The Dewhirsts......JUDGE H.T, Son Tom, and the Holy..Part 1.


THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY...... TOM DEWHIRST MOVED MOUNTAINS, Part 1 According to many of the folks that I interviewed over a 30 year period, the House of David's Tom Dewhirst was a legend in his own mind. But with all of the historical "proof in the pudding", I would have to argue that he was absolutely a great legend here in our own time and our own town!! Tom Dewhirst was born in 1908 in California to the son of a high court judge with a lot of money and power. His life as "the judges son" was fairly normal until he turned 10 years old, at which time his father was introduced to several of the traveling preacher's from the House of David. These highly educated biblical scholars of that era were amazingly convincing of their message, thus the super rapid growth of the colony from just a small handful to thousands within 20 years!! It was told to me by Charlie Antonopulos that in the process of moving west to be an Greek Orthodox Priest, his own father had stopped in St. Louis to change trains on his way from the east coast when he met 4 preachers from the House if David. Charlie said that after 6 hours of debating the two faiths, his father changed his train ticket and rode back to Benton Harbor and immediately joined the House of David!!! So needless to say, Judge Dewhirst was quite convinced that this was a smart move, or so he told his family and friends. Off they traveled to Michigan, where life would both begin and end with this newly found faith. Immediately upon arriving at the new House of David colony the two young boys were separated from their parents and forced to live in the Bethlehem Mansion, which was very plain and simple inside, yet gorgeous on the outside. Of course the boys thought it was their own private castle!! Judge Dewhirst and his wife were allowed beautiful rooms inside the Shiloh Mansion in the giant wing they called the "New House" which had been built for Benjamin and his choices of women. But by the time the Dewhirst family arrived in Benton Harbor, Benjamin Purnell had already moved into his elaborate 9000 square-foot Diamond House Mansion just across the street. Life at this new found paradise for Tom was like a dream-come-true! He was able to live right directly across the street from the House of David train depot, and amusement park and just steps from the bakery, and began at an early age to learn to help out anywhere needed. As a young boy he learned how to drive a small steam engine trains, how to help with the midget autos and also work in the restaurant. Tom LOVED to eat, so the restaurant became his number one friend!! He grew to be a giant man, and by the time he was 18 years old he was 6'5" tall and over 300 lbs! He soon joined the House of David baseball team and was an instant success, hitting more home runs than anyone had in the history of the team. Tom often played center field, and was a major attraction on their team, with his gigantic stature and imposing look, not to mention 36" long hair and whiskers galore!!! He traveled with the team until the 1936 season. By that time the House of David Cold Storage building was being constructed and he was chosen as the lead guy to oversee all operations. Because of the fact that the colony owned over 100,000 acres of farmland, their focus on the price of the fruit industry was laser sharp. And now situated at the foot of the world's largest grower to buyer fruit market, Tom was determined to change the face of the fruit industry forever!! The facility that the House of David erected was a city block long and nearly as wide, with four floors of temperature controlled storage areas. Right from the beginning this cold storage facility claimed to be the world's largest in brokering, packing, and shipping of Apples, pears, peaches, grapes, potatoes and citrus fruits. The idea that the House of David Cold Storage used was to situate themselves at the foot of the fruit market in a way that farmers from all over the Midwest could pay the colony to store their fresh fruits inside these temperature controlled storage areas, which would keep the fruit just as fresh a week or a month later (than it was the day they dropped it off). So the House Of David made huge money in storing fresh fruit for tens of thousands of farmers, and then when the market was at its peak for a certain fruit they would pull out what was in storage and get TOP dollar for it!! The price of the fruit was guaranteed to the farmer on the day of storing their product, which made everyone extremely happy, but the profits made by selling at peak price were to be reaped by the colony!! This was a gigantic win-win situation for all involved! Word got out around the country and the cold storage building was soon completely packed within a year of its inception, and stayed that way for decades. Howard Crossman, business administrator for the colony, was also the right-hand man and personal assistant for Tom Dewhirst for over 40 years. Mr. Crossman shared many memories with me regarding the cold storage business which he absolutely loved from his hire date in 1947. He recalled times when Tom Dewhirst would try to show the laborers in the building that a barrel of grape juice wasn't as heavy as they were acting (250 lbs each), and would stand behind TWO barrels and with an arm around each, would stand and pick them both up!!! He shared a photo to me of that, as well as a photo of Tom holding five large apples in one hand!! Think about THAT for a moment!!! It was through the use of this temperature controlled environment that caught the attention of the nation! The House of David Cold Storage building could maintain a temperature of 10 below zero consistently for months at a time!!! The Welch Grape Company hired the colony in the early 1940s to help invent the process of putting grape juice in a can, which the House of David was able to do and patented that invention soon after! During the late 1960s NASA approached Tom Dewhirst to ask if he could help find a way to take a full meal and create an environment so cold that the food would turn to powder, and then create an air-tight way to store that food. The cold storage building did exactly as requested and also created a patent on that idea, and after that the astronauts carried these packets into outer-space for years!! In 1943 Tom Dewhirst proposed the idea of a prisoner of war work camp there at the Cold Storage facility. It was approved by the United States government, and was the very first POW work camp on US soil in the history of the country. I have numerous photos showing the POW workers, mostly Germans, working inside the House of David Cold Storage building. Howard Crossman later shared with me that the Germans were very easy to work around and were super hard workers, and that after the war ended many of those exact men went back to Germany, gathered up their families and moved back to Berrien County!! During the 1970s Tom Dewhirst was elected into office and held the position of Secretary of Agriculture for the State of Michigan. He held that office for many years. And Tom loved spring time here in Michigan, so he volunteered and then was elected President of the Blossomtime Committee. And of course all of the Blossomtime Queens absolutely loved him, with his gigantic self, his huge loud belly laughs, and all of his whiskers!!! In the later years Tom became fascinated with sharing the story of the House of David to crowded rooms full of listeners. I have many of Tom's personal writings relating to those speeches. He was amazingly thorough, and of course threw in a lot of religion!! Tom shared the love of history, perpetuating life, and laughter as often and as loud as he could!! I met many farmers through the years that spoke about Tom and how they loved his weekly visits to their own farms! The wives of the farmers would tell me that Tom absolutely loved a big hamburger or steak, and swore them to secrecy to never tell anyone at the colony!!! Tom became even larger in his later years, and had to stop playing baseball altogether, but then became an umpire for many years after that. I have some hilarious film footage of him umpiring one of the games, when the House of David baseball team played against The Chicago American Giants on the back of donkeys!!! I'll share that story and photos another time! Around 1980 Tom traveled to Australia to meet the colony members there and set up a trust that would move the money hiding there (since 1928) to the Benton Harbor colony. It's because of his actions that here in Benton Harbor the House of David recently received millions of dollars. Also in 1976 Tom met with the state of Michigan and put the Shiloh Mansion on the National Register of Historic Places. He tried hard to get the entire colony to agree to put all of the buildings on the National Register, but they felt it could be too restricting to do so. Tom Dewhirst was one heck of a man, Loved by tens of thousands of people here in Michigan and by many others across the world. He seemed to always try to do the right thing by the people of the House of David. Maybe after sitting back and watching his fathers actions he learned that it was time to answer to the reason he was there! This is only a fraction of the great things that Tom achieved in his lifetime. To me a man that can be remembered by his gigantic laugh, his great smile, and bringing good to so many, is a man that SHOULD be called a "Legend"....... For sure his legacy lives on!