The Washtenaw Polar Bears
Back in Washtenaw County the Polar Bears' lives resumed. City directories from the 1920s and onward show that Ethol Fred Nordman drove trucks, got married, and later managed delivery routes for a dairy. LaVerne Drake returned to Ypsilanti, married, and worked as a "stock keeper." But the bonds formed in the frozen war zone endured in some veterans' lives. The Polar Bear Association was formed, and Manchester's Charles Lewis served as treasurer of the Detroit branch from 1926 to 1930. If there was a Washtenaw County branch, its records are hidden, but there were informal contacts. Adolph Schneeberger, about whom Robert Granville joked, "sneeze when you say that," followed his family into the grocery business and later owned the Old West Side market that is now Jefferson Market & Cakery. His daughter-in-law, Jeanette Schneeberger, reminisced in a recent phone interview that people would speak of "Mutt and Jeff" when they saw the diminutive teacher alongside the six-foot-three grocer.
The Polar Bear Association held reunions, but it owed its existence to more than camaraderie. The members built one monument in Sparta and another in Troy. One of the group's stated aims was to bring home the bodies of comrades buried in Russia. Perhaps their largest accomplishment was a trip to Russia in 1929. Through feats of political and diplomatic negotiation the members, with funding from the federal government and the state, sent a delegation to the area of the 1918-19 battles. After tense confrontations with Soviet officials, they returned with the remains of eighty-four of their comrades. Many of them, including Joseph Cwenk, rest near the statue of a huge polar bear at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy.