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February 2023




With deep gratitude and a very grateful heart, The Community House’s Boards of Directors, its staff, key stakeholders, donors, volunteers, and community supporters together - have launched a series of reflections and events to publicly celebrate The Community House’s 100 Years - its Centennial Celebration! We are humbled, energized and delighted by the kind wishes of so many – thanking us, remembering us, and congratulating us on our extraordinary milestone of a century of selfless service, unimaginable charity, concern for others and our countless support of other nonprofits, the City of Birmingham and the surrounding region. (Now serving 272 zip codes.)

Each column, I would be honored and delighted to share excerpts from the publication “The Heart of Birmingham” co-authored by Betty Angelo and Frank Angelo, published in 1993. Much happened before, much has happened since.

The Heart of Birmingham. The Community House Community House Story by Betty Angelo & Frank Angelo

“There is a tendency, when one speaks or writes about The Community House Community House, to think of an architecturally beautiful building, of organizations, and dances, and meetings and dinners. And indeed, a history of The House focusing primarily on the bricks and mortar, on programs and fund drives, on the minutia of day-to-day operations, would be valid.

Our goal was to move beyond that, however, to seek answers to the who and why of the existence of an institution that truly earned the appellation “The Heart of Birmingham”. We found some. In the process we concluded that it is intangibles, the commitment of people to fulfilling “the felt needs” of the Greater Birmingham Community, that finally are the substance of what we know at The Community House.

We have attempted to capture the essence of who and why without overlooking what, when and where. In our endeavor, for those omissions and commissions we assume full responsibility, we have been helped by the good counsel and contributions of scores of people, many of whom are mentioned in the text. Special thanks, however, go to Max Horton, Barbara Underwood, Rachel and Jim Herbst, to the archival staff of St. James Church; to Gary Elliott for exemplary patience in working with nit-picking editor, and to the office staff of The Community House.

The Beginnings

Picture a quiet Saturday night on a tree-lined Bates Street in Birmingham. It’s the early 1930s, and the sound of swing dance music can be heard coming from an impressive new building on the northwest corner of Townsend and Bates Streets.

The Community House has a strong heart. It was conceived in the transition period between world war and the start of Birmingham’s surge in population. It survived and even flourished during dramatically changing social and economic situations. With good reason.

Hundreds of volunteers and staff people have provided leadership and have rarely deviated from the vision of service propounded by those who, with some religious fervor and sensitivity to new trends, founded it.

According to a transcript of remarks by Henry S. Booth, made for a history of St. James, “Charles McCurdy was always opened-minded about ideas, and if he didn’t think of them himself, he kept seeking them. Because of this, St. James bought up the entire village block (bounded by Bates, Martin, Chester and Maple).”

McCurdy intended to build a retirement community for clergy, providing individual private homes… Booth added, however, that “not very long after (purchase of the land) Mr. McCurdy had Sunday dinner at Cranbrook House (the Booth residence). The conversation got on the subject of the property and other possible uses for it than retirement housing. Out of that came The Community House.

A series of five group meetings on consecutive days in different neighborhoods in early December 1920 explored The Community House idea. On December 28, a committee appointed by Rev. McCurdy adopted several recommendations.The most important were suggestions for reorganization of the St. James Women’s Guild” to guide the policy of such The Community House.” The committee recommended a new constitution of bylaws “comprehensive enough to include all the work associated with such efforts.”

Two other important stipulations were made, one to do with the type of building utilized, the other with financing. Enduring principles were established. The House and its facilities would be sufficient to meet “the needs of the community.” The committee also said that the House would operate only through funding from the community, either in response to special events or annual drives. Support from government was unthinkable in the social and political climate of the ‘20s; was not an option even as attitudes about government assistance changed in later decades.

The committee report was presented to a Guild meeting on January 5, 1921. Its recommendations were adopted, and the committee discharged. Signing the final report as secretary was Mrs. Ruth Edgar Shain, who became an indefatigable worker in the building the solid foundation upon which The Community House Community House grew.

“People were not made to live alone. The nature of man demands social intercourse. We must meet others on a common footing. We must forever seek friendships to brighten the path that leads to the grave”.

It soon became obvious that the community was, indeed, accepting…. and using… The Community House. Meetings, Saturday dances, a billiard room for boys, and Sunday forums provided a steady flow of people during hours of operations, daily from 10 to 12, 2 to 5, 7 to 9 except on Saturdays when later hours prevailed to accommodate the dancers.

The arrival of Miss Martin and Miss Dickinson began a new phase. Instead of just waiting for people to come, Miss Martin, at the urging of the Board, began to organize House-sponsored groups. “The activities of The Community House are necessarily diversified in character owing to the number of people we are anxious to reach. We want The Community House to become a vital part of the life of Birmingham and to make every person feel that he or she has a part in its activities.” Her initial efforts ranged from childcare to job placement. The day nursery provided care for nine children that month, with a charge of 50 cents per family. The nursery operated only on Wednesdays...” Fascinating. Stay tuned for more excerpts over the next twelve months! Happy 100-Years Community House.



The Bates Street Society was created to help recognize donors who make significant charitable contributions to support the work and mission of The Community House Community House. New members are acknowledged annually at The Bates Street Society Dinner, an extraordinary evening hosted by The Community House Community House Association and Foundation Board of Directors. In 2023, the Bates Street Society and the Bates Street Society Dinner will be held on Saturday, February 11, 2023. To help lead this extraordinary gathering, Ms. Lila Lazarus, will assume the role of Master of Ceremonies. The Bates Street Society Dinner will also recognize TCH/TCHF’s annual Pillars of Vibrancy in Business, Education, Culture, Wellness and Philanthropy and brief remarks recognizing The Community House’s Centennial Year.

2023 Pillars of Vibrancy Honorees include:

• Jim Berline — Business & Philanthropy

• Dr. Linda Gillum, Ph.D. — Health & Wellness and Education

• Nancy Susick, RN — Health & Wellness and Business

• Priscilla & Huel Perkins — Culture & Philanthropy

• Matthew Rizik — Business & Philanthropy

• Greg Schwartz — Business

• Nada & Sam Simon — Business & Philanthropy

• Gary Van Elslander — Business & Philanthropy

Save-the-Date: Saturday, February 11, 2023. Seating is limited. Tickets (reservations) on sale now.

Our gratitude and special thanks to founding sponsors PNC Bank and Corewell Health. Gratitude to BERLINE, Cranbrook Educational Community, Oakland University, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Oakland University-William Beaumont School of Medicine, Metalbuilt, Deroy & Devereaux, Clark Hill, Emerson - Prew and The Agency Hall & Hunter Realtors for their lead sponsorships of the 2023 Bates Street Society Dinner as well. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information ,contact Christopher Smude, Senior Vice President, CMO, The Community House Community House Foundation at

For reservations, sponsorships or more information about booking gathering and meeting space for Winter 2022 and beyond - please go to or call 248.644.5832.

William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.


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