Serving the People of Hawaii Since 1960
In Hawaii, in the1950s, Alcoholism was still viewed as a shameful moral failing, an incurable mental disorder or a crime. The organization known as Alcoholics Anonymous was spreading across the country but had done little to buffer society's revulsion when it came to dealing with "drunkards".
One of the first individuals in Hawaii to develop any successful time utilizing the 12 step program put forward by "AA" was Mr. Richard D. Welsh. "Dick" Welsh had gotten sober around 1951 and was a founding member of the Central Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the first AA groups in Hawaii.
Dick was a successful trial attorney in Honolulu and was known for his distinctive manner of dress, white linen suits, and for eloquently, but aggressively, speaking his mind. Dick was not a shy man and at 6'4" tall he was hard to miss. He had also been known for his ability to consume very large amounts of beverage alcohol.
As time passed people came to the Central Group for help with their alcoholism. Some stayed and some went back to drinking. Alcohol was a very important social lubricant in those days and was also used by many to deal with fatigue, stress and resentment that had no other outlet.
One of the men that came to the Central Group for help was Sidney L. Kline. "Sid" Kline was a decorated veteran of W.W.II. Sid had been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his combat performance in Germany during the war.
During one such action, Lt. Kline's medic performed his duties in a manner that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Following the war, Lt. Kline was assigned to Army Intelligence to track down and apprehend Nazis suspected of having been involved in the commission of war crimes.
When Sid first showed up at a Central Group meeting, in 1956, He refused to believe that Dick had already been "sober" for five years. He didn't believe that anybody could "not drink" for five years, especially someone as thin skinned, pushy and potentially dangerous as Dick Welsh seemed to be. He decided that he would stick around long enough to see this guy get drunk.
Dick and Sid were country club alcoholics. Cocktail parties and various social functions served as a backdrop for their alcoholism and placed them in a different class than your average drunk.
That these men recognized their condition and took positive action to improve their situation, at such an early point in the development of structured abstinence assistance, is pretty amazing. What is even more remarkable is how they would choose to invest the balance of their lives.
Dick quickly became Sid's AA "sponsor" and got him involved in "service" to the AA group and its' members. Initially this involved showing up early for the AA meeting and making coffee for the people who would attend. There were so few members of AA in Honolulu at that time that Sid carried around coffee cups, with the Central Group's members names painted on them, in the trunk of his car.
Another aspect of "service" had to do with working with people who were still suffering from active alcoholism and were unaware of the program of AA. This is still called "12 Step Work" in AA and refers to the 12th step of the program of change.
Sid and Dick would go out and "find" alcoholics, take them to the Central Group meeting and then take them back to where they had found them. They would get some men from behind the "bamboo curtain" at Queen's Hospital, where people would go for help with D.T.s and other withdrawal related health issues.
They would find them in junk yards and living under bridges, where people would end up after having become separated from families and loved ones because of their alcoholism. They would scour the beaches and be referred by individuals who "knew someone" that "might" need their help.
As time went by they began to become discouraged because so few of the people they were trying to help seemed to be grasping the program of change and developing significant periods of abstinence.
It was also around this period that Dick Welsh was asked to serve as chairman of a statewide study, published in 1959, under the title " The Governor's Commission on Alcoholism"
Through the research, needed to reach valid conclusions regarding alcoholism in Hawaii, Dick and Sid learned a great deal more about the physical and sociological aspects and implications of the condition now, finally, to be identified as a disease.
These men had begun to see a pattern of continued usage linked directly to non-supportive environments during the periods of time when direct abstinence based activities were not taking place.
The people they brought to meetings were fine, while in the meeting, but upon discharge from the hospital, or back in the junkyard, or back under the bridge, back in the environments in which their alcoholism had been active, the drinking phase of the disease would inevitably flare.
The solution became clear. They would find a way to support these people while they were drying out and trying to learn, and then put solidly into place, a program of change that would allow them to continue to abstain from alcohol consumption.
At this point another member of the Central Group, James K. Hopkins, became involved. Also a veteran of W.W.II, "Jimmy the Hop" knew of an old Army chapel, on Sand Island, that had fallen into disuse not long after the end of the war. Jimmy took Dick and Sid to see the place. The outside of the Chapel was overgrown with Kiawe tree and on the inside weeds were growing chest high, on Dick Welsh.
They thought it was perfect.
Through Dick's association with Gov. Quinn, permission was secured to use this old abandoned property as a "halfway house" for recovering alcoholic men. At the time, the concept was still fairly new and there were only a few other halfway houses in the country.
Many members of AA on Oahu volunteered to come down to clean up and repair the old Chapel so it could begin to be used by the men. Many other people in Honolulu gave of themselves to ensure the success of this project including Mr. John Henry Felix, who was instrumental in getting electricity supplied to the site, Dr. H.Q. Pang, Dr. Frank Glaser and Dr. Larry Winter, who would provide medical care and consultation for the residents.
The Kline - Welsh Behavioral Health Foundation was incorporated with Dick Welsh as President of the Board of Directors, Sidney Kline as Secretary-Treasurer of the Board and Executive Director of the Half-Way House for Men. John Dominis Holt IV, Alexa Cogwell and Dr. Larry Winter were asked to serve as voting members of the Board.
In October of 1960, when the Chapel had been sufficiently restored, the first arrivals began benefiting from the inner commitment, vision and hard work of some very good people.
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