Early in 1983, Keith Harrison and four others met in the basement of his then Okemos home to form a Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). From this humble beginning, the Curtenius Guard Camp 17 has developed into one of the most influential Camps, at both the Department and National levels, in the history of our Order. A Provisional Charter was granted in May of 1983. Listed on that Charter were Robert E. Evans, Thomas I. Hansen, Keith G. Harrison, Michael D. Mitchell and the Rev. William C. Newmarch.
The Camp was named after the Curtenius Guard Militia Company of Mason, Michigan, which was later mustered into federal service as Company B, 7th Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry at the beginning of the Civil War. The Camp number was originally designated as 7 but was subsequently and very arbitrarily changed to 17 after it was found that another Camp in Michigan already had that number.
Shortly after the Camp's formation, hearing of the existence of a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Hall in Sunfield, Michigan, Keith Harrison visited the Samuel W. Grinnell GAR Post 283 Hall. Upon entering the Hall with all the memorabilia present, he noticed that one of the Allied Orders of the GAR Charters on the wall was that of the Samuel W. Grinnell Camp #17, Sons of Veterans. The Camp existed and met in this Hall from 1918 to 1935. It was at that point, Brother Harrison knew that Camp 17, SUVCW had found its home. Within two months after that visit, a new Camp 17 (Curtenius Guard Camp #17) was again holding meetings in the Hall. The Hall, in continuous use by the GAR and its Allied Orders since completion in 1899, became a focal point for Camp efforts. Extensive renovation and preservation work has been done to the structure. A state historical marker was dedicated on Memorial Day (May 30) in 1987. The Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 1992.
Recruiting efforts brought in enough members to secure a "full" Charter by April of 1985. Those appearing on the August 15, 1985 Charter were Albert E. Baerren, John J. Collins, Gary J. Durken, Richard J. Estep, Robert E. Evans, Don W. Everett, Thomas I. Hansen, Kenneth W. Harris, Keith G. Harrison, Arthur T. Kelsey, John W. Knecht III, James Leighty, James T. Lyons, Bob McBrien, Michael D. Mitchell, Richard L. Moore, Mike Neuman, Father William C. Newmarch, Russel Nye, and J. Douglas Park.
The strength of the Department at that time was 55 members and with the addition of Camp 17, the membership total increased correspondingly and there were now six Camps. Unfortunately, three of the Camps were inactive and had not met for some time. The Curtenius Guard Camp 17 had an immediate impact on the situation and through vigorous recruiting activity the Camp grew rapidly. It quickly became the Department "holding" Camp and as enough members from a certain area were added, efforts to organize a Camp in that area started.
A "flying" squad, in various combinations, comprised of Keith Harrison, Jim Lyons, Doug Park, Richard Williams, and Gary Gibson (of Camp 20) conducted Camp organizing meetings far and wide throughout the state. The result was seven new Camps and the reactivation of one of the dormant Camps with a base of members being transferred to the new units. The organization of two other new Camps and one other reactivation resulted when people in those communities expressed interest in the Order. The Department Membership-at-Large Camp also was instituted.
After having served as Senior Vice Department Commander for two years, Keith Harrison was elected Department Commander in 1985 and served in that capacity for three years. James T. Lyons succeeded him in this position in 1988 and 1989. Other Camp members who served in this key office included James B. Pahl, 1992, J. Douglas Park, 1993, and Paul D. Hodges in 1997. Brother Hodges' grandfather, Herrick Hodges was the first Commander of the Department of Michigan.
The office of Department Secretary (and Treasurer for a good part of the time) has been held by a member of this Camp since Brother J. Douglas Park was elected to that position in 1985. He served until Richard Williams was elected in 1991. Richard Lee, who holds a dual membership (originally Camp 17, and Camp 120) was elected to the office in 1995 and served until 2005. Brother Williams returned to the post of Treasurer in 2002 and 2003.
During the Michigan Sesquicentennial (1986-87), Brothers Harrison and Lyons represented the Order on the Military Affairs Sub-Committee of the Historic Observances Committee. It was during this service that Brother Lyons reactivated the Graves Registration Program in the Department. This program was adopted as an official Sesquicentennial Project. Brother Lyons developed a format and promoted the establishment of a Department GAR Records Committee. He has served as the Department GAR Records Officer since 1996 and continues to lead the effort to locate surviving GAR Post records.
