By Tim Eberly
Tom Hanning leads his coffee club in digs.
One of his favorite targets is Alan Alex, the only Republican in the all-male group that meets for coffee six days a week at the Oxford Billiard Parlor on Havre's First Street.
He also has a barb ready for anyone who is not a New York Yankees fan.
But Hanning's boisterous nature doesn't make him immune from the nine other members of the group.
"One of the first rules of the coffee club is you never, never believe anything Tom Hanning says," retorted Alex, who owned the Oxford from 1980-1983.
This particular coffee club one of many in existence in Havre was formed 10 years ago, and is composed mainly of "sports nuts," Hanning said.
They started meeting after early-morning golf matches in Havre, Chinook or Fort Benton. Since then, it has become a tradition.
"You get out of the house," said Morris Toldness, 77, the only nonsports fan in the group. "You give your wife a break, so she doesn't divorce you."
Except for Sunday, the club gathers every morning at 10 a.m., the same time owner Russ DeVries opens his doors.
"Sometimes they're here before that," said DeVries, who provides the coffee and donuts free of charge. "When you're retired, you don't have a lot else to do."
All but two of the members of the group were born and raised in Havre. Bob Prim, one of the imports, has lived here for 31 years. Now retired, Prim was transferred to Havre by his employer, Great Northern Railway.
"Havre is a great town," said Prim, a die-hard L.A. Dodgers fan. "I've never regretted coming here."
Three of the Havreites Toldness, Jim Sather and John Callahan were in the same graduating class at Havre High School, in 1944. "I've known him since the first grade," Sather said of Toldness.
Callahan, 75, has hung out at the Oxford since the 1940s, when he was a freshman in high school. The former owner let Callahan, who retired from Havre Electric Co. in 1989, come in and play pool, "so I've been coming here ever since," he said.
The elder statesman of the club, 92-year-old Joe Cech, only attends once or twice a week. His granddaughter, Corinne, is married to owner DeVries.
Conversation never strays too far from the realm of sports. On this particular Tuesday, they discussed the recent resignation of the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Brian Harrell, as well as Hanning's favorite topic the Yankees and the firing of University of Montana men's basketball coach Don Holtz.
"If people would just listen to us, we'd have all the problems solved," Hanning joked.
The coffee drinkers go through about two large urns each day.
"My doctor told me I could have two and a half (cups of coffee) but I usually get away with three and a half," Prim said.
Toldness, who also belongs to a 6 a.m. coffee group that gathers at P.J.'s Restaurant & Casino, said, "I only have about one cup (at the Oxford), but I have about six over (at P.J.'s)."
By 11:30 a.m., most of the members have left the establishment, in favor of lunch and an afternoon nap.
But they'll be back tomorrow. After all, they're part of the landscape.
"They're kind of like an old worn-out chair in the corner," DeVries joked.
This is the first in an occasional series about coffee clubs on the Hi-Line.