Romeos find refuge in each weekly gathering.
BY FRANK ZUFALL
“Romeos, Romeos, where art thou, you Romeos?”
A chorus of manly voices bellows, “Spooner Market and Grill, having our 11:30 a.m. Friday lunch, social hour, bull session, time for us distinguished gentlemen to bask in the glow of our exploits and share the inside scoop about our wives. You know, got to stay a step ahead of them.”
Romeo – Retired Old Men Eating Out – The name pretty much says it all, a group of retired men who enjoy each other’s company, gather once a week for food, male bonding, fellowship, and lots of laughs.
The core crew of Romeos include Harry Hoechdrl, Rod Kesti, Bob Erickson, Ernie ZumBrenen, Chip Wood, Jack Tessmer, Allan Barta, Buzz Flolid, Dale Johnson, Daryl Erdman, John Frischman, Tom Scott.
Question them about the origin of the group and the men point to the women in their lives, their wives. They say their wives have been faithfully gathering with their women friends at Red Hat Society meetings or a group called the “Lunch Bunch,” women who meet every Thursday at Spooner Market and Grill or Railway Espresso in Spooner.
The men witnessed their wives consistently meeting with one another and sharing a lot of good, “inside” information.
One of the wives said that after her meetings, her husband, now a Romeo, would often grill her about what the wives talked about because he learned what was going on.
The husbands figured out that their wives had a good idea – get together with friends, share information, and have a good time.
When the husbands first came together, they had to have a name that reflected their interests. The first name they applied to themselves was “Tool Time” because after meeting for lunch, they’d always visit a hardware store together.
They’d travel around the county picking places to eat and then heading for a hardware store where they’d all gather after shopping at the checkout line to see what the others purchased.
They even drove to the Twin Cities to dine at a restaurant where Romeo Dale Johnson is a consultant. However, Johnson had to assure the rest of the Romeos a hardware store was nearby.
But, not everyone liked the name Tool Time.
“I’ve been opposed to Tool Time because it has the connotation of old age,” said Allan Barta. “On the other hand, Romeo has a youthful flair about it.”
The retired gentlemen liked getting together every week but always had problems with coordinating where they would meet the following week or remembering where they agreed to meet. They were always forgetting, and a lot of last-minute calls and “Where are we going to meet?” led to the decision to keep it simple and meet at the same restaurant every week – Spooner Market and Grill.
The Romeos are a semi-serious group, half the time dignified, the other half telling jokes about themselves, other members, and especially their wives.
It’s hard to find out too much in-depth about the group itself because they are not really sure what they are all about besides meeting together to talk, eat and then visit a hardware store if they have time.
However, they are quick to tell their one rule: What they talk about at their gatherings they don’t talk about with others.
After they explain their one precious rule, they like to add a little caution, “I can’t tell you what we talked about, and if I did, I’d have to kill you,” after which they break out in laugher.
The number of men who gather for the Romeo meetings varies each week from six to as many as 12.
The men come from a variety of professional backgrounds.
One was involved in book publishing, another was a public school teacher and musician, another was an administrator, one was a partner in an accounting company, another was a management consultant and heavily involved in education, and another was a jet pilot and electrical engineer, for starters.
They lost one of their members this summer when Jim Olesen died. The Romeos said Olesen was known as a real joke teller. It seems many of the remaining Romeos have stepped up to take his place.
The conversation can be serious, and they do talk about local politics, but most of the time they try to be jovial and have a good time.
The men say they talk a lot but nothing ever gets resolved, and they say that makes one almost think they like it that way, leaving them something to talk about the next time they meet.
“We like to compare what our wives said amongst themselves the day before we meet,” said one who wants to remain safe.
“The women can’t confirm what we talked about because we are all sworn to secrecy,” said Erickson.
“It is really about having good friends,” said Erickson, “When everything is said and done, how many friends you’ve got is really want counts.”
Wood said that many of them spent so many years striving to provide for their families and get ahead that they now are at a time in their life to relax and appreciate each other and make true friendship
“The real friends are now at this stage of life,” said Wood.
Tessmer said, “There are no complications here. It’s just plain friendship.”
He said he enjoys meeting with the men because it is easy to fall into a routine that does not involve others which can lead to isolation.
Kesti said he finds the gatherings very useful for two reasons – he can always pick up useful items and he can get tools the others do not need any more.
The men say that after all their many meetings, they can’t even remember having an argument.
And the friendships the men build extends beyond the meetings.
Hoechdrl recently had a heart attack after a meeting. He said many Romeos supported him after the medical emergency, and one member, Dale Johnson, went to see him in the hospital in Minneapolis.
One of the wives who does not want to be identified is secretly pleased the men get together every week.
“It’s so wonderful to see male bonding,” she said. “When men move to an area, they don’t tend to make a new set of friends like women do. All these men didn’t know each before they retired. It’s just neat that they’ve made the friendships.”
Another secret she sort of whispers is that a common trait of the Romeos is that they are active in the community, often volunteering to be on committees or put “sweat equity” into projects such as helping at the Washburn County Humane Society. She said the men are thoughtful, kind, sensitive, compassionate, and reliable, the type of men upon which communities depend.
The wife believes the reason the men are drawn together is that they all have wives who are multi-taskers, who are going in seven places at the same time, whereas the men tend to be of a single focus, and in their meetings they find comfort in talking with other men about their confusing, sometimes hard-to-understand wives.
Asked to comment if the name “Romeo” gave the men an air of intrigue. She responds with her eyes looking up toward the ceiling and a smile she tries to contain.