My Greatest Experience

Gordon Nutson


My father was antimilitary from the time I was a small boy. In fact, he would not permit me to join the Boy Scouts because of the military type uniform that was required to be worn and because of the military conduct of that organization. He became disgusted with the whipped up patriotic tactics during W.W.I when he was appointed Food Administrator for Shiawassee County, Michigan. The people were told there was a sugar shortage and for the sake of our boys overseas everybody would have to tighten their belts as far as sugar was concerned. However, when dad went to Detroit to attend a meeting of the Food Rationing Program, the head of the Food Administration laughed and said, "Mr. Nutson, there is not shortage of sugar, the warehouses are full of sugar, but we’ve got to keep the people thinking there is none so they will feel they are sacrificing for the war to end all wars." My father inspected a couple of warehouses and saw where they were packed to the rafters with one hundred pound sacks of sugar, he came back to our hometown and resigned from his volunteer job of Food Administrator for the county.

My uncle, Kencil Nutson, who was a hard working mechanic for the Ann Arbor Railroad and an admirer of Eugene Debs, had a big influence on my brother and me regarding war. He always reminded us that it was "a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight." He gave us a book entitled "War is a racket" by General Smedley Butler, which reinforced our feelings about the impact on our thinking, as did the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Clifford Doty, the MInister of our Methodist Church, agreed with and supported us, the church members could not accept it. My brother Gale and I were sent to a United States Forest Service Civilian Public Service camp at Wellston, Michigan on December 10, 1943. Gale was 28 years old and I was nearing 31. Gale had one child and I had two.

The day we reported to camp, we first located our families 30 miles from Wellston in Manistee, Michigan. My wife, Helen, agreed with and supported me from the beginning as did Gale’s wife, Ann. I was grateful and will always be grateful to Helen and Ann for their loyalty.

Gale and I had a thriving insurance business in our hometown of Owosso, Michigan for six and one-half years prior to being drafted. Owosso was a small city of 15,000 people. I was president of the Chamber of Commerce and active in many other organizations. Because we were well known in the community, it was announced in the local daily paper, The Owosso Argus Press, that we were Conscientious Objectors. It was difficult for the C.O.s in Camp Wellston to understand us when we said it was a great relief for us to come to camp because of the social pressures we had been experiencing from the local citizens. Threatening postcards and letters, most of which were unsigned, were a little unsettling.

The camp was operated by the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren and being there was an interesting experience for us. Prior to entering the insurance business, Gale and I attended a 2 year business college in Detroit, Michigan. There we were not exposed to a Liberal Arts atmosphere and so while we were in the camp, we appreciated the discussions that were carried on by college educated C.O.s. The discussions ranged from social sciences including economics, comparative religions and philosophy to interpretations and beliefs of the Bible. From time to time, we had visiting professors from Northwestern University as well as other colleges lead discussions on various subjects.

Our work project was "Timber Stand Improvement" which meant we cut small oak trees so the pines could grow. The pines had been planted about 2 years before. At Wellston, we were fortunate to have one of our fellow C.O.s who was a music major graduate organize and direct a chorus. We invited people from the surrounding cities of Manistee and Cadillac as well as other small communities to attend a concert by our chorus. It was very well attended. We served our guests cider and donuts. Unfortunately, the cider was served from aluminum pitchers causing a reaction that resulted in affecting our guests as well as everyone else who drank the stuff. The consequence was that we in camp went rushing to the toilets after the concert was over and we learned later, our guests were forced to stop by the roadside before reaching home.

Being drafted and forced to sell our business was a blessing in disguise for us. When I was transferred from Camp Wellston to the Forest Service camp in Cascade Locks, Oregon and then later on to Modesto, California to work with the overseas relief group of Church World Service, I wrote and said to Gale that I was staying in California. Gale then followed and we have both made Modesto our home. We have had a great life in California. I was discharged in March, 1946.

In 1947 we organized a firm or business and named it Wolverine Building Services, Inc. The partners all met in C.P.S. and were as follows: Howard Tenbrink, construction; Rudy Potochnik, drafting and architecture; Gilbert Grover, accounting and insurance; and my brother, Gale, and I, real estate sales. Wolverine actually existed until 1988 under the direction of one or more of the partners. The existing of a partnership for this length of time is very unusual, but we worked together and stayed together because of our common interests in the Peace Movement.

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from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

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