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Thousands will visit Akron this weekend to celebrate founding of Alcoholics Anonymous

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The Gate Lodge, located at the entrance to Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, is where the first unofficial Alcoholics Anonymous conversation was held in 1935.

Thousands of people from across the world are expected to visit Northeast Ohio this weekend to commemorate the 87th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous, which began in Akron.

Founders' Day is a three-day event held annually at the University of Akron. It's back in-person this year after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concept and principles of AA were born in Akron on June 10, 1935 when a New York stockbroker, Bill, met with a local doctor, Dr. Bob, in the Gate House at Stan Hywet to discuss their admitted alcoholism, said Matt H., the coordinator of Founder’s Day, who himself has been sober 19 years. (To safeguard anonymity, all members of AA only fully identify their first name.)

“This is a party to celebrate that Akron, Ohio … is where Bill and Bob met, and we were able to find a solution to help us not to drink anymore,” Matt H. said.

Events this year include speakers, a play performance and tours of Stan Hywet.

While Founders' Day events take place across the U.S., Akron’s celebration is the largest, he added. He expects about 9,000 people to attend.

“This is considered the mecca,” Matt H. said. “For a lot of them, it’s … to come home to where it was all started, and to share in the experience of that, and to experience the fellowship of just meeting like people from all across the country that share the same solution that they do.”

One of the most poignant events, he added, is a motorcycle procession to Dr. Bob’s grave at Mt. Peace Cemetery in Akron on Sunday morning. About 1,500 to 2,000 people participate in the ride, he said.

“One of our speakers will do a eulogy … and just talk about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous at that event,” he said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing.”

Attendees come from various backgrounds and places in their journey of sobriety.

“It’s a wide range of attendants. Some people are coming here for their first time that only have a few months, some people only have a few days, and then … some for over 50 or 60 years,” Matt H. said.

Matt H. is a lifelong resident of the Akron area and said one of his favorite parts of Founders’ Day is getting to welcome visitors from across the globe.

“One of the best things about the event is when people get here who aren’t from Northeast Ohio – the look on their face of just the fact that they are in Akron, Ohio, that they get to be here where it all started – the program that saved their lives, that made them whole,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Stan Hywet is opening the Gate Lodge building, where the informal first AA conversation took place, for tours this weekend. The Gate Lodge was the residence of the hall’s estate superintendent until his death in 1923.

Guests can view a new exhibit called Reflections Database, which features thoughts on recovery and sobriety from journals gathered during previous Founders’ Day weekends, according to a press release.

The Founder’s Day events kick off Friday afternoon and wrap up Sunday morning, June 12.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the online treatment locator.