To date (2006), the Department of Michigan has hosted three National Encampments. Brother Lyons served as General Chairman of the Host Committee for the 1988 and 1994 Encampments. Doug Park stepped in for the final two months prior to the 1994 Encampment and handled the day-to-day operations. Brother Richard Williams served as General Chairman for the 2000 National Encampment. All three Encampments were held in Lansing.
Recognition has come to a number of members over the years. The Department of Michigan Abraham Lincoln Certificate of Appreciation has been awarded to Michael Mitchell (1987), Keith Harrison and James T. Lyons (1989), Paul D. Hodges (1992), J. Douglas Park and Richard Williams (1995), and James B. Pahl (1999). Former members of the Camp so recognized include Smead Edwards and William Peebles (1987) and Jerry D. Roe (1992).
Service to the National Organization involved many of the same individuals. Brother Lyons was elected and served as National Secretary from 1989-1994. He also served as Chairman of the National Encampment Site Selection Committee for five years. During that time so many Brothers from Michigan were called to serve in various National positions that Past Commander-in-Chief Richard Schlenker dubbed the group "the Michigan Mafia".
Keith Harrison was elected Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief in 1992, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief in 1993, and served as Commander-in-Chief for the term 1994/1995. He was only the fourth Michiganian in the then 113-year history of the Order and the first in 46 years to serve in the Order's highest office. At the conclusion of his term, the Camp commissioned a formal photograph which now hangs in the GAR Hall in Sunfield. He has served in a variety of positions including National Patriotic Instructor, History Book Coordinator, and National Membership-at-large Coordinator and most recently for several years as National Signals Officer and Webmaster for the National Organization. During this time, he greatly expanded the offerings on the National web site, adding many innovative features and updates.
J. Douglas Park served as an elected member of the National Council of Administration, 1995-1998. He had formerly served as National Membership-at-large Coordinator and computerized those records. He has served in a variety of committee assignments including the National Program and Policy Committee.
Brother James B. Pahl was elected National Treasurer in 1997 and served until 2001. He has served as the National Counselor, as Chairman of the National Legal Staff and Chairman of the Committee on Constitution and Regulations for several years. He was elected as Junior Vice Commandery-in-Chief (2004/05), Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief (2005/06) and Commander-in-Chief 2006/07). He was the second member of the Camp and sixth person from Michigan to attain the rank of Commander-in-Chief.
Brother Richard Williams was asked to serve as National Membership List Coordinator in 1992 and held that position until 2001. He almost single-handedly "computerized" the operation of the National Organization. He helped establish many programs to handle a variety of functions. He became the primary resource and training person in this area of activity. He has provided coaching and assistance in practically every area of computer operations at the National level of the Order.
Brother James T. Lyons was appointed the first Executive Director of the National Organization at the 2000 National Encampment. He left the post after three months for personal reasons.
Additional Camp 17 member recognitions have followed these activities. At the National Encampment of 1994, Brother J. Douglas Park was recognized by being the first recipient of the Cornelius Whitehouse Award as the Outstanding Brother of the Year. Brother Richard Williams was recognized with the same award in 2000. Keith G. Harrison and James B. Pahl were recognized jointly for this award in 2001. The Meritorious Service Award with Gold Star was presented to James T. Lyons at the 1997 National Encampment. Brothers Williams, Harrison, and Pahl also were later recipients of this award.
The Curtenius Guard Camp 17, Department of Michigan, was recognized as the Outstanding Camp of the Year at the 2000 National Encampment. This award recognized the efforts and teamwork of all members of the Camp, not any one individual. Keeping green the memory of the men of the Grand Army of the Republic will always be foremost in their hearts and minds. We all look forward to many more years of service to the Order at all levels of the organization.
(a) The above history was prepared initially in 2003 in celebration of the Camp's 20th year of existance and updated in 2006 by Camp Historian James T. Lyons, PCC, PDC.