Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO WESLEY IRMA DORRIS?

Morning Star, January 28, 2018, pg. 9

We occasionally see a story in print or elsewhere in the media that begins with the words, "Whatever happened to…" In 1912, a 21-year-old man named Wesley Irma Dorris penned the words and music to that memorable "Albion theme song"entitled "Hang Your Hat in Albion"and had it published. We've previously written about that song in this column which contains the lines "Hang Your Hat in Albion. Albion, just right. It's a happy pretty College town, growth and business all around,"and so forth.

But who was Wesley Irma Dorris and whatever happened to him? This week in our Historical Notebook, we'll find out. Wesley Irma Dorris was born November 11, 1891 in Indian Territory, which is now part of the state of Oklahoma. His parents were Rev. James C. & Josephine (Gasser) Dorris. James was a Methodist minister, and the family moved around quite often as was the custom of Methodist ministers in those days.

The family moved to Albion around 1909 and rented the house at 509 E. Erie St. James was pastor at the Methodist church in Sanford, Michigan during this time. Wesley (who went by his middle name Irma) attended Albion High School from the 1909-10 through the fall of the 1911-12 school years, and was on the high school football team. If you look on page 116 of my book "A History of the Albion Public Schools,"you'll see a picture of the 1911 Albion High School football team. Wesley is the second person from the left in the top row.

While here, Wesley developed a fascination with the automobile, trying to figure out ways to improve the new contraptions. In April, 1910 while still a student here, Wesley went to Detroit and presented his invention of an air circulation system for the engine cylinders to Ford Motors. Ford accepted it and immediately applied for a patent. Wesley, in turn, was given a brand new 1910 automobile worth $1,200 for his invention.

Three months later however, an alternative story surfaced when Wesley was charged with stealing two automobiles (Fords, of course). The Albion Recorder reported in it's July 13, 1910 weekly edition: "u8217 Automobile Crazy'takes on a sterner meaning when the craze affects a young lad, as it did Irma Dorris. This boy…became a victim of the automobile craze to the extent that he felt he must have a machine. Not having the necessary money to purchase a car, the lad is alleged to have stolen a fine little runabout from in front of a church in Detroit. He drove the car to Albion and told the parents and friends that the Ford Company had presented him two cars for an idea about a new cooling system."He was bound over for trial on September 27 of that year. Dorris wrote a rebuttal letter August 11, 1910 in the Recorder which stated he never confessed to the theft of two automobiles, and thought that he would be cleared."There must have been either a plea bargain or the charge was dropped because nothing else further appears about that topic in the newspapers.

Wesley apparently moved from Albion to Detroit at the beginning of 1912. The April 16 edition of the Recorder local news mentions that he was traveling back to Albion to get his high school transcript that he could present to the Detroit Central High School where he was attending. It is assumed that he needed them in order to graduate there at the age of 20 that spring.

It was in 1912 that he also wrote and published "Hang Your Hat in Albion."In 1913, Wesley married Laura Forrest (1889-1974), daughter of Julius & Caroline (Lang) Forrest of Mount Pleasant. The couple had two sons, Edwin Dorris (1916-1917) who died of meningitis at the age of 1 year, and Rene Maxium Dorris (1915-1962).

Despite the earlier misunderstanding about any stolen automobile(s), Wesley was hired by Ford Motor Company as an inspector of auto parts during World War I. The family lived at 48 Grand Avenue in Detroit/Highland Park.

Sadly, it was around 1916 that Wesley developed pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease that was to take his life three years later on March 30, 1919 at the young age of 26. He died at home. Wesley was interred in Circle Hill Cemetery in Angola, Indiana in his mother's Gasser family plot; his mother was subsequently interred there in 1937. Rev. James Dorris was interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in Middleville in Barry County upon his death in 1943.

Wesley's wife Laura was left to raise their infant son Rene. In the 1940 U.S. Census, Rene is shown living at the Michigan State Reformatory at the age of 25. He joined the Army however on December 30, 1941, and served as a Corporal in World War II. Following the War, Rene moved to Seattle, Washington with his wife Evelyn. He is interred in Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. It is not known if there were any descendants. Wesley's wife Laura (Forrest) Dorris is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

It is sad that the life of this ambitious young man was cut short, but "Hang Your Hat in Albion"is a lasting tribute to him and a reminder of his contribution to Albion history. Special thanks to Kathryn Keller for her genealogical help this week. From our Historical Notebook this week we present the cover of his 1912 masterpiece, "Hang Your Hat in Albion."


Sheet music cover of "Hang Your Hat in Albion"

Next: MAITLAND NAMEPLATE DATES BACK TO ALBION PIONEER DAYS

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