Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Copyright 1999 by Frank Passic
[This is the original unedited local version of the article written by Mr. Passic which was edited and published as the cover story of the March-April 1999 issue of Michigan History Magazine, pages 38-45. For information about obtaining that issue, contact Michigan History Magazine, 717 W. Allegan, Lansing, MI 48918-1805. 1-800-366-3703. Additional text and super photographs are provided here in this version. This version contains more "Albion" information relating about Gwen’s Albion roots.]
Back in the 1930s there arose a prolific writer who would become a household name to thousands of Michigan readers. She would become one of Michigan's most legendary female reporters and photographers as she brought exotic places around the world into their homes. She later shared her traumatic experiences as a prisoner of war to Michiganders in the midst of World War II which left an indelible mark upon those left at home to support the war effort. The name of Gwen Dew came to mean accuracy, integrity, and "our representative" to the places she reported from. Her legacy is remembered and honored here.
Gwen Dew at age 3 in Albion.
Gwendolyn Janet Dew was born in Albion at the family home located at 409 E. Perry St. shortly after 5 o'clock on the morning of June 18, 1903. She was the daughter of local florist Arthur H. (1873-1950) and Jettie (Robinson) (1875-1906) Dew. Gwen's father Arthur had come to Albion in 1893 from his native St. Johns and opened up his floral shop "Dew's Flowers" which he operated until 1946. A sign painted on the window stated "Dew Makes the Flowers Grow." Today it is known as Clark's Flowers, located at 407 E. Perry St.
This photograph taken during a parade in Albion circa 1915 features Gwen sitting with her parents in front of the Bijou Theatre on the west side of S. Superior St. The car featured Dews Flowers, of course, and in front are depicted "flowers from the angel messengers."
Arthur H. Dew (1873-1950), father of Gwen Dew.
Jettie (Robinson) Dew (1875-1906) died when Gwen was only 3 years old. Jettie was the daughter of Orton and Ida (Grover) Robinson. Her sister Sybil was an art teacher at Albion High School, and her brother Byron was a local jeweler.
Gwen's mother Jettie was the daughter of an early Albion Village president, Orton Robinson. Jettie died in 1906 after an extended illness while Gwen was an infant. Arthur was remarried in 1908 to Eliza "Lila" Wilson (1873-1953) of Grand Rapids, and the family moved behind the flowerhouse to 410 E. Michigan Avenue, across the street from Albion High School.
Eliza (Wilson) Dew (1873-1953), step-mother of Gwen Dew.
Gwen Dew grew up here in Albion at the family home, 410 E. Michigan Avenue. It was right across the street from Albion High School.
Mention must be made of Gwen's aunt (sister of Arthur) Louise E. Dew (1871-1963). She was a well known writer and editor in the early 20th century who wrote for a variety of women's magazines. Louise was the first newspaper woman to travel around the world. While on her journey as a writer she interviewed such persons as Queen Victoria and Admiral Robert Perry. She took a keen interest in the Orient, particularly Japan. Louise also was the first woman to ride in a locomotive engine across the U.S., and was the first woman to ride in an aerial tramway (Hong Kong). She was known as the "flower lady" to hundreds of Italian and Jewish children on the lower east side of New York City. Louise's travels, writings and experiences were an inspiration to Gwen and had a significant influence upon her. It certainly explains where Gwen got her journalistic talents and adventurous spirit.
Gwen’s aunt Louise Dew (1871-1963) was a prolific writer herself, and is shown here in her Oriental garb.
While Gwen was growing up in Albion her writing abilities became evident, even in the 6th grade. Her first published article was entitled "The Forget-Me-Not," and appeared in the April 4, 1914 issue of "The News Junior," a statewide school publication. Gwen graduated from Albion High School, Class of 1920. Her classmates used to kid her when she was growing up with the saying, "Some do and some don't. What does Gwen Dew?" In the following years, thousands would come to find out.
What would Gwen Dew? You couldn’t tell from her 1920 Albion High School yearbook graduation photo. Look at the hair "lumps" by her ears!
