CHIEF PONTIAC POST 377 HISTORY
Compiled by L.D. McLaughlin (1960s); Nancy Smith (1990s); Updated/Posted October 2021
We begin with the Native American chief for whom our post is named – Chief Pontiac. He was born in 1720, the son of an Ottawa Indian Chief and his Ojibway Squaw. When he reached manhood, he was made a chief of the Ottawa tribe as his father was. He was noted for his commanding voice and manner. His bravery and cunning made him one of the best leaders in the Indian Nations.
To prevent the incursion of colonial settlers, Chief Pontiac encouraged Ohio Country tribes to unite and to rise up against the British, who were treating Native Americans poorly. A war began in May 1763, and Native American tribes attacked a number of British forts and settlements including “Fort Detroit.” Eight forts were destroyed, and hundreds of colonists were killed or captured, with many more fleeing the region. Hostilities came to an end after British Army expeditions in 1764 led to peace negotiations over the next two years. The Natives were unable to drive away the British, but the uprising prompted the British government to modify the policies that had provoked the conflict.
Chief Pontiac's Rebellion had important long-term effects. It showed the ability of diverse Native American tribes to come together and form an effective coalition to resist British forces. The conflict enabled Native Americans to endure as major players in the geopolitics of North America during the eighteenth-century by compelling the British to reevaluate its “Indian Affairs” and give in to Native demands for fear of a prolonged war.
In 1766, Chief Pontiac signed a perpetual peace with the British in New York. Chief Pontiac moved to Illinois in 1769 for no known reason. Shortly after moving to Illinois, he was killed by an Illinois Indian brave. The Northwestern Indians, upon hearing of Chief Pontiac’s death, united to avenge his murder, swooping down on the Illinois tribes and practically wiping out every native American in the state. It is rumored that Chief Pontiac had a summer lodge on the island in the lake that the Indians called Me-Hah-Ao-Gor-Nin, which is presently named Orchard Lake. It is known that Chief Pontiac traveled through this part of Michigan a lot, but where his permanent residence was or where he is buried is unknown.
The birth of Chief Pontiac Post 377
The initial organizer, the man with a dream and the drive, was Charlie Thompson. Charlie worked at the Pontiac Motors Division and realized that Pontiac Motors veterans were increasing in number and were in need of an American Legion post. After very hard work, a lot of time spent, and with much thought given, he assembled a group of Veterans around him and started our post, which has grown from a meeting room in the Hotel Roosevelt to our present 54 acres nestled in the pines of Lake Oakland.
The first meeting was held September 10, 1943 in Room 123 of the Hotel Roosevelt. Twenty-one veterans attended. The second regular meeting was held at the same location on October 13, 1943. Charlie arranged for the post to meet at the Eagle Lodge, and the post voted to hold its future meetings there. Comrade Joe Nichols presented the post with its first set of colors (flag). It was also decided that the installation of officers and the initiation of members would be held at the Eagle Lodge on October 27, 1943. Charlie Thompson paid the rent for the room at the hotel Roosevelt on those first three post meetings.
And executive board meeting was held on October 25, 1943 at the Eagle Lodge and the agenda was the initiation of members and the installation of officers. The initiation and installation ceremonies were conducted by the ritual team of the forty and eight and the captain of the team was the same Ernie Reinke that is still serving the legion with his team. The first officers installed were:
Commander – Harry F. Decker
Senior Vice – B.B. McCarty
Junior Vice – C.M. Cummings
Adjutant – George E. Keating
Finance Officer – W. R. Sayers
Chaplain – J.W. Payne
Historian – H.E. Opdyke
Sergeant at Arms – J.W. Neeson
Judge Advocate – F. Perrin
The Post’s temporary charter was granted on September 16, 1943. Our permanent charter was granted on September 16, 1944. On the Post Application for Permanent Charter, dated June 29, 1944, the “General Information” section contained the following:
“Post organized in October 1943. Presented cigarettes to veterans in local hospitals at Christmas. Sponsored an entry in National Oratorical Contest. Arranged a fine program Michigan’s governor, H.F. Kelly, as principal speaker – attendance approx. 500 people. Sponsored a Bond and Stamp carnival during the 5th war loan drive. Post club room (located in the center of business district) open to service men home on leave – facilities available to them free such as showers, shoe shining and shaving equipment, writing and reading material, soft drinks, sandwiches and coffee. Extensive distribution of the hospitality cards, folder “Facts,” and booklet “Australia at Home to the Yanks.” Signed by George Keating and Harry F. Decker.
