In the summer of 1957 when the new cadets reported to the Academy, parents had none of the resources available to them that today's parents have. Parents said their goodbyes and as the cadets disappeared into the portals of Washington Hall, it would be for many cadets the last time they would see their parents until summer leave. While parents were allowed to visit their cadets at the winter holidays, cadets were unable to leave the Academy grounds until classes ended in May. Once the new cadets entered the Academy, the only contact with parents was by letter. Discipline was maintained with a harshness no longer used at the Academy and the plebes were left to, what we would now think of as, appalling treatment by upperclassmen.
Carolyn and Bill Ross left their son that summer and returned home to Detroit waiting anxiously for a letter telling of his experiences. But cadets then were careful not to tell too much of what was happening and West Point gave no information on its program or policies.
In January of 1958 Bill Ross, who owned a small electrical company, was called to work at a house in Detroit. While there he noticed a picture of a cadet on the table. When he inquired about the picture, a young lady at the home indicated that this was her brother who was a plebe at the Academy. She went on to say how worried her mother was about him since he had written how cold he was and her mother feared he was getting pneumonia. In those days the top windows in each room were left open throughout the winter to harden the cadets to the cold. Upperclassmen would tour the outside of the barracks to check that the top windows were open and punishment tours of walking the Yard were given to any who had closed windows.
Bill told Carolyn what he had learned and Carolyn, who herself was worried about her son and the lack of information, decided to form a support group for the mothers of cadets. Ironically we have come full circle in obtaining cadet names. Today Parents Clubs do not receive the names of their state's cadets because of security reasons. In 1958 no organization existed to process cadet names. Carolyn decided the only way to find cadet parents, was through the offices of Michigan senators and congressmen. She began calling and pleading with staff members for the names and addresses of their nominees.
By the spring of 1958 Carolyn had enough names from Detroit and the surrounding areas to plan a meeting of mothers. She sent out invitations for a luncheon at the London Chop House. On the scheduled day eight women attended the luncheon and outlined plans to form an organization which would exchange information gathered from their cadets, seek out new parents, provide friendship and support.
One of the women at this luncheon, Wilhemine Asbury, stepped forward to offer her help with the task of finding the new cadet parents and arrange meetings. As the group began meeting once a month, Carolyn was elected President and Wilhemine, Vice-President. By acclamation it was decided to call the organization the West Point Parents Club of Michigan.
Over the 50 years since that meeting at the London Chop House many changes have occurred at the Academy and in our Club. News spread of the Michigan Parents Club and today there are over 100 in the U.S. and abroad. In the 1960s and 1970s more fathers became involved and the Club took on more responsibilities as changes took place at the Academy. Change was slow at West Point, although cadets were allowed to go home for Christmas in 1959, information about cadet activities and West Point policies remained non-existent. However, our Club kept working to increase the flow of information from the Academy and the drive for Parents Clubs to become recognized as an official support group of the Academy.
By the 1980s Parents Clubs had become so numerous that they began to become a powerful voice reaching the Academy. The Public Affairs Office at West Point named a Coordinator for Parent Clubs who began a newsletter outlining activities for parents at the Academy. Our own Club's newsletter was started by then President, Irene Kuznecoff, in the early 1980s as a means of reaching all the families in Michigan with news of the Club and Academy. She kept sending this newsletter, which again was a first for Parents Clubs, to the Admissions Office and the Superintendent trying to open more lines of communication. In 1988 one of our newsletters caused a stir in the Public relations Office at West Point. The Colonel in charge of the office at the time called our President and asked what West Point could do to help out in response to the article. Our President said we needed a steady flow of information, asked them to call a conference of Parents Club presidents, and listen to what we have to say and what we need to support cadets and the Academy. And indeed, West Point did - and that conference is still a yearly event. At that first conference our Club prepared a petition to the Superintendent asking that Parent Clubs be designated an "Official Support Group" of the Academy. All the club presidents present at the conference signed the petition. In 1989 West Point advised our Club that in the West Point catalogue issued that year, Parents Clubs had been designated an official support group.
In the 1980s our Club began cooperating with the Southeast Michigan Admissions Field Force. Past Presidents in particular became Admissions Officers, interviewing candidates, and attending College Nights as representatives of the Academy. Other Clubs followed our lead and today Admission Field Forces all over the country work with Parents Clubs.
The Club is always changing. The fight to get information, to be recognized, to enlarge our mission to serve parents, cadets and the Academy was a 30 year journey. It is old news. Now new members bring wonderful ideas and activities to the Club. The Tailgate, Army/Navy Bus Trip, boodle boxes for cadets and grads serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. are great additions to our Club's service to parents, cadets and the Academy. Email has replaced letters. The windows are not left open in the winter in the barracks. Women are now part of the Corps. R-Day is not the last time parents will see their cadets until summer. The academy, like our Club, is always changing but never really changes because our missions remain the same, only the process to accomplishing them takes new roads.
Over the last 50 years we have blazed the trails that other clubs have followed. We have made outstanding contributions to parents, cadets and the Academy. Our Club has made an incredible difference in the lives of parents by never faltering in our mission to provide information, support and friendship. And when you're a grad parent and look back at the cadet years, you are going to realize what a tremendous organization the West Point Parents Club of Michigan is and thank Carolyn Ross and the ladies at the London Chop House for their foresight, stamina and courage to insist that parents too are part of the West Point experience.