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 Feature Article on Neighbors in Action. Topic: WAR
Written by Jim Sayre in September, 1998


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A proud moment for the people of Shelby County, Ohio. This is how one area resident remembers that hot, steamy July week more than two generations ago when hundreds of Shelby County neighbors acted together to send food packages to thousands of German people suffering from the after-effects of Hitler’s war.

It reminded another Shelby County native of the neighborliness of the old-time wheat-threshing days. "We had a job to do and we did it," World War II veteran John Richards recalls. "Everybody cooperated. It was a natural and neighborly thing to do. I felt that way and so did everyone else."

But, "Neighbors in Action," as the local program that summer 50 years ago was appropriately called, was no wheat threshing or a barn raising. Instead, this was Shelby County’s unique venture into foreign aid, a countywide effort to invite less fortunate people, former enemies in fact, to the community dinner table in a spirit of cooperation, compassion, and forgiveness.

RECOVERING FROM WAR. 1948. Europe still reeled from the devastation of World War II. The Berlin Airlift was underway to break the Soviet blockade of the two million Germans isolated in the western sector of that city. The Truman Administration’s massive program of aid to destroyed European economies --known later as the Marshall Plan-- was being planned.

In the midst of this international mix of American generosity and political insight, Shelby County mounted its own effort to relieve hunger and to welcome the German people back into the international community. An entirely volunteer gesture, Neighbors in Action extended food and friendship to thousands of Germans hungry for both.

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CITED AS INTERNATIONAL EXAMPLE."Friday night (July 23, 1948), 8,000 packages of food left Sidney bound for Germany to show the people of that war-torn nation that Shelby countians know of their plight and have done something to help," according to the Sidney Daily News. "Neighbors in Action is a program which top level world diplomats would do well to consider. Neighborliness and understanding must be in every peace-making endeavor or the world is doomed to more tragic conflicts."

Neighbors in Action was the idea of Ohio farm organization leader and Turtle Creek Township farmer Lewis F. Warbington. But, the idea was quickly adopted by the volunteer efforts of organizations, rural and town, in the county. Both money and labor contributions quickly materialized from hundreds of Shelby Countians.

At the Sidney courtsquare send-off of the eight semi-trucks laden with 250,000 pounds of food, the appearance of another volunteer, Ohio Governor Thomas J. Herbert, helped spread the fame of the Shelby County effort.

Extensive news coverage by the Sidney Daily and Dayton newspapers, and radio broadcasts throughout Ohio and the nation put the county on the map. The "Three-Star Extra" coast-to-coast radio newscast featured Neighbors on July 22, the night before the food started its long journey from Sidney by truck caravan to New York and from there by ship to Bremerhaven, Germany. Fifteen inches of type detailing the program, written by a Sidney Daily reporter, was sent over the wires of the International News Service (like Associated Press) to hundreds of newspapers and radio stations throughout the country.

At the corporation limit of towns from here to New York, the Neighbors in Action truck drivers draped huge signs on the side of their vehicles, letting everyone know who was sending what to where: "Neighbors in Action, 8000 Food Peace Packages for Europe, Sidney, Shelby County, Ohio."

The journey continued for 1,000 of the food packages via U.S. military cargo planes bound for Berlin, making Shelby County a direct participant in the legendary Berlin Airlift. One pilot, recalls Lew Warbington, Jr., was an Ohio boy "Dad had met at a Farm Bureau meeting in the thirties. Dad specifically requested that he be the pilot for these Shelby County food packages." A U.S. Information Service publicity photo showed the Neighbors in Action sign, just as it earlier dressed the semi-trucks, draped over the plane.

The 8,000 food boxes, each weighing a little more than 30 pounds, contained flour, sugar, lard, rolled oats, coffee, dried milk, applesauce, peas, pork and beans, and raisins. "That is not a lot of food when compared with the diet that our abundance provides for us, but, supplementing the regular rations that are now being parceled out to the German families and husbanded as they alone know how to save, it can be expected to make 8,000 families gratefully happy for many days," according to a Dayton newspaper account. Each box contained one other item, one that generated many local friendships with German families via international mail: a letter from the box’s donor in Shelby County. The last person on the Neighbors in Action food box assembly line in Sidney’s old Slusser-McLean Scraper Co. building on Canal Street dropped in a letter written in German:

"Dear Friend, We are a group of farmers, merchants, ministers and people of all walks of life in Shelby County, Ohio, U.S.A., sending you a package of food. Do not accept this as charity but as a gift from a friend to a friend. After you have received this package, please sit down and write the donor family about yourself and any other matters you wish them to know. "Each addressed envelope bore the name of a different family who had contributed $5 or more toward the project," Warbington, Sr. wrote.