In a program to advance the sale of war bonds, our post through the auspices of the city commission, held a carnival. The post set up a booth in the carnival for the sale of bonds and stamps. Our post gave free carnival tickets to each purchaser of bonds or stamps. All funds raised in excess of expenditures was used by the post to purchase war bonds. The post of highly lauded for this war bond effort. This even was held from the July 6-11, 1944.
On November 29, 1945, our post negotiated an option to purchase the site of our first post hom from Orin and Emelia Hibner which was property in the city of Pontiac, knows as 85 Mount Clemens Street. Assessors plat 12 Lot 4, for $7,500. The post was thought of very highly in Pontiac at that time and drew headlines in the paper over the purchase plan. I will quote you one of the newspaper items:
“Historic Home is Bought by Legion. The new home of Chief Pontiac Post #377 of the American Legion will stand on historic ground. No other parcels of land in the in the entire city can show an earlier date in its records. The Hibner property at 85 Mount Clemens Street, Opposite UAW-CIA Headquarters, bought by them for $7500 has a frontage of eighty feet on the street and runs back 350 feet. It is centrally located, being less than a block from the post office. The old frame house built about a hundred years ago soon will be torn down to make way for the Post’s new building, the construction of which is dependent wholly on the material supply. The property has several fine trees, most of which will be preserved when the new home is constructed. The Abstract of title delivered by the Hibner heirs show the property was first deeded by the United States government to Stephen Mack, who founded Pontiac. He was organizing the Pontiac Company, composed largely of Detroitmen, for the purpose of establishing a settlement where the Saginaw Indian Trail crossed the Clinton River. Colonel Mack deeded it to his company on November 12, 1818, before there was even a log house on the settlement. (From this point, the article goes on to tell of the many changes of title, then to the Post). Chief Pontiac Post #377 was organized two years ago, largely through the efforts of its present commander, Charles Thompson. The present meeting place of this community working organization is 37 ½ North Saginaw Street. The Post now has about 160 members. We offer verbal orchids to Chief Pontiac Post for their foresight and enterprise in securing the Hibner property on Mount Clemens Street as the location of their new home.
On January 25, 1946, the Post sponsored a party held at the Pontiac General Hospital, which all proceeds to go toward furnishings for the nurses residence.
We started backing American Legion baseball in 1945 and we had mass turnouts for games. We gave a big banquet at the end of the season for the team with the following people in attendance: Mayor Law of Pontiac, Chief of Police Rhodes, County Sheriff Thomas, Daily Press Sports Editor Pat Glynn and several members of the Detroit Tigers World Championship Baseball Club. This is the way this post used to operate.
On November 18, 1945, the post donated $500 to the Pontiac Boys Club. This was well received by the people of Pontiac.
Our Post had one official honorary member – Thorney. Thorney was an Italian dog of uncertain ancestry that joined up with the 71st Fighter Squadron of the First Fighter Troop of the United States Air Force. The newspapers put it this way:
“As a mascot of the 71st Fighters Squadron, “Thorney,” a beautiful bronze and white pet, served the United States in Good Conduct as a morale booster. In recognition of his fine service and as a veteran of World War II, he was formally initiated an honorary member of this Town’s Chief Pontiac Post #377, American Legion at the Post home at 37 ½ North Saginaw Street.”
Thorney’s master, William A. Crisp, Jr. was a member of our post. Thorney was assigned to the office of Mascot Sergeant at Arms. His office to be at the head of the stairs during meetings. His duties were to keep all intruders out, smelling each comrade as they entered. He was to clean up all food scraps falling to the floor accidentally or otherwise. He was to behave himself while in the post home and in custom to a dog’s habit, he was to pay his respects on each post in the Seventeenth District.
On October 1, 1947, with permission from the city commission and for the purpose of a membership drive, the Post brought the famous world rider Dick Ryan and his famous white horse Hatsushimo (“First Frost”), formerly owned by Emperor Hirohito of Japan, to Pontiac. A display was set up on Saginaw Street in front of the post home for the membership drive.
The first section of the new post home on Mount Clemens Streets was completed on September 25, 1948. The contractor was member Charlie Thompson. This section cost an estimated $50,000.
In 1948, our post sponsored ads and helped to organize junior high football under the lights at Wisner Stadium. We were again acclaimed for this effort.