Gwen attended Albion College and became a member of the Delta Gamma Sorority. While at Albion she pursued her interest in journalism and worked on the staffs of the college paper, the Pleiad, and the Albionian yearbook. Aspiring to become a woman journalist was a novelty in those days, and caught the attention of the Detroit Free Press. It stated (May 27, 1922), "Upsetting the conventional ways of women seems to be the favorite sport of Miss Gwendolyn Dew, Junior at Albion College this year. The only girl at Albion taking a pre-law course, Miss Dew also is the only feminine member of the journalism class of eleven and the lone girl on the business staff of the Albionian, the college annual."
Gwen Dew’s 1923 "Albiononian" yearbook photo.
Gwen transferred to the University of Michigan for her senior year to obtain a degree in journalism. While working as a student editor of the daily U of M newspaper, Gwen filled in for the sports editor one particular weekend. She telephoned in some Olympic trial scores to the United Press wire service, and "heard the silence" over the other end of the phone when she spoke. A male voice was heard in the distance exclaiming: "My God, a Woman!"
Gwen Dew at the University of Michigan, 1924.
Gwen is dressed up in this elegant gown at the University of Michigan.
Gwen received this Certificate in Journalism at the University of Michigan in October, 1924.
Gwen returned to Albion following her graduation in the fall of 1924 and obtained a job at the Albion Recorder as society editor for five months beginning on November 1. It was her first professional job. One day in July 1925 an aerial stuntman or "barnstormer" came to town, and Gwen's adventurous spirit got the best of her. She decided to accompany the stuntman, Lieutenant C. W. Brown (Air Force) who took off from a farmer's field west of Albion. Gwen enjoyed the entire flight, which included "loops the loops" over the Albion College Athletic Field and nearby Victory Park, and a special loop over Dew's Flowers with her fearful parents watching.
Gwen rode in a plane like this when she learned to fly in the 1920s.
Gwen's own rendition of the event, her first feature story, was published on the front page of the Recorder in its July 7 edition. In it she exclaimed, "As the shadow of the plane moves across the field, and the country lies below, and the world before you, here is a desire to keep on going into the distances--exploring--seeing the country as you can never see it from a car."
Gwen's airborn experiences enticed her to learn to fly herself, and she subsequently became one of the first 25 women in the United States to obtain a pilot's license. She also was involved in a spectacular balloon exhibition in which she and some other Detroiters took off from Ford Airport in June, 1928. A drag-rope dangling from her balloon touched electric and telephone wires, tearing them out and sending the entire town of Howell into total electric darkness with no communications.
Gwen was approached in 1926 by Albert Pochelon, National Executive Secretary of the Florist's Telegraph Delivery Association (FTD) in Detroit to start the FTD publicity department. She was quite adapted to the task of course, coming from a floral background. While there she designed the FTD Florists Running Mercury logo, a variant of which is still in use today. Her original design was painted on the end of a metal barrel in gold leaf, and is now in the Smithsonian Institute. Gwen stayed with FTD through 1929.
Gwen Dew is pictured at her desk at FTD Florists in 1928. She designed the FTD logo on the left.
Gwen’s FTD florists business card, Detroit.
Gwen poses at the Detroit Flower Show by the exhibit of Mrs. Henry Ford, 1927. Gwen was publicity agent for FTD florists at the time.
While at FTD Gwen had the honor of participating in the dedication of the new University of Michigan football stadium on October 22, 1927 during the game against Ohio State. She presented Captain Bennie Oosterbaan with a large bouquet of flowers on the field in the presence of thousands of spectators.
Left to right: Gwen Dew (left) presents Michigan captain Bennie Oosterbaan with a bouquet of flowers as part of the opening ceremonies. Next is Ohio State captain Ted Meyer receiving a bouquet from Miss Catherine Tallant (far right) of Ohio State.
Gwen was involved in a serious auto accident in 1929, and spent several months recuperating in bed following five operations to repair her broken back. During this period she decided she would fill her life with interesting sights and experiences. With that goal in mind, she made plans for her future.
Gwen left FTD for a job in New York as a publicist for the Chinese Cultural Theater dance troupe. She subsequently was hired by the New York based Hollywood gossip publication "Screen Book Magazine" from 1933 until 1935. Her column was entitled "The Last Word," with the subtitle stating, "Here each month, you'll find intimate, gossipy notes about pictures, purely from the feminine point of view." She also wrote for such publications as "Movie Classic," "Motion Picture," "Romantic Movie Stories," and was editor of "Bridle and Golfer" magazine 1933-35.
