Monday, August 12, 2019

On This Day - Red Cross "Thank You" Party

On this day seventy-five years ago, the Milwaukee Chicks baseball club hosted a special event at old Borchert Field. The Cream City's entry in the All-American Girls' Professional Ball League was doing its part for the war effort (and itself) by bringing Red Cross workers, volunteers, and donors out to the ballpark.

To add to the festivities, the Chicks also brought back their successful partnership with the Milwaukee Symphony orchestra, a combination "double-header" featuring a classical music concert and baseball game.

Red Cross Pins, c. 1944
The league decided that it would hold a massive "Thank You Party" for the Red Cross. Workers and blood donors alike would receive free admission to Borchert Field just by showing the metal pins that so identified them.

The pins were an integral part of the Red Cross's ad campaign, broadcasting support for the organization and its lifesaving mission.

The Milwaukee Sentinel did its part to hype the event:

RED CROSS HOMER—Three Milwaukee Chicks get a batting lesson from Dick Culler, prize minor league shortstop of the year, as they prepare for their big Red Cross "thank you" night Saturday at Borchert field. All Red Cross members, blood donors and contributors will be admitted free to the game which pits the league leading Chicks against the second-place South Bend Blue Sox. Watching the lesson is Mary Beth Korfmann of the Milwaukee Red Cross motor corps. The Chicks, left to right: Infielder Gladys (Terry) Davis, PItcher Jo Kabick and First Baseman Dolores Klosowski.
This is particularly fascinating to me; it's a rare example of a Brewer and Chick player appearing together. Shortstop Dick Culler was a fresh face in the Brewer lineup for 1944. He was purchased from the Chicago White Sox, having appeared in 53 games for the South Siders during 1943. Culler was widely praised for his glove work, but unfortunately for him the Sox had another shortstop; Luke Appling, who won the 1943 American League batting title on his way to the Hall of Fame. Culler was given a chance to start in Milwaukee and impressed both at shortstop and at the plate, so much so that the Boston Braves paid Milwaukee handsomely for him after just one season at Borchert Field. To see one of the Brewers' marquee players giving a "batting lesson" to the Chicks is an interesting combination of Milwaukee baseball.

Preparations for the event made the Milwaukee Journal's late-edition front page on Thursday, August 12th:

Not only did they get good placement, it's also a pretty good photo of two of our players.

No, the Milwaukee Girls' Professional ball team isn't trying to sign up Miss Margaret Sharp, executive director of the county Red Cross chapter. These baseball girls are conferring with her about the Red Cross "thank you" party to be given at Borchert field Saturday night. The Milwaukee team will play the South Bend (Ind.) girls' team after a concert. Attendance is free to Red Cross members, workers and blood donors. Sylvia Wronski (left), 2867 N. Hubbard st., pitches. Josephine Figio (center), Milltown, N.J., is an infielder.
—Journal staff
This event was a confluence of the civic-mindedness and social conscience that the league wanted to promote. It was sports at its best, bringing the community together for both entertainment and social good.

As the big day approached, the promotion continued. Milwaukee-based department store chain Boston Store did its part to spread the word; check out the details in this two-page ad from the Milwaukee Journal:

I see gray was the hot color of the season; "sophisticated and young", "lend(ing) itself to soft, slim silhouettes". How convenient for the Chicks, whose tunics were a very fashionable shade of dove gray.

There, in the upper-right corner, we see our ballclub.

Red Cross "Thank You" Party
  • FREE admission to concert and ball game between Milwaukee's own Girls' Ball Team and South Bend team for all Red Cross workers, contributors and blood donors.
  • PLACE ... Borchert Field.
  • TIME ... Saturday, August 12th, at 8 P.M.
  • YOUR admission is your service pin, contributor's card or blood donor's button.
On the day itself, the Journal captured this photo of two Red Cross volunteers coming through the Orchard's turnstiles.

The County Red Cross had a "thank you" party at Borchert field Saturday night. Red Cross workers, members and blood donors were admitted free to the concert and Milwaukee Girls' Professional ball team game. The guardian of the regular pass gate, Henry Tolle, who usually insists on more elaborate credentials, let in Grey Ladies Doris Ehlenfeldt (left), 1439 S. 88th st., and Alice Wirth, 1730 W. Kilbourn av., when they showed their Red Cross buttons.
—Journal staff
Again with the gray. "Grey Ladies" were volunteers who worked in Red Cross hospitals in non-medical roles. The Red Cross used color-coded uniforms, and the branch officially known as the "Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps" became identified by their gray dresses. Hence the nickname.

This is an unusual glimpse at the everyday Borchert Field experience, the turnstile at the pass gate. It seems appropriate that the guardian of the gate would have a name like Henry Tolle. Tolle is a fascinating character; born in Germany, he was a longtime wrestling promoter who leveraged his side job working at Borchert Field into renting the park for his events. He was reported to have once hauled a truckload of dirt from under the Borchert field bleachers to another venue for a mud wrestling match!

Mr. Tolle's uniform is also interesting. Formal jacket with military braid at the cuff, and a peaked cap that reads in part "MILWAUKEE". I'd love to get a better look at that.

Between the concert and the Red Cross, the evening was a smashing success. The Borchert Field grandstand was filled with 4,409 fans, a good crowd even by Brewers standards. And those forty-four hundred baseball bugs saw the home team march to victory.

Schnitts Win; Back in Lead

Blank South Bend

The Milwaukee Schnitts regained the undisputed lead in the All-American girls ball league here Saturday night as Connie Wisniewski hurled them to a 3 to 0 shut-out victory over the South Bend Blue Sox. The game was played to a Red Cross "thank you night" crowd of of 4,409 fans.

Wisniewski was never in trouble, allowing only four scattered hits, and issuing only one base on balls.

Bonnie Baker, South Bend catcher, received the biggest applause of the season as she raced over to the stands after a foul fly and fell over the wall, into the stands, landing in the laps of several spectators.

Sounds like a scene worthy of A League of Their Own.

The Chicks were proving that they could draw decent crowds on occasion; a thousand on the Sentinel paperboys' league day, over four thousand for the Red Cross party. It's a shame that the league couldn't give them enough time to build their sustainable fanbase around these events.

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