On April 6, 1944, Dave A wrote Alcoholics Anonymous in New York, stating “There are probably policies which you people in New York would want us [new group] to observe, so I am writing this letter for instructions from you as to how to conduct ourselves.” This is how Orlando Central, the first AA group in Central Florida, got started.
It would be 20 years later, February 5, 1964, to be exact, when the first group east of Semoran Boulevard (S.R. 436) was to meet. Predecessors in the Central Florida area were the Winter Park Group, 1949; Magnolia Group, May 16, 1962; Maitland Group, September 1962.
The Lake Underhill Group was named after the street where the group met in the Lutheran Church next to what is now Florida Hospital East Orlando. Their Friday night meetings started at 8:30 p.m. versus the usual 8 p.m. start time. This later time was chosen to allow its members to go to the bank and do a little shopping. At that time not too many stores were open on Saturday and practically none on Sunday.
This was a pretty laid-back meeting; people had a TGIF attitude for the most part, and did not get uptight if a meeting lasted more than an hour, which they usually did. After the meeting there were many discussions conducted outside the meeting room “Parking lot AA,” it was called. Many got together for coffee, dessert, and more fellowship at local restaurants. A few months later the group decided to move to Christ the King Church on Willow Drive in Azalea Park. They did not, however, bother to change the group name.
Early in 1971, another group started meeting on Wednesday night on Willow Drive, at the Methodist church. Meeting conditions were never too favorable. There were no coffee-making facilities, so the group secretary, treasurer and coffee-maker had to make the coffee at home and carry the pot and related supplies in a cardboard box to each meeting. When he go to the church, he had to look for one of the deacons to get a room key. The group was never sure which room would be available, so they had to remain flexible, especially when the room was equipped only with kindergarten-
There was one night when group members showed up and no rooms were available. Perseverance prevailed. They found a picnic table and conducted a meeting outside by the light of the moon. The chairperson promptly announced the opening of the “Moonshine Meeting” of the Azalea Park Group. It was a highly spiritual meeting, one to be forever and fondly remembered by all who attended.
In time the Azalea Park Group decided to move. And where did they move to? To a church on Lake Underhill. Did they change their name? Of course not! So here you have the Lake Underhill Group moving from Lake Underhill Road to Azalea Park and not changing their name; and the Azalea Park Group moving from Azalea Park to a church on Lake Underhill Road and not changing their name. That is why, if you attend a Lake Underhill Group meeting, for example, you are liable to have the chairperson open the meeting with, “This is a closed discussion meeting of the Lake Underhill Group of Alcoholics that meets in Azalea Park, not to be confused with the Azalea Park Group of Alcoholics Anonymous that meets on Lake Underhill.”
An effort was made to start a group in Union Park. Chuck B., a transplant from Pittsburgh, arranged for use of the conference room of the Florida Power Corporation. There were 23 present for that first meeting. After a couple of weeks, he was told there would be no assurance of room availability on a regular basis, because of other community obligations. Basia H., with her pleading eyes, and C. K. B., hobbling on his one leg, tried to sweet-talk corporation executives into changing their stand, but to no avail.
However, H. P. was looking out for them. C. K. wanted to start a Big Book study group, having experienced such a meeting while visiting his AA sister in Ohio. Thelma B., an Al-Anon, offered C. K. her establishment, the Rocket Beauty Salon, for this purpose. It is now a restaurant, next to the funeral home east of Dean Road on Colonial Drive. Attendees sat in barbershop chairs under hair dryers. To lend an AA atmosphere to this unusual setting, C. K. loaned Thelma a framed Serenity Prayer, about a yard square, tooled in leather. This C. K. received from Hank’s widow Shirley. Hank had it made in Mexico while stationed with the Air Force in Texas, where he came to the program. The tooled leather Serenity Prayer now hangs in the Intergroup Office.
One of the regular attendees to this group was Clarence S., founder of Group #3, Cleveland, Ohio, and the “Home Brewmeister,” one of the stories that appears in all three editions of Alcoholics Anonymous. Clarence gave the group a good insight to the philosophy of the program and guidance through the Big Book and the steps. After the meeting, there were always a few who stayed for some spirited conversations. Although Clarence was outspoken in Ids criticism of some of the aspects of early AA and some of the early members, he was well respected for his devotion to the program. Those who have been through the Big Book sessions with Clarence received invaluable AA tutelage.
This was an exceptionally lively group; none were verbally inhibited. They were a spiritually-minded group, but could also laugh at themselves. Such was the case with R… Ralph. Sometimes during a discussion Ralph would say, “I don’t want to hear that,” and lower a dryer over his head. The Big Book Group first met on February 28, 1972. In the few years of its existence, the Big Book was studied many, many times. By the time that Thelma sold the business, other groups had been established in East Orange County.
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