VISIT TO GERMANY SPARKS NEIGHBORS IDEA. The Neighbors program occurred to Warbington as he confronted the misery of post-war Germany the previous summer. He had served on a five-month U.S. Government mission to encourage the German government and organizations to rebuild the country on democratic principles. "I was there to deal with farmers, to learn about the problems they faced and to help them, if possible, by giving them to understand how American farmers might be inclined to tackle similar problems," Warbington later wrote.

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Above: W. H. Van Almsick (right), consul of the West German Government, presented this silver platter to Warbington in recognition of Shelby County’s food aid to Germany. "This help saved the lives of many and enabled the Germans to overcome their worst time in history and find a new start," Van Almsick said. Sidney city manager Glenn Lovern looks on. Van Almsick told the guests at the Warbington home that the platter was one of six created by Professor Ewald Matare of the Academy of Arts in Duesseldorf.

Warbington also visited the Nazi war crime trials at Nuremberg, witnessing first hand the evil that had come within a hair’s breadth of destroying Germany. "A sergeant took us to the jail to see the seven men," he wrote in his memoirs. He saw Admiral Raeder, head of the German Navy whose U-boats had sent so many allied sailors to watery graves; Admiral Doenitz, successor to Hitler; Funk, minister of economics who assembled gold fillings from the teeth of cremated Jews; von Nuerath, foreign minister early in the Third Reich; von Schirach, Hitler youth leader who taught youngsters to betray their parents; Speer, minister of armaments and munitions; and Hess, "the six-foot four, heavy-browed he-man who had flown to England for purposes still argued by people on both sides of the war and who was now obviously degenerating into madness." Except for Raeder, who "seemed much pleased with himself," the sullen Third Reich alumni would not talk to Warbington.

Warbington returned from Germany with three observations. "First, the German people must have more food now to prevent starvation...Second, we must see to it that they start to manufacture goods so they can build up a credit to buy additional food and supplies...Third, the people of Germany must understand America and know the factors that make a successful democracy."

The evil that Warbington saw in the Nuremberg jail plus the devastation he observed in Germany’s streets led him to reflect that "American democracy is based on the principle that each of us must strive to act as though we are our brother’s keeper...I made up my mind right there and then on this flying trip (home) that when I got back to my home base... I should put this proposition up to the members of the Shelby County Farm Bureau Advisory Council No. Five," the council to which the Warbington family had belonged since its start in 1936.

Council No. 5. "I give Lewie a lot of credit for starting Neighbors in Action," Franklin Township farmer Carl Davidson recently told Jim Sayre. Davidson remains a member of the Farm Bureau council that first heard Warbington’s proposal 50 years ago. "It was a goodwill gesture and it let the German people know we were with them. I was there and Council No. 5 was really behind it...100 percent. No question about it," said Davidson who also worked on the Slusser-McLean assembly line packing the food boxes.

Warbington talked a great deal to his wife Edna about his idea to help the German people, as his memoirs reveal. "As I continued to talk to Edna after the children had retired for the night, she finally interrupted with, ‘Well, I can see we won’t have to worry about what our Farm Bureau Council is going to discuss when it meets next week -- that is, if you let anyone else get a word in edgewise.’"

Warbington did, indeed, describe the conditions in Germany to a number of groups in Shelby County. A 1948 Sidney Daily News photograph shows several Farm Bureau Council No. 5 members attentively listening to him in county agriculture extension agent Ralph Munger’s home: Harvey Hoewischer, Harry and Anna Hoewischer, Bill and Betty Hoewischer, Betty Jane Hoewischer, Carl and Ruth Davidson, Frank and Anna Davidson, and Lyman and Kate Allen.

"Lewie Warbington was a born leader and an excellent organizer," remembers John Richards, a longtime friend of the Warbington family and an active participant in the Neighbors project. "After he explained things to you, I don’t know of anyone who could have turned him down.

"We wondered how our little group could do something to alleviate the terrible conditions in Europe," Lyman Allen said later in a radio interview.  "We desired to find a way to demonstrate what could be done by ordinary people.  We felt that we should not only feed them in their desperate need but that we should do it in a truly Christian and neighborly way that would give us an understanding of each other that might give them hope and help prevent future wars." 

"But, Neighbors went way beyond our council," Carl Davidson says. "It soon gained the support of all the Farm Bureau councils in the county, plus the Grange and many other organizations."

