Albion Interactive History / Organizations / Panel Boys

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Organizations / Starr Commonwealth

Panel Boys, 1939
    Disbanded 1950s

When Starr was asked to speak with the same group on a second occasion, it occurredto him that the group had heard plenty from him, but nothing from the boys themselves. Why not have some of them tell their ownstories? Uncle Floyd called a group of the older boys together and put the matter before them. What did they think of telling others their own experiences or those of the boys they knew? Would theybe willing to present their own part, or would the embarrassment be too great?

To Starr’s gratification, every hand went up. One voice seemed to speak for all. “It we can show how unnecessary our getting into trouble was,” the young man said, “it would be well worth any effort on our part. If anybody knowsabout delinquency, I guess we do. Some of us even have ideas about where it comes from and how we maybe could get rid of it.”

Thus the Panel had its start. Twenty boys wrote their stories or essays, and from them eight were chosen. For the trial program at Windsor thetopics were: Adventures in Stealing, Truancy, Youth and the Law, Delinquent Parents, Youth and the Church, Divorce and Delinquency, How Starr Commonwealth Has Helped Me, and Idle Hands. The presentation closed with a few remarks by Uncle Floyd and recitation of the Creed by one of the boys.

According to the campus newsletter, “Windsor received them with enthusiasm, and this has been the history of the Panels from the first.” Within a mere two yearsthe boys were traveling throughout the State of Michigan, as well as Ohio and Indiana, speaking before church groups PTA’s, and other social and civic organizations.” In addition, frequent articles in area newspapers attest the popularity of the Panel presentations. In one burst of inspiration, Starr and his boys had struck upon a single resource with multiple benefits – to the institution, to the boys, and to society.

Eventually the Panels became victims of forces beyond anyone’s control. Though they survived the lean years of the Depression, but the massive casualtiesamong the staff inflicted by the Selective Service and the travel limitations imposed by the Office of Price Administrationduring World War II began their gradual demise. Then, after twenty-nine years of devoted service, Myrtle Bastian Brown, the talented script writer for many a program, went intoreluctant retirement. Similarly, Starr himself, a hale seventy years of age by 1953, was persuaded to cut back hisweekly schedule.

Finally, the Michigan State Department of Education charged that the Commonwealth was exploiting its students by removing them from the classroom and sending them out on money-raising missions. By mid-decade the Panel programs were no more.

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.