Dissatisfied with that career, Gwen resigned abruptly at a cocktail party one evening in early 1935, promising to send her co-workers postcards from Bali. She returned to Michigan and approached the editorial staff of the Detroit News with a bold proposal (especially for a woman) to travel around the world and send back articles with photographs. "Travelling was just something that was always in my blood. I knew I wasn't going to stay in Michigan," she stated in 1980. At first the News resisted her offer (they wouldn't even let her into the newsroom) but she was then granted an audience with managing editor Fred Gaertner, Jr., who approved the idea of Gwen's adventurous plans.
Gwen returned to her father's floral shop in Albion, withdrew $50 in funds, packed her eight-year old typewriter nicknamed "Tappy" and her $7.50 camera named "Snoops," and off she went to explore the world. She sent the Detroit News a story and photographs each week. The full-page articles were published in their Sunday Feature Section in full color. She began with a train trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and her first article under the arrangement was published in the March 15, 1936 edition. After that she was off to Hollywood where she interviewed numerous movie stars of the time. Gwen would faithfully send articles and photographs to the News for the next 17 months, where they were eagerly read by an increasing readership.
Gwen’s first feature "Around the World Tour" article. Detroit News, Sunday March 15, 1936., covering the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
From California, Gwen boarded a ship bound for Honolulu, and from there booked another ship to Yokohama, Japan. In those days there only 200 Americans in that country. Touring Japan for two months, she donned Japanese garb, visited Japanese shrines, and reported her findings to thousands of Michigan readers. One shrine, the Shrine of Nachiman was dedicated to the "god of war," quite prophetic in the final years before World War II. Her findings were published in the July 26, 1936 edition of the News.
One time the plane carrying her check from the News crashed and burned in India, and so Gwen found herself stuck in Singapore for a month without any money. She checked in at a luxury hotel pretending to be rich, and rented a room there until the check came. She charged everything, including the stamps she purchased to send her articles back to Detroit. "After two weeks I decided something was wrong and it was getting more difficult to play the role of Mrs. Moneybags," she reminisced in 1937. "So I cabled Detroit and was informed that my check had been re-sent." The check arrived one day before Christmas, and it was a very Merry Christmas for Gwen Dew, indeed.
From Japan, Gwen then traveled to China where she was granted a rare interview with Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, wife of the free Chinese president. It was the first interview the first lady of China had granted anyone in three years. While in China she was the guest of Miss Helen Burton, a well-known Detroiter. Burton had two houseboys, the first of which was named "Du." It was so confusing to have a "Du" and a "Dew" in the same house, that Gwen became known as "Dew Two" and the nickname stuck throughout her Asian trip. Gwen also began a collection of dolls from the lands she was visiting. Unknown to her at the time, a few of them would become valuable for smuggling out information in 1942.
Gwen traveled to numerous places such as Hong Kong, Nepal, Java, Borneo, Thailand, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Bali (where she sent postcards to her former co-workers in New York), India, Egypt and others, still churning out weekly articles for the Detroit News. By this time Gwen had gained a large readership, and a reputation as an accredited news correspondent and photographer. In almost two years she had visited 18 countries and traveled more than 50,000 miles. Her last article in the series was published in July 1937 with an article about Paris where she served as a guide.
Gwen was scheduled to return to the U.S. on another adventurous means of transportation, an airship (dirigible). Due to an unforeseen delay she missed her flight and got an advance ticket for the supposed next flight of the same ship, the Hindenburg. Gwen opened the newspapers that day and found out that she would have been on the ill-fated flight had she not been delayed.
In addition to her writing abilities, Gwen gained a reputation as an accomplished photographer. An exhibition of her photos was held in Peking, China, and the tourist bureaus of several Far East countries purchased her photographs of their lands for their own publicity departments. The Cunard-White Star Line used several of her photos in its 1939 around-the-world brochure. Gwen once revealed some of her trade secrets in an article she authored in the November, 1938 issue of Popular Photography entitled "Camera Pays for World Tour." "But here are some of the ways I did make my pictures pay: I took good shots of hotels in which I was staying. Even though they usually had their own photographers, I sometimes managed to get a picture they wanted for publicity or advertising...I made no bones of the fact at any time that I was earning my way with my stories and pictures."