Green Township farmer and county Grange leader Roger Watkins heard Warbington’s proposal. "The Granges...agreed to do what they could," Watkins said later. "Then I met with William Joslin, the county Farm Bureau president. We agreed that the Grange and Farm Bureau should work together to meet the goal set for the rural areas."

"I was in a pretty good position to work with both organizations," says Watkins, then a prominent leader in Farm Bureau and the county’s ten Granges. Now retired from farming, Watkins and wife Eileen have been Grange members since 1932, first with New Hope Grange and now Maplewood Grange. "When Warbington came back from Germany, the picture he portrayed was the need for individual responsibility for this problem," Watkins said recently.

Lyman Allen, William Joslin, and William Hoewischer formed the committee to contact other groups. "Representatives from 13 organizations including farm groups, churches, schools, civic associations, clubs, veterans organizations and villages were called together," according to Allen. This group selected a campaign chairman, Ralph Wiessinger, and set up goals for the different groups. They appointed committees for organizational meetings, publicity, food packaging, and transportation.

The committee set an ambitious goal to solicit money from each of the 7,452 families then living in Shelby County. Several years later, Kettlersville resident K.P. Schneider, the first individual to contribute money to the campaign, still held his receipt as a momento of the Neighbors program. Allen, Joslin, and Hoewischer, all respected farm businessmen, and Wiessinger, funeral director/owner of the Wiessinger Memorial Home at 324 S. Ohio, were logical choices to bring the rural and urban people of the county together on the project. "The Wiessinger boys (brother Russell was a Sidney physician) were very well liked," recalls Russ Sayre, then a Franklin Township farmer who also helped organize the drive. "Ralph was quite prominent in the Sidney business community and he helped get Sidney’s cooperation."

Other Neighbors organizers were Sidney School superintendent Fred Louys, Sidney Civic Association’s Kenneth McDowell, Perry Township farmer Chuck Collier, and Sidney Methodist minister Dr. Walter Dickhaut.

Organizations from large to small contributed money to the effort. Sidney’s Junior Chamber of Commerce gathered $700 in a house-to-house canvass. Boy Scout troops 188 (Methodist Church) and 92 (Presbyterian Church) raised almost $25, some of it from the sale of scrap.

Obstacles quickly arose. Some servicemen were skeptical about helping their recent enemies. But, Warbington wrote later, "To the credit of the ex-GIs who had fought to defeat the Germans...almost all saw the foolishness of heaping further suffering on the children of a defeated enemy...opposition of this kind soon faded away."

But, then the United Fund Drive had just concluded its annual fund-raiser and a "number of its leaders were determined that there should be only one drive for worthy causes in our area," Warbington wrote. Their support, when it came, "was not entirely enthusiastic," he said. Finding money to ship the food was Warbington’s biggest headache. New York’s United Charities turned a cold shoulder to his overtures, but a member organization of the group, CRALOG (Council of Relief Agencies Licensed for Operation in Germany), finally picked up a large part of the bill.

"Had I known the total amount of difficulty which this idea was destined to encounter, I might have stopped," Warbington wrote. "But the memory of the children at Wiesbaden was still so fresh in my mind that I felt opposition could be removed by an effective explanation."

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Shelby County mounted its own foreign aid program in 1948, sending 8,000 food packages to war-devastated Germany.
This family was overjoyed to receive one of these "Neighbor in Action: food parcels.


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Lewis Warbington is pictured above helping to unload the Shelby County food parcels from the "Flying Enterprise."

FROM NEW BREMEN TO BREMEN. The 10-pound bags of flour destined for Germany, by appropriate coincidence, were packaged in New Bremen, Ohio, some of which were ultimately delivered to Bremen, Germany. "Dad did everything he could to cut costs so that he could ship more food," Lew, jr. says. "He cut out two or three middlemen by buying bulk items and getting them processed. He bought grain at Botkins and had it milled and packaged up at Kuenzel mill in New Bremen. He got the lard rendered in bulk and then volunteers put it in cans."

Warbington had brought in large drums of lard from the Braun Brothers Packing Company in Troy and volunteers used them to fill one-pound cans of lard at the Co-op locker plant in Minster. "I spent one day canning lard," recalls Ann (Sayre) Fazzini. "My job was to sit on a little stool in front of the lard machine and fill up the can from a little spigot. I suppose I set them on a table where someone soldered lids on. Imagine the fuss now days if a 13-year old were allowed to handle hot lard!"

