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Some Dayton Saints and Prophets
Lewis B. Gunckel


IT might sometimes happen, that a young man or woman, too young to know all about the people who have made Dayton, would be walking among the winding avenues of the Soldiers' Home. Looking over the acres of broad greensward grouped with beds of foliage and stately trees, and guarded by grim cannon and the flag; beyond the barracks and campus, past the gardens, the lakes and woods, to the dip of the valley in which our city lies, they might ask, "Who planned this Soldiers' Home? To whom do we owe this splendid provision of the United States Government for its aged and invalid wards, this park and pleasure ground for them and for their visitors?"
     To such a question there could be but one answer, and that answer a name,---Lewis B. Gunckel.

"Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!"

     The establishment of the Soldiers' Home is a part of our history worth remembering. The beginning of it goes back to the times of the Civil War, when during the four memorial sessions of '62, '63, '64, and '65, Lewis B. Gunckel was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in the Ohio Senate. Here he proved himself an ardent supporter of the Union, and a friend of the common soldier. The great manifesto of this sympathy was the introduction of a bill for the relief of soldiers' families. When Hon. W. S. Groesbeck opposed the constitionality of the bill and questioned its expediency, Mr. Gunckel’s reply was characteristic:

     "We can economize elsewhere," he said, "retrench everything, and save enough to the State in its local and general expenses to make up the entire sum. But if we cannot, we should bear it cheerfully, heroically. We must fight or pay! We ought to do both. We must do one or the other!"
     After the passage of this bill, others were introduced by Mr. Gunckel, all looking to the aid of the common! soldier. He was the author of the Soldiers' Voting Law; of various bills to send surgeons, nurses, and medicines to soldiers at the front, and to care for the widows and children of those killed in service; of a State bureau for the collection and preservation of the name, family, enlistment, service and valor of every Ohio soldier, and for gratuitous aid in procuring bounties and pensions. These measures for the benefit of the soldier gradually took form in Mr. Gunckel's imagination, until the plan of a home for disabled veterans was determined. The idea at first was for a State Home only, and such was established in 1864, near Columbus, Mr. Gunckel being named as one of the trustees.
     The next year Congress, adopting the measure and enlarging upon it, organized the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers which, after some consideration, was established at Dayton. A Board of twelve managers was appointed, to serve for ten years, Mr. Gunckel among them. As the resident manager, the Soldiers' Home became his first and greatest concern. Largely owing to his influence it was put in Dayton, and owing to his wise direction it became more beautiful every year. He took a personal pride in seeing its progress and development; in overseeing the improvements in building, in landscape gardening, and in recreations and comforts for the men. For twelve years he worked patiently against discouragements which are now forgotten, and amid the pressure of other duties to forward this, his dearest ambition.
     In 1872 Mr. Gunckel was elected to the 43rd Congress from the Fourth District of Ohio, and served on the Committee on Military Affairs. During this time his interest in the Soldiers' Home never lessened; he continued to perform the arduous duties of Secretary of the Board of Managers, refusing not only the compensation allowed him, but paying for clerical assistance from his own pocket. When his term as manager ended, the President, the Chief Justice, and the Secretary of War adopted resolutions of appreciation for his invaluable services. At a banquet, given by the citizens of Dayton, to the Board of Managers of the Soldiers' Home, there were many compliments addressed to the retiring member. Major General J. H. Martindale, speaking for the Board, said:

     "I recollect, after the passage of this act, when we met together in the office of the Surgeon-General, at Washington, Ohio was ably represented in that Board. Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton were there, and I think it fair to say; I will not hesitate to say it in this presence; that if in this broad land of ours the eye of inspiration had searched for pure intelligence, and ardent and generous enthusiasm to co-operate with that Board, it could not have chosen better than it did in the person of our local manager, Lewis B. Gunckel."