In 1950, this notice appeared in the newspaper:
Chief Pontiac Does it again. A new lodge for boy scouts – the best 150 news so far for Clinton Valley Boy Scouts is the announcement that a new winter lodge is to be built this year at their Camp Agawam on Tommy’s Lake. The announcement came from the officers of the American Legion’s Chief Pontiac Post 377 and its auxiliary. Although detailed plans are yet to be completed, sleeping accommodation for 18 persons and adequate cooking facilities are contemplated. The building will be well insulated. It’s cost is estimated at $2500. We congratulate the members of Post #377 and its auxiliary on their gift. It is one of the series of projects on the long range program for improvement of the scout’s camp. In providing funds for their winter lodge, the Legionnaires will be helping to expand the camp’s year round value. They also will be making an investment in our citizens of tomorrow we know they will never regret.
Our post again cooperated in community service by assisting in the 107th birthday for Uncle Joe, Michigan’s last civil war veteran. The party was held at the post home on Mount Clemens Street.
On March 16, 1951, our auxiliary purchased two freedom shrines, one for the senior high school and one for Washington Junior High. They also presented the Posts' first Americanism Medal to the Principal of the senior high school in Pontiac, and the present Americanism Medals each year. On April 26, 1951, the Auxiliary Unit presented the city library with six books on subversive activities and fighting communism as they recommended by the National American Legion Research Center. The post also donated money to the Oakland County Children’s Home for use in their summer camp program.
Another headline notice appeared in the newspaper on March 26, 1951, that read:
Chief Pontiac Post #377 of the American Legion again assists its community. A pledge of $1500 was made by the membership of the post to the Pontiac Boys Club. This money is to be used to equip the boys club gymnasium. One of the aims and purposes of the American Legion is to help the youth of our nation. Chief Pontiac Post does well. The post and auxiliary worked in conjunction with the city of Pontiac in hold an open house in the post home on memorial and Armed services Days. A special drum and bugle corps from the Detroit Edison Post was brought in for the events.
The auxiliary presented a radio program from the senior high school. Included in the program was a band concert by the high school band directed by Mr. Harris and also the story of the Legion Poppy was presented.
May 31, 1952 was proclaimed as “Know Your America Day” by the city commission to be in conjunction with a nine minute musical and state show that was brought to Wisner stadium by our post. The dealt completely with the theme “Know your America.”
The Post presented an "Indian War Bonnet" in 1964 at it's birthday dinner to Department Commadner Duane Bridgestock, with an honorary War Bonnet presented to John Carey, who rose to the rank of National Commander from Michigan that year. The Auxiliary Unit presented the first Inidan princess head dress to Hellen Currie in 1991. Both awards are still being presented each year to the Department Commander (Legion) and Department President (Auxiliary). This tradition extended to the Sons of the American Legion and the Junior Auxiliary as they have their own presentations to their commanders and presidents annually.
• picnics, parties and dances held for children’s organizations as the Oakland County Youth’s Center, Fairlawn Children’s center
• Christmas parties held for the children
• candy, gifts, baskets for both Christmas and Easter gifts
• helping to dustproof community streets
• aid given in ecology program
• campouts on our property for both the boy schouts and SAL
• sponsorship of a boy scout troop
• hospital programs carried out by the auxiliary
• auxiliary’s nursing programs
• Auxiliary’s Coldwater training home program
• presentation of flags to community organizations.
• Drill Team’s serving of many communities and individuals in memorial services, parades, firing squads, presentations and military funerals
• post’s everlasting team in its rituals for other posts
• junior’s work in rest homes and such
• use of our grounds and hall by worthy community organizations throughout the years
• sponsoring boys and girls to boy’s and girl’s state
• sponsoring golden glove programs
• sponsoring of American Legion Baseball, junior league baseball and city softball teams
• cooperation with the city of Pontiac’s memorial association
Four members of our post have advanced to the office of District Commander: I had the privilege of being the first and was followed through the year by Billie Coyle, Gerald Joyce and John Kress. We have had four members of our auxiliary advance to the office of district president: Irene Myers, Polly Phillips, Shirley Joyce and Adah McLaughlin. Both the Auxiliary and the Post have had members on department committees. Currently serving from the Auxiliary is Cleofe Chandler as representative for the Clinton Valley Hospital and Adah McLaughlin who serves on the National Security Committee.