Gwen Dew with her portable typewriter "Tappy" in Honululu, 1936.
After a short period home from her world tour and still writing stories for various magazines and newspapers, Gwen was hired as a special correspondent for the United Press. She traveled to Mexico and filmed a movie about the inauguration of Mexican President Comancho. Following that she was off to Hawaii where she filmed for six months. "At that time I wrote a story in which I pointed out that there were more Japanese in Hawaii than white people...It seemed to me the possibility of inside information being sent out by these Japanese was all too easy," she recalled in 1942.
Dew Press Pass, 1946. Gwen was the first female reported allowed into post-World War II Japan.
In May 1941 she went on to Japan. "This was no longer the land of cherry blossoms, bowing little men and bright kimonoed women with flowers in their hair that I visited in 1936. Here was calculated rudeness, obvious war efforts, and lack of desire for American money that was a warning in itself. To attempt to use a camera at this time, six months before the war, would have been inviting yourself into jail," she reported to Popular Photography in 1943.
Gwen sensed imminent trouble, and wanting to be in the Far East when the war started, left for Hong Kong in late October, 1941. She was there on December 8, 1941 (December 7 in the U.S. due to the International Date Line) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Gwen had been scheduled to take a flight out of Hong Kong to Chungking later that day, and was on her way into town to the British censors to look over her film before leaving. She was speaking with a British officer when a large formation of planes flew overhead. "I didn't know the British had that many planes in Hong Kong," Gwen told the officer. "I'm afraid we don't," he replied. The Japanese assault on Hong Kong had begun.
Gwen grabbed her cameras and filmed the subsequent battles and surrender of Hong Kong, the only correspondent to do so. On December 12 a Japanese "peace mission contingent" came to the British colony to demand the surrender of the city. It consisted of the Japanese commander Colonel Tada and his two top aides, Lieutenant Mizinu and another officer, Othsu. Gwen photographed them and the picture was published in the South China Morning Post newspaper the next day. Following the surrender two weeks later, one of the first things the Japanese news service did was obtain the plates to that photograph, which was quite popular among the Japanese military officials. Gwen's bravery of taking pictures of the events drew the attention and admiration of the Japanese commander Colonel Tada, who thought that she was a brave woman to show no fear.
Gwen was staying at the besieged Repulse Bay Hotel south of the city, which fell on December 24, and was taken captive along with other westerners. Gwen and 200 other "guests" there at the hotel were marched 10 miles north into Hong Kong, and herded into a dirty paint factory where they spent Christmas Eve. Hong Kong officially surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941.
This is one of Gwen’s most famous photographs, showing the Japanese army officers dispatched to demand the surrender of Hong Kong.
They were then taken to the Kowloon Hotel across the bay on Christmas Day. The Japanese had herded westerners into designated hotels, where they were kept for up to several weeks before being transferred to a concentration camp. Gwen and a few other prisoners were specially invited by the Japanese commander Tada for a tea and luncheon, where Gwen eagerly ate all she could after having been without food. Gwen had some interesting dialogue between her and the Japanese commander at that "tea" which she related in her 1942 newspaper articles. When other prisoners were marched off to the concentration camp, Gwen was one of just four persons who were allowed to remain at the Hotel.
The Colonel Tada (who had admired Gwen's courage) had placed them in the care of a one-armed Japanese soldier Mr. Kondo, who had previously been the secretary of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce. Gwen noticed that Kondo had a ring bearing a big "M,"--a University of Michigan ring! Gwen related, "It was indeed a queer feeling to meet a Japanese officer under these conditions. I was his prisoner, and yet we had been free fellow students at the University of Michigan during the same years. We talked of football games, Hill Street, lilacs in the springtime. Eventually, he told me he had lost his arm, not in war, but in an ice skating accident at Dexter, near Ann Arbor. 'A fat girl fell on it,' Mr. Kondo explained."
