Maple Shade Group has always recognized the milestones in our members’ sobriety by presenting small tokens to celebrate length of sobriety. These days, we give coins to our celebrants, but in years past, the tradition was to give out pins to those members who made it through those first 90 days of recovery. The problem was, you didn’t receive your 90-day pin until you were sober one year! Fortunately, back in 1984, a handful of people at a business meeting took the bull by the horns and the group conscience straightened the mess out. Today you receive your 90-day coin (the pins have long since been unavailable) when you earn it – at 90 days!
In the early ‘70’s, for one reason or another, our group membership began to dwindle, and at one low point the group was down to only three or four members. What happened to turn things around? Well, we owe much to the leadership of one John P. John shared his concerns about the declining membership with his sponsor, Lee, who promptly told him to “handle things” himself. At that point John encouraged the group to “get its act together.” Group officers were elected, with John himself serving as chairman. A secretary and treasurer were soon elected from among the few group members. Later that year, Maggie B., a long-time group member was elected Southern New Jersey Delegate to the General Service Conference which meets in New York City every year. I am happy to report that the tradition of being active in all levels of service continues to this day at Maple Shade. Along with Maggie, other members of this Maple Shade Group who have served as delegate include the aforementioned Noel L. (two terms), as well as Nancy McC. and Madge M. But enough about ancient history! More recently, even more members of our home group have been privileged to serve Area 45 as Delegate when Jimmy S. was elected as Panel 56 delegate, followed by Fred E., Panel 58 Delegate. This makes a total of six delegates to the General Service Conference who are or were members of the Tuesday Night Maple Shade Group.
The Maple Shade Group began having regular business meetings in 1975. These meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month, prior to the regular meeting. If you would have paid the group a visit in those days, you may have found yourself drinking your coffee from a cup and saucer of fine china. This tradition was ultimately abandoned in favor of Styrofoam cups after we realized we were getting home awfully late because of having to wash so many cups and saucers.
A group anniversary such as this one tonight, takes a lot of planning and organization. To raise money to cover our expenses, we pass a separate basket at our monthly business meeting. This way, no seventh tradition money is ever diverted to fund the anniversary celebration. In addition, group members contribute much of the food. However this was not always the case. Back in 1976, the group decided to really go all out and have a catered affair for our anniversary celebration. While the food was great - it cost a bit more than the group anticipated and the group went into debt for a short time.
A snapshot of the group in the year 1976 would show Madge M. with 2 years of sobriety serving as GSR, and Jim W. with 2 years sober serving as group secretary. It’s no coincidence that such service in their early years with the fellowship has paid dividends in their path of sobriety. And they are sitting here tonight each with 34 years of continuous sobriety.
Around that same time, John P., who had been so pivotal in turning things around for the group in 1972 when membership was low, was involved in a serious accident. The emotional toll of this accident led him back to alcohol. He drank for another 10 years, finally returning to the Maple Shade Group in the late ‘80’s, a shadow of his former self. He passed away within the year, sober, and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the Maple Shade Group owes its very existence today to a man that died with less than a year of sobriety. God does move in mysterious ways, does he not?
The Maple Shade Group has always recognized the importance of reaching out to the newcomer. In 1977 we started a beginner’s meeting separate from the regular meeting in order to give those in early sobriety special encouragement. We had to suspend the meeting for awhile as we were moved from room to room within the church. But as soon as we were given the space again, we restarted this important meeting.
In 1984, we started a free raffle at our monthly anniversary meeting. Everyone gets a ticket at the door, we hold a drawing, and the winner gets a book of his or her choosing from among the AA Literature. In many cases, the person holding the winning ticket gives the book away to a newcomer, thus continuing the tradition of passing on the AA message.
The group has seen a few significant changes in recent years too. Sometimes these changes are foisted upon us from without, as happened a few years ago by the Lutheran church. The synod handed down a decree that henceforth, all Lutheran Churches would be non-smoking facilities and that included this one. Many of us viewed it as God doing for us what we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do for ourselves. Also a few years back another significant change occurred when the group conscience voted overwhelmingly to change the meeting start time from 8:30 to 8:00. And I have been told by someone in a position to know that, many years ago, our start time here was actually 9:00 p.m! Let the record show that the alleged 9:00 p.m. start time is disputed by other long-time members of this group.
In May of 2005 the group was forced to move out of the auditorium we had been meeting in for so many years, to a church property around the corner in “The Red House.” This move was necessitated by a renovation project that took much longer than expected to complete. Two years later, almost to the day, we moved back into “the big room,” effectively ending our time in Purgatory. Regrettably, we are no longer able to conduct our Beginners’ Meeting due to the reconfigured layout of our meeting space.
The good news . . . the bottom line to all of this discourse is that though change is inevitable with the passing of time, as long as we, as a fellowship, keep AA’s singleness of purpose as expressed in our Fifth Tradition and our Unity as expressed in the First Tradition uppermost in our minds, we can survive and accomplish many things. This is as true for all of us as individuals as it is for the AA Group.