February 10, 2015 Meeting

5:30 p.m. at the University Club, 10th floor of the Fifth-Third Bank Building in downtown Grand Rapids. Free parking in the 5/3 underground parking area. Enter from Monroe and tell the attendant you are with the Torch club.

February 10, 2015 Dinner Menu: Arugula Salad with Pear and Almond Salmon Bruschetta, Herbed Zucchini, Rice Pilaf Peach Pie, House-made Rolls, Coffee and Tea Service

DIANA BARRETT, Torch Club member,  “The Real Story of the Grand Rapids Press Newsboys Band”

Diana BarrettThe Grand Rapids Press Newsboy Band, sometimes sentimentally portrayed as a philanthropic organization, was neither sentimental nor philanthropic; the band was part of a business plan established not long after George G. Booth of Detroit purchased the Grand Rapids Morning Press, followed shortly by the Evening Leader. These two papers were consolidated, becoming The Evening Press at the end of 1892.

The band, initiated in 1894, was usually comprised of about thirty-two lads, selected from a large pool of Press newsboys, ranging from 800 to 1200 in number. Among its early members were eleven-year-old Georgie Welsh, his younger brother, Jamie, and little brother Willie followed soon after. George Welsh went on to become the city’s most beloved and most belittled political figure during his forty-year career.

The Newsboy Band’s first annual tour occurred in 1896, as an experiment. Its success led to a succession of annual tours, around Michigan, the Midwest, and in 1901 to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. George Welsh and his brothers were among the thirty band members selected for the Buffalo tour.

Band members committed to heavy obligations: in addition to band practice twice a week, the band played at all newsboy association meetings and entertainments, weekly Sunday Happy Hours, banquets, picnics, parades and charity events. They received no remuneration for their work; still there were always newsboys anxious to become members of the band. What was the band’s attraction, what was the newspaper’s secret?

Diana Barrett retired from her active working life as a teacher, then as a financial broker. During the past decade, she has become an energetic public historian who has searched in the corners of Grand Rapids history. Building on her research activities, Barrett has led the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, whose website, historygrandrapids.org, she created and oversees. This virtual archive models future collecting possibilities and, for her efforts developing it, Barrett was honored in 2007 with a State Award in Communications from the Historical Society of Michigan and in 2008 with the Albert Baxter Award from the Grand Rapids Historical Society.

Since 2008 Barrett has been researching George W. Welsh whose political career spanned the decades from 1914 to 1956. Mr. Welsh is a fascinating personage in Grand Rapids history and one whose legacy encompasses much more than the Civic auditorium that bears his name.

Please join us in our new Torch Club season with drinks, dinner, great conversation and an enjoyable evening with your friends at Torch Club. See you there!

Drinks and meet and greet begins at 5:30 pm and dinner normally begin at 6:00 p.m.