Gwen was also loaned money by a Japanese newspaperman, Mr. Ogura, to help purchase food for her group. She was even allowed to tour occupied Hong Kong with Ogura in February, 1942, and had some limited freedom to walk the streets in the vicinity of her hotel. In late February however, the order came that all westerners were to be transported to Camp Stanley, a British settlement located on a rocky peninsula south of Hong Kong. Gwen was transported there to join other prisoners where 350 Americans, 2,5000 British and 70 Dutch citizens were interred. She kept notes about the occupation of Hong Kong, conditions at the camp, Japanese atrocities and other facts, hiding her writings in hollow portions of some Ming dolls she had purchased before the War for her collection that the Japanese had given back to her.
Gwen had been taken prisoner on alien soil as an American in British Hong Kong, and that fact made her eligible for a prisoner exchange. The Detroit News also had been pressing for her release. When the Japanese announced that she and some others were to be placed on a ship as part of a prisoner exchange, Gwen compiled a list of those British prisoners who were to be left behind. She was taken from the concentration camp on June 30, 1942 after being imprisoned for six months. Still she suffered from various malnutrition diseases, leaving her with a hearing defect. She had also been bitten by a black spider which left a scar on her ankle.
Gwen was placed with other prisoners on the Japanese liner Asama Maru which sailed for Lourenco Marques, Portugese East Africa. When the ship reached Saigon to pick up more repatriates, Gwen purchased and ate over a dozen bananas. Japanese and western prisoners were exchanged at Lourenco Marques, and Gwen and the others boarded the Swedish diplomatic exchange ship Gripsholm. The Japanese contingent had arrived a day earlier and purchased all remaining film, and so Gwen was unable to obtain some to photograph the events there. The Gripsholm arrived in New York on August 25, 1942, containing 1,451 persons, including Gwen Dew and 20 other Michigan residents. She was met by her thankful parents, and L. L. Stevenson of the Detroit News. The list of prisoners who were left behind that Gwen had compiled was revealed and broadcast over the BBC and read in the British Parliament.
Gwen immediately began compiling her traumatic experiences, and wrote a series of thrilling eyewitness articles for the Detroit News. Entitled "I Was a Prisoner of the Japs," it received top billing in front page installments which began running on Monday, August 31, 1942. Her first installment began, "I was hunting for war. I found it. I wanted to know what war looked like through a woman's eyes. Now I know. Horror, destruction, torture, hunger, death. I want to tell you in Detroit what it means if war comes to your front door." Her detailed accounts as a Japanese prisoner and Japanese war atrocities captured the hearts and minds of thousands of readers as she shared her story in newspapers and magazines across the country. The News editorial staff wrote, "Miss Dew is the rare individual and intelligent observer with the power to communicate in dramatic prose what she has seen and heard and felt. She has done it again."
Gwen’s book "Prisoner of the Japs" (1943) features this colorful book jacket.
Gwen was concurrently feverously working (with a two month deadline) on her hardcover book, Prisoner of the Japs. This wartime classic was printed by Alfred Knopf publishers of New York in 1943 and is 309 pages in length. It was a more expanded version of her newspaper series, giving more intricate details that Gwen was able to recall and compose together. The back of the dust jacket erroneously listed her birth year as 1907.
Gwen also wrote an article for Reader's Digest entitled "Another Jap Atrocity to be Avenged," which appeared in its July, 1943 issue. Of special interest is an article entitled "I Photographed the Fall of Hong Kong" which appeared in the February 1943 issue of Popular Photography, in which Gwen gives many intricate details about her experiences from a photographers point of view.
Gwen Dew on the lecture circuit during World War II selling bonds and promoting her book, "Prisoner of the Japs."
Gwen then lectured and toured the country with the war propaganda movie "Behind the Rising Sun." She was subsequently employed by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services as a rally speaker for the remainder of the War an annual government salary of $4,200. Her speeches raised over $2 million in war bonds, and she sold many copies of her book at these rallies. She continued supplementing her income however by writing newspaper articles.
These news headlines from the Detroit News promote Gwen’s incredible series, "I was a Prisoner of the Japs" in 1942.
Gwen received a Distinguished Service Award from the Treasury Department in April 1944. The Director of the Treasury State Speakers Division, D. C. Vandercook commended Gwen in a 1943 letter, writing, "Your talk was one of the most effective of the series given at the Four Freedoms War Bond Show. There was something so specific, sincere and moving about it that you not only held the attention of the audience, but I believe put over one of the clearest pictures I have heard about the character of the Japanese and the long battle ahead of us to win the war. I know that it isn't easy for you to tell your story, but you have a message that needs to be brought to millions of American people."