After a day of canning lard at the Minster locker plant, Richards and Lew, jr. waited for an hour for Warbington to pick them up. "He didn’t show so we walked home. It was a long, hot seven miles," recalls Richards.

ASSEMBLY LINE GOES TO WORK. Retired farmer Roger Watkins is quick to credit Shelby County women for much of the Neighbors work. "I was an active farmer then, busy in the field, like a lot of other fellows. Women played a heavy part in assembling those food packages," he says.

Carolyn Dickaut and Johnny Davidson cut the ribbon, sending the Neighbors in Action trucks on their way. Looking on from left are Neighbors in Action organizers Lewis Warbington and Ralph Wiessinger, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Carl V. Weygandt, Ohio Governor Thomas J. Herbert, U.S. Congressman William McCulloch, and Sidney Daily News editor E.C. Amos.

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"I spent a couple of days running an industrial stapling machine to form bottoms of packing boxes, then set them on an assembly line to be filled by a line of volunteers," recalls Fazzini, then a 13-year old Anna student. "I think the factory was Slusser-McLean, because I remember walking to Grandma's after I finished. I got volunteered and did the work because I usually did what I was told and didn’t mind anyway."

Women did in fact dominate newspaper photographs of the assembly line. While the food was put in place at the assembly line early in the morning by the men, it was the women who spent the afternoon packing the boxes. They packed for more than a week, with a new set of about 30 volunteers each day, according to Lew Warbington, Jr. He and John Richards were the daily exception to the women-domination rule. They used small tightening contraptions to put two steel straps on each of the 8,000 packages. "That was a requirement in order to ship them overseas," Lew Jr. says.

READY TO SHIP.By July 23, Neighbors in Action was ready to hit the road, the sea, and the air after 5 months of campaigning and more than a week of packing the boxes. Friday night, always a busy night on the courtsquare, was even busier as more than 1,000 people gathered at 8 o’clock on the north side of the courthouse.

Eight trucks from Subler Trucking of Versailles lined the square, the American Legion band played, local ministers prayed, U.S. Congressman William McCulloch and Sidney Mayor Waldo Patton made brief remarks, and Governor Herbert "praised the people of Shelby County for their efforts in making the food enterprise a success."    Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Carl Weygandt called Neighbors a symbol of making democracy work. He praised the "kindliness, friendliness and unselfishness of Shelby countians."

Warbington challenged other communities to "prove that America is more than money." Remembering some earlier political opposition to the campaign, Warbington selected two children to cut the ceremonial ribbon. "As far as I could determine, (they were) without immediate political ambition," Warbington later joked.

The children, Carolyn Dickhaut, daughter of Sidney’s First United Methodist minister, and Johnny Davidson, six-year old son of Carl and Ruth Davidson, cut the ribbon, sending the truck caravan on its way to the New York City wharf where the "Flying Enterprise" of the Gulbransen Line stood ready to carry the food packages across the ocean to Bremerhaven.

Warbington, proud of his community, told people from here to New York City what the people of Shelby County had done. He, Harvey Hoewischer, and Frank Pfaadt led the trucks to New York in Warbington’s 1948 four-door Pontiac driven by John Richards. He had a loud speaker mounted on the car and told the "Neighbors story" as they made stops in Columbus, Newark, Coshocton, Dennison, Cadiz, and Steubenville in Ohio and Pittsburgh, Scranton, Camp Hill, Harrisburg, and Allentown in Pennsylvania. Lew, jr., then 19 years old, rode in one of the trucks.

"We had a police escort after we went though the tunnel into Manhattan and they took us to the wharf," Richards remembers. "Lewie met with a bunch of influential people about the shipping and made final arrangements. Then we went downtown. Some public relations guy took us country people to the Copacabana nightclub that had a dinner and show. This was New York nightlife at its best, but I remember the pained expressions when the check came and Lewie, Uncle Frank, and Harvey had to pay it."

LOCAL FOOD GIFTS AIRLIFTED TO BERLIN.After the ship left the dock, Warbington became concerned about whether the boxes would be delivered to the people who needed them. The personal intervention of General Lucius Clay in Germany got Warbington free military air passage to Germany to help arrange distribution of the Shelby County food packages. Seven cities in the western sector of Germany each got about 1,000 packages: Bremen, Kassel, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, Munich, and Nuremberg.

The remaining packages became part of the famous Berlin airlift. Four planes carrying Shelby County food flew into Berlin, one of them piloted by Capt. Carl Reidelbaugh. He was... "one of the youngsters who had been in the first Farm Bureau Youth Council I had organized in Van Wert County...several years before during the Depression when he was a young teenager," said Warbington who flew into the Soviet-blockaded city to help distribute the packages.

