By Jared Ritz
Twenty years, four locations, and an undetermined number of Havre retirees are just a few of the things that the original members of this coffee club have seen.
Another thing they've experienced is good conversation.
"We get a lot of world problems solved right here," said coffee club member Mike Shortell, a former Havre police chief.
Of the dozens of men who have attended the morning meetings, only three of the group's original members still come.
Marvin Kleinjan, a retired Hill County roads supervisor, is one of them. This java gathering, he said, first met at Daylight Donuts at its First Street location and then moved to the old Safeway, which was where the Havre post office is now. The club went back to Daylight Donuts after that store relocated to Third Street.
After Daylight Donuts closed 10 years ago, the group ultimately ended up at its current meeting spot, the Lunch Box.
Club members start strolling through the glass door about 10 a.m. every weekday. Some members return to the Lunch Box after the midday rush slows down about 3 p.m. The group spends its Saturdays at McDonald's.
During its 20 years, the group has maintained its size, with about 10 or 12 members coming each day. Shortell said the most he has seen at one meeting is about 20.
Most of the people who no longer show up have a pretty good reason. According to Ed Hammler, former manager of Columbia Paint, those who stopped coming have either moved away or died.
"We all got one foot in the grave," he said.
All but one member of this group is retired, and a few of them are in their 80s. Shortell, at 56, is considered a young pup in this group.
Regular coffee is the drink of choice for most of the club members, but a few choose to be different. Kleinjan is one of them. He drinks decaf, and now holds what appears to be a deep vendetta against coffee of the caffeinated kind.
"That stuff will kill ya," he said.
Kleinjan was a part of coffee clubs while he was in the work force, but became more devoted after he retired nine years ago.
"It's been nine years since Marvin retired," Hammler joked. "It's been 30 since he was on the job."
Those first days of the coffee club were more than 20 years ago, Kleinjan said. This provides an opportunity for the younger members of the crew to get in a jab at the elders among them.
"A lot of us were way too young to be uptown by ourselves when this outfit started," Shortell said.
Shortell, one of the younger and newer members of this coffee club, thinks he comes because of the straightforward attitude.
"This group will keep you grounded," he said.
He speculated that he should have joined about 10 years earlier, and everybody in attendance agreed.
"You would have been a lot better police chief if you had," Hammler joked.
The conversation covers just about every topic but one, said original member Jim Stewart, a retired farmer and carpenter.
"Anything but sports," he said.
Tuesday's topic was mainly cars, which Shortell and especially Kleinjan specialize in. They both find and restore old cars. Kleinjan's collection is now up to 11 old refurbished automobiles, including a few models T's and model A's.
Hammler is a car enthusiast as well, but his interest appears to be of a different sort.
"I have old cars," he said. "I just drive 'em."
The group has seen businesses come and go around them, as well as other coffee clubs. Unlike some clubs of this kind, its members have no readily identifiable reason for coming together. Not one of the members in attendance could say why or how they started to come, but all agreed that they will continue.
"As long as the door's open and I can make it down here, I'm coming," Shortell said.