Advertisement for Gwen’s book.
She didn't forget her roots, however, and made it a point to return to her hometown. Gwen spoke to a packed crowd of 700 persons at the Methodist Church in Albion on October 29, 1942 on the topic, "Why I am Glad to be Home." A few days later she participated in Albion College's Homecoming activities, speaking there.
One of Gwen's precious momentoes during her captivity was a small tin cup made by a fellow prisoner from Wisconsin which she used in the camp for meals: a cup of rice filled with worms and weavels. She managed to smuggle the cup out, and it was a symbol of her captivity which she used on the speaking circuit for many years afterwards. She lost it in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1970s after leaving it on the fender of her car and driving off.
Gwen Dew holds her tin cup for the photographer of the Milwaukee Journal in this 1943 article.
Following the surrender of Japan in 1945, Gwen became the first female foreign correspondent permitted into Japan after the war (1946). She was invited to numerous parties at the press club in Tokyo where there were 33 men and her. "I thought that was the proper ratio, and still do," she quipped in a 1980 interview. From there she sent various articles to over 20 U.S. newspapers about post-war Japan.
Three former newspaper women who worked in the Orient meet at First WAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Gwen Dew (center) a correspondent in Hong Kong when the Japanese opened hostilities, discusses a shoe which she made from salvaged materials when she was in a Japanese prison camp [she is also holding her book] with Pfc. Marion C. Smith (left), formerly employed by the Sugar News in Manila. Looking on (right) is Lt. Marguerite Yancey who was a reported for the North China Daily News in Shanghai.
"If I had any hatred for the Japanese, it disappeared when we pulled into Yokohama," she stated. "Seeing the nearly total devastation, you could only feel sorry for them." Regarding Hiroshima, "Never could you imagine such death, such fearful death. I saw it and I literally could not speak for days," she continued.
This lecture leaflet "Gwen Dew, Internationally Famous Woman Reporter," was distributed during Gwen’s tour across the United States in War Bond rallies.
While in post-war Japan Gwen met U.S. Army public relations officer and former bombadier Captain (later Major) James Buchanan (1906-1953) after she had written a critical article about the way some officers were handling some situations during the occupation of Japan. "The next thing I knew I had a 6 foot 4 inch army captain grinning down at my typewriter. He had been sent by Tokyo headquarters to investigate this Gwen Dew who had written the article. And six months later we were married!" she stated in a 1956 interview. Gwen and James were married at Gwen's family home in Albion on November 27, 1948, with her parents and guests witnessing the event. A reception was held at the Delta Gamma house at nearby Albion College. The ceremony was performed the by the local Presbyterian Church minister, Rev. Herbert J. Bryce.
Gwen Dew’s marriage to Major James R. T. Buchanan, November 27, 1948. Left to right: Eliza (step-mother of Gwen), Major Buchanan, Gwen, and Gwen’s father Arthur Dew.
The couple lived near where James was stationed at various bases across the country. After several periods of separations and reunions due to his job, Gwen left their Akron, Ohio home to join her husband and arrived there on August 10, 1953. Only a short time after their reunion he suffered a fatal heart attack in bed. James was buried in his native Columbus, Ohio, and Gwen found herself a widow. Gwen's stepmother Eliza died in Grand Rapids only two months later (her father had died in 1950). Gwen sold the family home in Albion to Dr. Dale E. Claucherty, a local chiropractor, and she said goodbye to the town she had grown up in.
Gwen moved to Phoenix (Scottsdale) Arizona in 1955 to settle down at the invitation of some friends. At that time Scottsdale contained just three businesses. For the record, Gwen served on the Scottsdale board that brought the first swimming pool to town. She found her niche there however with her "World Adventure Travel Series" she began in 1957, presenting programs with interesting films and exotic places around the world. It consisted of professional photographers showing their films and narrating them. It became the largest travel series in the greater Phoenix area, and Gwen operated it for a quarter of a century.
Gwen Dew poses with her cat in this January, 1973 photograph, with a box of "cat yummies" nearby. Behind her on the bookcase are some of her knick-knack treasures she obtained in the Orient.
