The History of Monteagle Roundup
The Monteagle Roundup began in November of 1962, born from the experience of founding members, Jim Hiers of Huntsville, Alabama and Clarence Roberts of Atlanta, Georgia, having attended a similar roundup in Blackstone, Virginia. They very much enjoyed that roundup and wondered, "Why can't we do this in Alabama?" (Note: Based upon our best information, the Pittsburg AA Retreat in Cooks Forest, PA is the oldest such roundup in the country having been started in 1951, followed by the Blackstone, VA event which dates at least back to 1960. We believe The Monteagle Roundup to be the 4th oldest continuous AA roundup in the USA. Anyone with additional information, please contact us. Thank you.)
An acquaintance of one of the Monteagle Roundup founders was Ed Keith, Episcopal minister, who knew about the Monteagle, Tennessee location and referred them to the site where the roundup is now held. The Dubose Conference center was at one time an Episcopal monastery.
In the very early days of the Monteagle Roundup the attendance grew to 160-170 people. Because of this high attendance, you could choose to attend either the spring or the fall Roundup, but not both, because there wasn't enough room to accommodate all who wanted to attend!
Bonfire meetings were enjoyed in the early days when songs, such as "Dixie", would be sung around the fire. Mickey H. remembers "leaving the mountain on such a high we couldn't even talk on the way home." She later started the Sumatonga Al-Anon conference in Alabama having been inspired by the Monteagle Roundups. Bob & Juanita W. also later founded the Rough River Roundup in Falls of Rough, Kentucky.
The New York connection was Wally R., who had been stationed in Huntsville, Alabama and had met a couple who told him about Monteagle. He came in the spring and brought others with him. They did not come down from New York for the fall Roundup because of the weather.
Some of the early participants brought their teenagers who slept up on the 4th floor, had a great time & were taken horseback riding by Jim H.
Over the years, AA and Al-Anon Monteagle participants have contributed to the buildings and property at the conference center. They have donated monies for the adding of bathrooms, ceiling fans and have made other improvements over time including such things as painting, remodeling and refinishing and repairing furniture. Apparently there was much room for improvement in the old buildings. Old style radiators leaked and one might jump out of bed and into a puddle of water!
The meetings were originally held in a small jam packed room upstairs. The common room downstairs was at one time open to the outdoors and had just a small sitting room and an office.
In the days before the motel was built, cots would be brought over for the conference. Sometimes the cot mattresses would be put on the floor instead of on the wire racks for more comfort! The bell tower bell would be rung a few minutes before meals were served until the rope finally broke and apparently could not be accessed to be replaced. Food was served country style and you could not enter the dining room without your conference badge! One tough AA lady enforced this rule with no mercy actually sending a couple who were staying in a nearby motel all the way back to their room to fetch their forgotten badges even though there was a torrential rainstorm going on! They were mad!!!
One couple ended their honeymoon by attending a Monteagle Roundup. What a way to begin a marriage! Another asked about getting married at the conference and were told they could have a ceremony either before or after the Roundup, just not during, so it would not be integrated into the program and the committee would have no say about that. More recently, a couple who met at a Monteagle Roundup (even though they already lived in the same city) went home, became friends and have just announced their engagement!
Also, in the early days, the board of trustee members were required to sign a letter of resignation upon acceptance to the board. This letter was kept on file and if you drank, your letter of resignation was automatically submitted and you were out!
Stories from the early days include one about "Big Fred", a maintenance man at Monteagle, who was always drinking, but who finally got sober in AA. The priest, Ed K., participated with the board of trustees and opened and closed their meetings with prayer. He also made 30 minute talks on Sunday mornings. In fact, the early Roundups actually included on the program communion services on Sunday mornings. One man, Jerry, who made recordings of the speakers, actually died right there at the Roundup walking from the common room to the motel!
The young men used to go out and chop wood for the fireplace. (There is still a fire built in the back room today where the open meeting is held on Thursday nights and where small groups gather for quiet conversation during the weekend and in the evenings after the speaker meetings.)
There was also a dance on Saturday nights at that time. Guys who "claimed to be musicians" would play and everyone would dress up for the dance. Phil McD. would bring his piano and Jim H, his guitar, and, along with others they became known as the "Monteagle Band". In the 1970s there was a Monteagle Streaker! A man in a pink body suit (not actually naked!) "streaked" through the dining room right after the before meal prayer! He was afterwards known as "Harold the Streaker".
Monteagle has hosted many speakers over the years from coast to coast including the US and Canada. The "giants of AA" (and Al-Anon) were frequently speakers at Monteagle including the likes of Chuck and Elsa Chamberlain, Dave Rosher, Father Fred, and more, including some Hollywood movie and TV stars.
The fun filled raffle has long been a part of the Monteagle Roundup. At the first one, there were very "slim pickings" for raffle gift prizes and one of the young people brought in an apparently pitiful little birdhouse to add to the raffle items. Therefore, the now amusing and expected cries of "Get the Birdhouse!" began at that time to encourage someone to choose the "terrible looking" little birdhouse from the raffle gift choices.
Monteagle Roundup has always included Al-Anon members and the board of trustees has included Al-Anons and well as AA members from the early days to the present.
The first "Board of Trustees" is mentioned on the 3rd Monteagle Roundup program and included Jim H., Huntsville, AL, Clarence R., Atlanta, GA, Louis M, Augusta, GA, Tom M., Pulaski, TN, Olan H., Huntsville, AL and Monroe B., West Point, GA.
In 1968, the Roundup programs begin to refer to "The Fifth Chapter" as a program item for someone reading what we refer to nowadays as "How it Works".
Also, in 1968 a 1 hour movie was shown after the Saturday night speaker entitled "Bill's Own Story", followed in May of 1969 by a 25 minute "color" movie "Time for Decision" and in November of 1969, by a 15 minute "color" movie "What Time Is It Now?" Wouldn't you love to get a look at those films now?
The May 1970 program contains a list of previous speakers up to that time and you might enjoy seeing that. The program archive notebook is on site during the roundups.
"No Gambling" begins to appear on the programs in 1975. Wonder what brought that on?
This has been just a brief summary of the history of the Monteagle Roundup. We hope that if you have a story to tell you will share it with us so that we may continue to expand our collection of experiences to pass on to future participants.
Thanks to in particular to Bob and Juanita W., and to Mickey H. and others for sharing their memories, and to all those along the way who have maintained the archives, prepared and kept copies of the programs and the minutes and reports of the Board of Trustees meetings so that this treasure trove of information has not been lost.
May we continue to see you at Monteagle as we trudge the road of happy destiny!