     The outward aspect of the local manager would never have suggested "ardent and generous enthusiasm." In private life Mr. Gunckel was most unobtrusive and self-repressed. In both figure and feature he strongly resembled Abraham Lincoln, and it is also said that he walked like him. It is not going too far to add that there were temperamental characteristics alike in each. A quiet, deliberate talker, with slow gestures and contemplative habit of speech it was remarkable to what degrees of warmth in oratory he could rise, when expressing opinions and presenting claims of which his reason and his heart approved. Speeches of Mr. Gunckel’s are still read in print, and the memory of them endures in the Halls of Congress and Legislature. Particularly those in favor of "cheap transportation," and the equalization of soldiers bounties; the one opposing the appropriation of $3,000,000 for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition attracted much attention at the time, and were approved by practical thinkers for their sound arguments and good common sense.
     Mr. Gunckel’s voice was always to be heard on the side of retrenchment and in opposition to schemes of extravagance such as are always coming up in legislative bodies. He was in favor of honest and economical administration, and opposed with all his power, any effort of legislators to profit, directly or indirectly by their official capacity. He voted to repeal the notorious act passed by a previous Congress, known as the "Salary Grab," and although entitled to it, refused to avail himself of the increased compensation. This integrity was rewarded by defeat at the polls on his re-nomination in 1874!
     After his retirement from public life, Mr. Gunckel devoted himself to the practice of law in Dayton. His acumen in pleading cases caused him to be regarded as one of the ablest lawyers in southern Ohio. With a large and lucrative practice, he habitually used his influence to prevent litigation, preferring, in numbers of cases, to settle instead of to prosecute. He was a man of studious habit, a lover of books and pictures. His birth-place, Germantown, Ohio, benefitted by these tastes in the gift of a fine library, solicited for and contributed to by him.
     The debt of Dayton to Mr. Gunckel did not end with the establishment and perfection of the Soldiers' Home. To him we owe the inception and, in great part, the efficient organization known as the Associated Charities.
     For some years the problem of public relief had been pressing upon thoughtful men and women in Dayton. It was conceded that with new conditions of life in a growing city there should be a more carefully-planned system of charity. Three influences aided in bringing this opinion to a head. First, the presence of numbers of tramps in and about town; second, two thousand workmen out of employment, and their families on the verge of want; and third, a most able paper read by Mr. D. A. Sinclair in the Present Day Club. The latter was so forcible a summing up of the necessities of the case and of the responsibility of citizens that the public was immediately aroused to action. A meeting, called to consider the application of business methods to public relief, met on December 18, 1896, in the court-room of the old Court House.
     On this occasion Lewis B. Gunckel submitted a list of resolutions, prepared by him, embodying the sense of the assembled citizens, as to the course to be pursued in improving the condition of the poor. Briefly they were: (1) that City boards should be urged to give work to unemployed men; (2) that the County Commissioners be asked to administer out-door relief; (3) that intending builders begin excavating work as soon as possible, and continue it (weather permitting) through the winter; (4) that the police be called upon to enforce the ordinances against tramps and house-begging at night; (5) that a committee be appointed to organize the charities of the city on a business basis.
     This meeting closed with the appointment of a committee of seven, of which Mr. Gunckle was one, and with a call for a public meeting to be held at the Opera House one week later.
     Many will remember the night of December 21, 1896, the crowded theater, the stage full of earnest men, their hearts warm with practical sympathy for undeserved poverty and of righteous impatience of imposters; the promise of warm support from the large audience on the floor, and Lewis B. Gunckel in the chair. There had been, he said in his opening address, many grand assemblies, more imposing spectacles in that hall, but never, to him, so inspiring a sight as to see a thousand men and women come together, united by the common bond of the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man. His plea, on behalf of those interested in the movement for the association of charity work was, he said, a wise application of mercy, the relief of deserving cases of destitution, the encouragement of thrift and self-dependence, the prevention of begging and pauperism,' the protection of the community against imposture, and the sheltering of childhood from evil.
     I shall never forget the conclusion of Mr. Gunckel’s address: "We send," he said, with his long fore-finger pointing out and beyond, "missionaries to the Mohammedans. It is well, for Islam's devotees need our Bible and religion to abolish polygamy, and to raise up woman from her degradation in all eastern countries. But the Koran has some good things in it. It commands true believers to give one-tenth of all they make to the poor, and they do so honestly and religiously. A legend in the Koran says that when a man dies his neighbors ask, 'What money had he'; the angels in heaven ask, 'What did he give?' "
     Not indiscriminate alms-giving, and the consequent multiplication of pauperism, should be the effort of well-to-do people, but the giving of employment, the care of the sick, the teaching of the ignorant, the checking of intemperance, and the encouragement of the discouraged.
     To these various ends was the society known as the "Associated Charities of Dayton" organized. A council of fifteen were appointed, with Mr. Gunckel as chairman, and the work proceeded upon the plans outlined at the mass meeting. Six years later, Mr: Gunckel, in making his annual report said: "If our only object was to collect and distribute food, fuel, and clothing for the poor, our work would be simple and inexpensive. But we aim to do much more. We seek to ascertain and remove the cause of the poverty; to lift up the fallen and keep them, up by teaching and helping them to stand alone." This epitomized the design of the Associated Charities; upon it, with Mr. Gunckel at their head, the council of fifteen worked, until his death in1903.
     The test of the effacacy of such effort is the decrease in the demands for public relief. Since its origin in 1896, figures show an almost continuous improvement in the records of the Associated Charities, which is but a reflection of the improvement in conditions. There is in Dayton less beggary, less shiftless dependence upon private aid, fewer tramps, more decent effort toward thrift and self-respect on the part of unfortunates than twenty years ago. Mr. Gunckel’s theories have ripened and borne fruit. If signs of human misfortune are seen less frequently upon our street than in other places; if the percentage of melioration shown by the figures be manifest in visible ways; if strangers continue to remark upon Dayton as a bright, prosperous, cheerful city, and if they inquire for some specific cause, may we not again reply:

"Lewis B. Gunckel: Circumspice!"

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