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, Curtenius Guard Camp #17 has developed into one of the most influential Camps, at both the Department and National levels, in the recent history of the 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 Mitchell, and the Rev. William C. Newmarch.
The Camp was named after the Curtenius Guard Militia Company of Mason, Michigan, mustered as Company B of the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry at the beginning of the Civil War. The Camp number was originally designated as Camp 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. 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 at 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 its 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 over the 30 years. A state Historical Marker was dedicated on Memorial Day (May 30th) 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 a Department “holding” Camp and as enough members from a certain area were added, efforts to organize a new Camp in that area started. A Department “flying “squad, in various combinations, comprised of Keith Harrison, Jim Lyons, Doug Park, Richard Williams, and Gary Gibson (of Camp #20) conducted organizing meetings far and wide. 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, and Paul David Arnold in 2012.. 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 held a dual membership (in Camp #17, and Camp #120), was elected to the office in 1995. Brother Williams returned to the post of Treasurer in 2002. Bryan Shumway served in the post from 2005 – 2009.
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 Michigan Sesquicentennial Project.
During this time period, the Department of Michigan has hosted three National Encampments. Brother Lyons served as General Chairman of the Host Committee for 1988 and 1994. 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 that Past Commander-in-Chief (PCinC) Richard Schlenker dubbed the group “the Michigan Mafia”. Keith Harrison was elected Junior Vice-Commander-in-Chief in 1992 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. He had served in a variety of positions including National Patriotic Instructor, History Book Coordinator, National Membership-at-Large Coordinator, National Signals Officer, and Webmaster for the National Organization and Liaison to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. While National Webmaster, he greatly expanded the offering on the National web site, adding many innovative features and updates. After stepping down as National Webmaster, he continued to serve as Backup Webmaster for the SUVCW and National Webmaster for the SUVCW’s Sons of Veterans Reserve (SVR) from 1997 - 2013.
Within the SVR, Brother James Pahl currently serves on the national staff as a Lt Colonel in his role as Judge Advocate General. Brother Harrison served as a Brevet Brigadier General in his role as the National Commanding Officer of the SVR from 1996 -1997 and then retired to the rank of Major in the Cadre.
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 a variety of committee assignments including the National Program and Policy Committee. Brother Richard Williams was asked to serve as National Membership List Coordinator in 1992 and served in 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. Brother James T. Lyons was appointed the first Executive Director of the National Organization at the 2000 National Encampment. 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 subsequently 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. In his role as National Counselor and later assistant National Counselor, he annotated the National Constitution and Regulations.
Recognition has followed these activities. At the National Encampment of 1994, Brother Park was 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 Harrison and James B. Pahl were recognized jointly in 2001. The National Meritorious Service Award with Gold Star was presented to James T. Lyons at the 1997 National Encampment. Brothers Williams and Harrison were also later recipients of this award. Brother Chris Czopek was awarded the National Meritorious Service Award in 2013.
The Curtenius Guard Camp #17, Department of Michigan, was recognized as the Outstanding Camp of the Year at the 2000 National Encampment.
The Camp has been involved in so many projects it is hard to list them all. A couple of note however, was the restoration of GAR Soldiers’ Monument Lot at the Lansing, Michigan Mount Hope Cemetery in 2007 and the institution of free Civil War Seminars to help educate the public regarding the Civil War and to also commemorate the Civil War Sesquicentennial which began in 2011. In terms of the GAR Soldiers’ Lot, veterans tombstones were cleaned and realigned (involving taking the head stone completely out of the ground and then resetting them), a 20-foot monument cleaned, a 100-foot plus flagpole painted (with the assistance of the Lansing Board of Water and Light) and the grass re-seeded. A major ceremony was held on October 14, 2007 rededicating the lot with over 100 people and Lansing and state dignitaries attending. The Camp was presented with a Lansing Mayoral proclamation and a Michigan Legislative tribute at the October 14th Mount Hope Cemetery ceremony. The project was spearheaded by Brother Paul David Arnold, Brother Keith Harrison, and Lansing Historian Jesse Lasorda. Brothers Harrison and Arnold and Mr. Lasorda published a 38-page booklet describing the project and listing all the veterans buried and a brief history of their service and life following the war. The booklet was entitled Rededication Program: Grand Army of the Republic Soldiers’ Monument Lot, Mount Hope Cemetery, Lansing, Michigan. Brother Arnold subsequently published an article on the project and ceremony, which was in the July/August 2008 issue of Michigan History Magazine and entitled Lansing Remembers the Boys in Blue.
The other program, Civil War History Seminars, was inaugurated in 2008. The seminars were the brainchild Brother Paul David Arnold. It is through his efforts that the Camp has been able to hold to date 21 such seminars:
- The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln - Rick Brown
- Civil War Battle Flags - Matt VanAcker
- Michigan Engineers & Mechanics - Mark Hoffman
- Come on, you Wolverines: Michigan in the Civil War - Dr. Roger L. Rosenstreter
- Story of Company K: Michigan’s Native American Sharpshooters in the Civil War - Chris Czopek
- Elijah E. Myers: America's Greatest Capitol Architect - Valerie Marvin
- Orlando Bolivar Willcox: A Michigan Warrior - Dr. Roger L. Rosentreter
- Michigan Soldiers at Andersonville Prison - Chris Czopek
- Stonewall Jackson's Final Days - Mr. David Finney
- Austin Blair, Michigan's Civil War Governor - Kerry Chartkoff
- Michigan Engineers & Mechanics - Mark Hoffman
- Oh Hast Thou Forgotten - Richard L. Hamilton
- The Underground Railroad: A Precipitant of the Civil War - Larry Griffin
- In the Words of the Soldiers: The Story of Annie Etheridge, Civil War Nurse - Bruce, Bernadette, and Marcia Butgereit
- Citizens and Soldiers - Mark Hoffman
- The Civil War Monuments of Washington D.C - Thomas Nanzig
- Women in the Civil War - Dr. William Anderson
- Little Known Facts about the Lincolns and the Civil War - Rick Brown
- Beyond Hardtack and Coffee: Foodways of the Union Army - Eric Perkins
- Come On, You Wolverines: Michigan at Gettysburg - Dr. Roger L. Rosentreter
- Michigan Cavalry Brigade at Gettysburg - Mr. David Smith