"In each place I urged that the recipients write back to the family whose name was enclosed in the envelope in the food packages. These people want you to be their friends," Warbington wrote.

GRATEFUL LETTERS BY THE THOUSANDS. "It was quite a big deal," Franklin Township resident Betty Hoewischer remembers. "We got letters back from the people who got the food." Warbington himself received more than 3,000 letters.

"The Post Office finally had to stop delivering the letters, there were so many," recalls Lew Warbington, jr. "Dad would go into Sidney and haul them home." Lew and Shirley Warbington still hold hundreds of letters, most in German, that his father and mother received. Lew’s mother Edna, now 102 years old, still lives in Shelby County. His father died in 1971.

The late Rev. F. J. Mittermaier, then pastor of Anna’s St. Jacob Lutheran church, alone translated more than 1,100 letters written by German citizens thanking people in this county for the gift parcels. Sidney’s Rev. Wobus and many others were busy for more than a month satisfying the curiosity of our neighbors who had received letters written in German, according to Warbington.

"Bill and I got ten letters from a German family," recalls Clinton Township resident Dodie Joslin. "We took them to some outfit in Dayton and paid $10 to have them translated, but we never heard a word from them. And money was pretty tight then, too," she recalls.

Many Shelby Countians still corresponded regularly with their friends in Germany more than 20 years after the Neighbors project, according to Warbington. Roger and Eileen Watkins were among them. "Our Farm Bureau council sent our German families what we called ‘cheer boxes’ at Christmas time for several years. It was mostly clothing," Eileen Watkins says.

Franklin Township farmers Russ and Mary Louise Sayre also sent clothing and, almost 50 years later, still hold a January 14, 1949, letter from 19-year old Julius Braun of Frankfurt. He wrote: "The parcel with the clothing have we got. My sister (Ursula, 15 years old) can wear all and she is very happy about it. When it is spring I’ll take pictures of her with her dresses and send to you. My little sister Anneliese (13 years old) is learning Oxford English at her school."

German resident Lilly Blumler’s August 31, 1948, letter listed the items she received at her home in Frankfurt: "10 pfund mehl, 5 Pf. Zucker, 2 x Haferflocken, Erbsen, Bohnen, 1 Dose Milch, 1 Dose Apfelbrei, 1 Pf. Kaffee." A mix-up in the mail showed Blumler’s yearning for friendship: "Since weeks ago I did not hear from you anything - perhaps you did not get my last letter. Or are you going to forget us."

"For all the charity that came out of this package we have to tell you many thanks," Heinz Grunske of Nuremberg wrote. "That delicious coffee is not being drunk without thinking of its noble-minded dispenser. It is a real drink of the Gods. With all my heart I’ve got to say thanks a million and that is not enough either."

Lessons in democracy were also found in these letters. "I was rather astonished to hear your husband is a farmer and you are a high-school teacher," Grunske wrote. "I consider it also for an expression of the democracy which will hardly win any over here in Germany where the woman is still fighting for her equalization with the man."

Green Township's Roger and Eileen Watkins review their 50 year old memories of Neighbors in Action.

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THE REWARD OF NEIGHBORLINESS. Several years later, the West German Government presented Warbington with a sterling silver platter recognizing the Shelby County effort. Lew Warbington, Jr. remembers escorting the West German consul from Sidney’s Wagner Hotel to the Warbington farm for the presentation. "The flag of West Germany fluttered on the right front bumper of that long black limousine. Dad always considered this a proud occasion for the people of Shelby County," Warbington says.

"Dankspende des Deutschen Volkes" (Gift of gratitude of the German nation) is etched on the platter. D.R. Stanfield, then executive secretary of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said the platter showed "a genuineness of expression of gratitude and serves as encouragement to the people of the United States."  "This is interesting," Lew Warbington, Jr., says. "Only six of these German platters were made and just three came to the United States. One went to the people of Shelby County. One went to former President of the United States Herbert Hoover for humanitarian aid to Germany, and the third went to an American home demonstration agent who had taught the German people how to cook with cornmeal."

A Dayton newspaper at the time called the Shelby County program a..."Reenactment of the age-old parable about a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. It answers again the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’" Shelby Countians had no trouble answering that question just 50 years ago this summer. They acted quickly when they saw the need, simply because it was the neighborly thing to do.

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Gen. Lucius Clay, commander of U.S. occupation forces, personally intervened to allow Warbington to
oversee distribution of food packages in Germany.


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