On August 4, 1868 a group of patriotic Swiss united and founded the Grütli Verein in Tinnettes Hall. They named themselves the Grütli Verein of Detroit. This city was then just a good-sized village with plenty of forest, wild life and farms. This uniting was a necessary response to the adversities encountered by new immigrants and gave credenz to the motto “In members there is strength”. These members dedicated themselves to assist each other in time of need, both, materially and spiritually. The Verein’s history books list the first President George Rilcher, VicePresident Felix Wohlgemut, Secretary Johann Rilcher and Treasurer Johann Weibel. Under their leadership the Verein met biweekly and prospered. In 1868, the membership decided to change of name to the “Helvetia Club”, the Grütli Männerchor remaining -a branch of this club. The first peninsular Sänger-Fest in that year developed into a patriotic occasion in the then “Arbeiter Halle”. In 1918, another name change took place, to “Swiss Society of Detroit” under which a Singing Society and a Gymnastic Club, the best in the Midwest, flourished. The depression of the thirties did a great deal to decimate the Singing Society and Gymnastic Club. World War II further aggravated the growth of the Swiss community since no new immigrants appeared on our shores. The main purpose of this Society was to always foster spiritual, moral and cultural development among its members. It paid sick and death benefits. In the 1960’s, the present name of “Detroit Swiss Society” was adopted and remains to this day. Undoubtedly the Detroit Swiss will undergo changes again but will adjust as in the past. The Society is comprised of people from all walks of life and it can be said that in the absence of discussion of religion and politics, good harmony prevails. Sectionalism too never enters our decisions and all Swiss language groups are welcome to join and are in fact encouraged to do so. In the year of 1868, the week after the founding of the Grütli Verein, the membership voted to affiliate with the National Fraternal Organization, the “Grüetli Bund der Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-Amerika” today known as the “North American Swiss Alliance” (NASA). The’ bonds with this national organization are still intact and are beneficial to both groups. The Detroit Swiss Society meets normally the 3rd Sunday of the month at the German-American Cultural Center, of which the Detroit Swiss Society is a full-fledged affiliate member. The meetings are congenial; the Gastfreundschaft of the GACC is admirable. The activities of the Swiss Society include an Alpine Festival in August, a Fall Dance, Jass and Film evenings and a Christmas-Party, also charitable considerations. Together, the Swiss will endeavor to make earnest contributions of cultural aspects, which we brought to this country as Immigrants or descendants thereof.

Joe Schraner

The Detroit Swiss Society Story
by Josef Schraner

Josef Schraner, 1994
Margaret Schrepfer, Editor
1090 Gulick Road
Haslett, MI 48840  

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