The American Legion Auxiliary (by Nancy Smith)
The first meeting of the Auxiliary Unit was held on January 12, 1944 at the Eagles Lodge, same as the men (veterans). The group did not meet as members, but only to get organized as a unit. The Auxiliary Unit received their permanent charter on May 29, 1944 with 18 charter members, which consisted of 7 officers and 11 members. Out of the 18 that started the unit, five went on to lead it as President. We now have 11 officers with 27 chairmen to cover all of the work that we do at the Post. With more than 200 members now, I guess we're doing pretty well compared to what we started with. As we established ourselves as a unit, we soon found ourselves becoming very active in the District and Department (State level) as well. We started first in the 17th District but soon established our own 18th District in 1953. Through the years, members of this unit have held the Office of the President from this unit many times, and we are very proud to say that we even have a Department president from this unit, Ms Ivy Lee Reinhardt. Through the years we have received probably every award that the Department offers, and have helped many other organizations as well, such as Muscular Dystrophy, Easter Seals, Red Cross, and of course, always our veterans. We had teh honor not once but three time of receiving the Women of teh Year Award for three very outstanding members of the unit. We have ehld dinner, banquets, raffles, fund raisers, and of course have always distributed poppies to the community in order to raise money to be able to help the veterans and their families. And as far as our work goes, we've only just begun. But for all of the work that we do here, I can only say it is done out of the love we have for this great country and our men.
Our Post is like a marriage - everything that is done is handled by all of us - Legion, Auxiliary, Sons and Juniors. That is why we are considered a Legion family.
The New Post Home in Clarkston
In 1953, our post purchased our present site – 80 acres, 1,000 foot of lake frontage and three islands all nestled in the pines on Lake Oakland. The cost of this purchase was $45,000. The entire property originally extended all the way to Maybee Road. The original owners were Adam Fisher and his family, who purchased the land from the United States Government in 1833. Following the death of Josephine Fisher, Marshall Buys entered into a land contract for $13,000 in February 1910, payable in annual installments up to $8000, then by mortgage. Buys received the property deed in September 1924, and he had already entered into a land contract with William McMahan in December 1913. Buys preserved the use of a driveway to “Merrie Oakes Gardens” to be able to access what is now known as Mary Sue Avenue. The McMahan’s then obtained deed to the property from Buys in October 1924. Apparently, the McMahan’s also owned land in the “Merrie Oaks Gardens” and subdivided it into 81 plots and 2 parks in July 1929. (Liber 750 of Deeds, pages 184-187) One can only assume that the McMahan’s required use of the driveway when they entered into a land contract with Buys because they already owned “Merrie Oakes Gardens.”
Sons of the American Legion
The Sons of the American Legion formed at Chief Pontiac Post in the late 1950s and applied for a squadron charter on September 21, 1958. According to records, the charter was granted charter on October 24, 1958.
The American Legion Riders (under construction)
Our Land Presently
Chief Pontiac Post 377 purchased 80 acres of land, 1000 feet of lake frontage and three islands all nestled in the pines on Oakland Lake from Mrs. Mary E. McMahan in 1953.
In 1957, a building permit was obtained in the spring to build our present building. December of the same year saw the building completed. April of 1959 marked the start of the bar addition to the new building and September of 1959 dated its completion. In 1985, the Kitchen and back storage room was added, and in 1986 the bathrooms in the hall were remodeled. Not long after another addition was made to present to the Auxiliary their own meeting room and another storage room for the tables and chairs. The original house that sat on the property was torn down and an ew house was built in 1991 for the caretakers.
The Baseball field was added and is still used each season to support Legion baseball. An airplane was donated and placed on the property to signify our loyalty to the men and women that served our country during the great wars. It originally sat on the hill overlooking the entrance of this property, but was donated to the Yankee Air Force Museum in Lapeer, Michigan. Now, the monument stands in its place.
In 1994, under the leadership of Commander E.K. Brown, the members voted to sell 28 (or 33) acres of land to a developer (amount conflicts in reports). Property sold was the wooded area between Mary Sue Ave and Pine Knob Trail. The Post still owns the balance of the property: 1,000 foot of lake frontage and three islands on Lake Oakland. The latest addition is our pavilion, used for many summer activities. Our thanks must go to our SAL Squadron Commander Carvin Chapman for overseeing the construction of the pavilion. Many members of the Legion Family donated their time and energy to make it possible.