A Donut Dolly, Rochester Hills resident Joan Puffer Kotcher, stands on patrol in a breakfast line during the Vietnam War.

A Donut Dolly, Rochester Hills resident Joan Puffer Kotcher, stands on patrol in a breakfast line during the Vietnam War.

Photo provided by the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society

Decades of history to be celebrated with Historical Society events

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 17, 2019


WEST BLOOMFIELD — The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society is celebrating its 45-year history in style this year with a number of activities that will engage local history buffs.

The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society’s winter events include the society’s annual meeting and a Donut Dolly Vietnam War presentation 10 a.m.-noon Jan. 26 at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory, 3535 Commerce Road in Orchard Lake.

The annual meeting will feature a presentation by Rochester Hills resident Joan Puffer Kotcher, described as one of the first women allowed in a Vietnam War combat zone.

Kotcher assisted at staff recreation centers as an American Red Cross Donut Dolly.

The event costs $15, and it includes brunch. To register, email rsvp@gwbhs.org or call (248) 518-0871; there is no annual meeting charge.

Kotcher’s description of her responsibilities and her early life is lighthearted.

“It’s not amazing to me,” she said of her yearlong stint in Vietnam, where she delivered fresh doughnuts and conversation to soldiers. “I was there and just did what I came in (to do).”

Kotcher’s book, “Donut Dolly: An American Red Cross Girl’s War in Vietnam,” talks about interesting experiences she faced in the war. She was about 26 years old when she went to Vietnam, staying from May 1966 to May 1967. She said she will share her experiences with attendees of the Historical Society’s presentation, relating “what I saw, what it was like to be there.”

She said perspective matters.

“There are a lot of excellent books about war written by men. This is a rare book written by a woman — it has a different perspective.”

Kotcher said Vietnam is about the size of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and there were about 600 Donut Dollies there “at any one time” during the war. She said their presence was like a “letter from home.”

“Most of the time, we’d walk around and say hello to the people,” she said. It was a wonderful thing for the soldiers to see an “American girl.”

“If a soldier saw one of us once in his whole tour, that would be about all — we weren’t that close to the soldiers; I never saw the same soldiers twice.”

Other Historical Society events on tap include an indoor games open house 1-4 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Orchard Lake Museum, 3951 Orchard Lake Road.

Old-fashioned fun — like shoot the moon, jacks, Tiddlywinks and Native American skills games — will be featured. Temporary and permanent exhibits will showcase local history and culture, along with hands-on activities. The event is free.

Another event, “A Time of Terror: The Black Legion and Deadly Racism in Detroit, 1920-30s,” will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 at the West Bloomfield Township Public Library, 4600 Walnut Lake Road in West Bloomfield.

According to a Historical Society press release, during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was brought back into power and became a big institution in Michigan, including Detroit.

During the 1930s, the KKK’s violent associate entity, the Black Legion, was created, which brought about a murderous rampage throughout the state. Historian Jamon Jordan will discuss the history of the two white supremacist organizations during their peak of influence in Detroit. The free event is sponsored by the West Bloomfield Township Public Library.

Gina Gregory, president of the Historical Society, said the events all bring value.

“We have a lot of interesting activities for the first part of our year — very informative,” she said. “I don’t think many people know about how young women helped during the Vietnam War by offering conversation and doughnuts and support to servicemen in Vietnam during that war,” she said, adding that she is also looking forward to learning about the history of race relations in metro Detroit.

“(It) will be most informative and interesting to learn about that history,” Gregory said. Collaborating with different members of the community to bring about these events is crucial, she said.

“It’s been terrific. It promotes our events on a wider venue, and I certainly enjoy collaborating with others and the synergy that brings.”

For more information, go to www.gwbhs.org.