By Tim Eberly
This is one dedicated coffee club.
Each weekday around mid-morning, they meet at the Quench & Bench, located in the lower level of the Atrium Mall, for about an hour. Five hours later, at 3 p.m., they repeat the caffeine routine.
"We need two breaks out of the day. Everybody needs two breaks," said Lyle Watson, one of about 12 members of the group. "We just make them a little bit longer."
Though most of the coffee clubs in Havre consist of either men or women, this group is coed. Five married couples make up the majority of those in attendance.
"We girls don't allow that here," Jean Watson, 71, said of traditional all-male coffee clubs.
Along with Jean and her husband, Lyle Watson, the other wedded coffee club members include: Bob and Ruth Vukasin, Glen and Betty Green; Leonard and Virginia Motari, and Bert and Pat Tilleman.
Though not on this day, a father-son combination, Tom and Steve Manaras, also convene for coffee.
The club consists of two of the oldest coffee clubs in Havre some members date back almost 40 years that merged 20 years ago at the Country Kitchen restaurant.
Part of the group originally met at the old Elk's Club before it burned down in the early 1970s. The other half began meeting at the Shanty in the mid-1960s. The merger occurred when both groups became acquainted at the Country Kitchen, and moved to their current location when the County Kitchen was sold about a decade ago.
Around the same time, in 1982, Schafer's son, Kelly, purchased the Quench & Bench, which he owned for 10 years. Since that time, they have become permanent fixtures at a corner table there.
Most of the attendees are business owners, a topic the easy-flowing conversation often rests upon. Lyle Watson has owned Law Realty since 1954, while Schafer is the proprietor of Schafer Insurance. The Vukasins own and operate two businesses: Future Electric in Havre and the K Lanes & Spare Time Lounge in Rudyard.
Leonard Motari owns Pioneer Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Havre. Tom Manaras is a former hotel owner, while one of the absent group members, Jack Norman, established Norman's Ranch & Sportswear, a business still in his family.
Yet 75-year-old Glen Green, who worked at two jewelry stores in Salt Lake City before moving back to Havre in 1998, is the only group member who is fully retired.
"He's the only one who made any money," joked Ruth Vukasin, 57, who moved to the Hi-Line from Great Falls in 1973. "He's the only one who can retire."
For each meeting, they go through at least one large urn of coffee, and "usually we get into the second one," said Lyle Watson, who was born and raised in Gildford.
Two relatively new members sit in on this day's gathering. Bob Vukasin's mother, Hannah, who moved from Great Falls about six weeks ago, sat next to her son. Six-year-old Shelby Watson, Lyle and Jean's granddaughter, was the youngest at the coffee club, "but she just drinks cocoa," Glen Green said.
"She's been coming nearly every morning, because she goes to kindergarten later," Jean Watson said.
Paying the bill has become the club's main source of entertainment. To settle the check, the group plays the "Number Game," and the losers each contribute $1.75 (tip included) to the bill.
One person picks a number between 1 and 1,000 during their afternoon session, they pick a number between 1 and 100 and the participants chose numbers until they whittle down their guessing options. If someone lands on the number, they lose. If not, the person who picked the number gets "stuck," and also pays part of the bill.
To garner enough money for the bill, the club plays one game for every two people.