Gwen occasionally traveled back to the Far East and other places for visits, but for the most part stayed in Phoenix. She became active in the Phoenix Civic Opera, serving on the board of directors and as its publicity director. Gwen was a founding member of the Scottsdale Community Players and its women's auxiliary, the "Stagebelles."
She was involved in social life there in Phoenix, participating in and hosting various events. She even wrote an occasional column about society life or placed an editorial in the local press about current events. Gwen would also grant an occasional interview and article about her life's experiences and became even more of a living legend as the years went by. She was listed in various Who's Who references.
This color photograph shows Gwen Dew Buchanan in front of her home in Scottsdale, Arizona in January, 1979.
She stayed active in Delta Gamma, often helping in fund raising for special charitable projects. One such Delta Gamma fundraiser for the Foundation for the Blind in 1965 consisted of Gwen as chairperson, with Mamie Eisenhower as honorary chairperson. In 1962 Gwen was awarded the Delta Gamma Order of the Rose for her accomplishments in the fields of journalism and public relations.
In her final years she had just made plans to begin working on her memoirs which was to be entitled, "My God, a Woman!" a reference to her University of Michigan days. She barely even started it. Gwen (Dew) Buchanan died on June 17, 1993 in Phoenix at the age of 89, at 11:53 p.m., just seven minutes away from her 90th birthday. "She always said she didn't want to live to be 90," her caregiver Mary Swift told this writer in a telephone interview, "and she didn't."
At this point our story takes a personal turn. This writer had written an article about Gwen in my weekly history column in Albion which ironically was published just three days after Gwen had died (unknown to me). I had tried contacting Gwen by mail on May 5, 1993 and received the letter back with a forwarding address. My next letter postmarked May 17 was returned in early August marked "Deceased," with the death date written on the envelope. I immediately informed the Albion Recorder, the Detroit News, and the Associated Press of Gwen's passing which for some reason had not been conveyed to Michigan, and supplied them with biographical material. Obituaries then quickly appeared in early August in various Michigan newspapers.
I spoke by telephone with Mary Swift, the homecare nurse who had taken care of Gwen in her declining years. To my delight, she wanted to know where she could send a large box of Gwen's personal photographs and original copies of her articles she had been using to write her memoirs, since Gwen had no survivors. This writer purchased them from the estate and has shared a portion of these with the readers of Michigan History.
Gwen was cremated according to her wishes, and the issue of where to bury her was problematic. There was a place reserved for her next to her husband in Columbus, Ohio, and another in the Presbyterian Church columbarium in Phoenix, both of which had her name inscribed on a marker. In my telephone conversation, I suggested that Gwen's cremains would be most welcome in her hometown of Albion, Michigan where her parents were interred in the Dew family lot in Riverside Cemetery (named a State Historic Site in 1996). After logistical details were worked out, Gwen's cremains were then shipped to Albion. They were placed uneventfully in the Dew family lot in Riverside Cemetery by sexton Joel Isaac on August 26, 1993.
Gwen Dew’s cremains are buried in the Dew family plot in Riverside Cemetery in Albion, Michigan. Her tombstone needs to be engraved with her name and other information on it.
Update: April 2009
On Memorial Day, May 25, 2009, immediately following the regular service at Riverside Cemetery, there will be a special dedication of the newly-engraved tombstone for Gwen. A flower urn will also be placed at the site. The tombstone engraving has been graciously paid for by retired Albion Public School faculty member Andrew Kooi. The cemetery urn and flowers are being provided by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Eagles, with the project being headed by Patti Tautkus.
Gwen will be remembered in Michigan history as a person who took thousands of Michiganders around the world with her from both ends of the spectrum: in times of peace, and in times of war. She was a unique individual who had the ability to touch those who read her articles, and conveys current events by means of her photography. She will surely be remembered as one of Michigan's greatest female reporters.
Sources for this article include Gwen's personal photographs and memorabilia, and the following newspapers and magazines: Albion Recorder, Arizona Republic, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, Phoenix Gazette, Popular Photography, Milwaukee Journal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Albion Historian Frank Passic writes weekly history columns in the local Albion newspapers, and is the author of several books on the topic. He is a 1975 graduate of Spring Arbor College.
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