This article originally appeared in the April 11, 2004 edition of the Daily Inter Lake. View published clip (PDF).
It’s 9 a.m. at the Spinnaker in Lakeside. A group of older men sit around two tables. They talk, they laugh, they drink coffee, they roll dice to see who pays the bill.
It’s been like this for almost 30 years.
“Some of these people fall asleep,” says Jay Thiessen, 75. “Don’t worry about it.”
Welcome to the Lakeside Men’s Coffee Club.
“Yeah, it’s a men’s club,” says Vick Verkuehlen, 90. “We’ll probably catch hell for it.”
“We started out about 1975,” says Joe DeLong, 75, the last surviving founding member. “It was only four people. We wanted to get together in the morning to have coffee and shake dice for paying for it. We had a gambling streak, I guess.”
They first met at the old Lakeside Mercantile, then moved on to the Blacktail Inn. When that closed six or so years ago, they landed at the Spinnaker and have been there ever since.
Rudy Heinle, who owns the Spinnaker, says they come every day but Sundays and Christmas. “I can’t remember a time when somebody didn’t show up.
People with a cause, be it political or charitable, know to first run it by the club. “They stop here first, because they know we’re a bunch of blabbermouths who will tell everyone else,” says Will Baird, 78.
Blabbermouths is right.
“We sometimes have an interesting conversation. Not today, of course.”
“You and I started the car wash right here. That’s how loose talk will get you in trouble.”
“Vick always has a good joke.”
“It’s all jealousy, guys, it’s all jealousy.”
Verkuehlen started coming in 1986. “Sometimes I come every day, sometimes once or twice a week,” he says. “Some are here every day. It’s quite an old group. There was one older than me but he died a couple years ago.”
Most every profession is or has been represented in the club: lawyers, bankers, Realtors, doctors, veterinarians, farmers, servicemen, car and boat restorers, brokers, civil servants, consultants.
“What do we call you, Vick?” says Thiessen, who once did atomic bomb research.
“I dunno, I’ve done everything but make money.”
“A lot of guys don’t talk about their history,” says Art Thompson. “And with good reason!”
Janice Bonnet — one of their “long-suffering waitresses,” according to an unofficial club history — served the guys for about 15 of the 20 years she waited tables at the Blacktail Inn. She most remembers their senses of service and humor.
“They were always concerned about people in the community,” she says. “They treated me really nice. I was a widow at 46 and they were like father figures to me because I was by myself. They were a bunch of kidders.”
“Well, we’re full of tricks,” acknowledges DeLong. “When you get older on in life, you’ve got to get a little levity.”
The tradition of donating to charity started with the Spinnaker meetings. Heinle doesn’t charge for coffee, so the guys would start each meeting by each plunking down a quarter to go into the pot. They then would roll the dice to see who would “pay” for the coffee, which simply meant adding 50 cents per cup into the pot.
At the end of every month, half of the pot — $60 to $70 per month, typically — goes to charity and the other half goes to Heinle to pay for the coffee. “I’ll sometimes throw my half in (to charity) also,” he says.
The day’s server always gets a $1.50 tip.
Some time ago, Bob Broyles, who has since moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, got stuck six days in a row paying for coffee. “We started calling him ‘Thank You, Bob,'” says George Thompson, 73, who has belonged to the club for 22 years.
Broyles may no longer meet with the gang, but his memory lives on every time they roll the dice: three 3s are a Broyle, four a Double Broyle, and five a Royal Broyle. “Of course, a single 3 is just a Bob,” says Thompson.
The Spinnaker has a handful of gaming machines, but Heinle says their dice game is still a mystery. “It has something to do with poker,” he says. “We never really figured it out, and we never asked.”
Rolling dice got them in a bit of trouble once at the Blacktail Inn. Management once took the dice away for three days. Seems someone — no one can remember who — got on somebody’s case for “illegal gambling.” And it seems someone, again lost to memory, soon realized that rolling dice to see who pays for coffee was nothing to worry about.
Ten is a typical turnout during the winter, but in summer the number can swell to 25 as snowbirds flock home and bring family and friends. Sometimes, Heinle says, the parking lot gets so crowded during summer mornings that people stop by, thinking the Spinnaker a popular breakfast spot, though the bar only serves lunch and dinner.
DeLong has lived in California, and now Arizona, for the past 17 winters. Does he miss the club when he’s gone?
No need to, he says.
“I started another one (in California),” DeLong says. “And I’m sure we’ll get something started here (in Arizona). I’m a creature of habit, I guess.”
If somebody had ever said back then that this group would still meet beyond the new millennium, DeLong says he’d have called them crazy. But he knew they had something going as the club just kept growing.
“Let me put it this way: Maybe it’s just male bonding, I don’t know.”