TALK OF THE TOWN Men's club seeks to revive membership

Retirees get together once a week for lunch and good conversation.
BOARDMAN -- A hum filled the banquet room at Lockwood House, fed by conversations on everything from great-grandchildren to World War II to digital cameras.
"Hear that?" asked Leno Laner. "That's chatter. That's how the club got its name."
If one were to accuse this group of retired teachers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, military personnel and factory workers of being all talk, they wouldn't mind. Once a week since 1972, the only thing the Great Chatterbox Retired Men's Club does is talk.
The topics can be wide-ranging -- there's nothing these guys can't or won't talk about -- but it's not surprising that the group's particular expertise is the history of the Mahoning Valley.
"Anything you want to know about Youngstown, just mention it and someone here is guaranteed to know it," said Earl Harris, a former Youngstown State University geology professor.
Laner is the club president.
The requirements to join are simple: be a retiree and like to talk. There are no dues and only a $6 charge for lunch, which at last Tuesday's meeting consisted of meatloaf, chicken cordon bleu, cheesy red potatoes, salad, soup and Jello.
To avoid being viewed as something akin to the He-Man Woman Hater's Club, there are four Ladies Day luncheons each year when members can bring their wives or a female friend. The next Ladies Day is Feb. 15.
Lots of experience
The club claims 100 members, with 65 considered active, while more than half are 80 years or older, according to treasurer Roger Galliazzo. The oldest, Ed Thompson of Canfield, just turned 94 and has been attending for 10 years. The youngest, Walter Karr, 62, of Austintown, joined three years ago and is considered the baby of the group.
"It's great to be able to get out and socialize," said Thompson, who retired from his own business, Thompson-Canfield Inc., after 50 years. "And it's really kind of funny that when you come and meet these guys, they're all very friendly. You have no idea what anyone is worth. There are several here that are millionaires, but you wouldn't know it."
Karr, who retired from Commercial Intertech, joined the club at the suggestion of his older brother, Howard, 81, who is the club's program manager.
"I really enjoy the fellowship," the younger Karr said. "It gets me out of the house and I really enjoy the speakers we have. There is such a vast amount of knowledge here. It's been a very rewarding experience."
An excerpt from The Chatterbox Club poem, written in 1991 by recently deceased member Ed Fleming, characterize what the club is all about:
When you're tired of bumps and knocks,
Come out and join the Great Chatterbox.
Just a bunch of great old guys,
Jovial and friendly, but not too wise.
"There's over 4,500 years of experience in this room," said 86-year-old Bob Eisen, whom many of his peers call the most interesting man in the group. "It's amazing what kind of things you can learn here."
Thinning ranks
The main quality that makes this club unique, however -- all that experience that comes with being retired -- is beginning to take its toll. Membership is dwindling because of illness, inability to travel and death, and the current members are working to recruit new members to keep their club viable.
"The numbers that are able to attend our meetings anymore is declining," said Galliazzo, 67. "We only have 34 here today and there used to be at least 60 all the time. We have such a diversified group here and they're all very interesting. That's what got me hooked. If you want to listen to them you can learn so much."
Dorse Seiple, 93, came up with one idea the club has to get its name out to more retirees -- a simple business card with the club's information on it. Members have passed them out to friends and have posted them on bulletin boards, and according to Galliazzo, there has been some success.
Word of mouth also has helped.
"My wife's uncle belonged, and then at the Canfield Fair I ran into the Friendly Trapper [Harold Bailey] who belonged to the club, then I started coming," said Richard Noble, 63, also considered a youngster in the group. "You can't help but to be fascinated by these guys. Anyone sitting around at home twiddling their thumbs is really missing something."
Not only does the group learn from one another, but they also learn from guest speakers who are scheduled for most meetings. Topics range from health care to car care. However, not everyone always likes what the speakers have to say.
"We've had everything from stockbrokers, which aren't very interesting to me, to funeral directors, which I really don't like much either," quipped Elmer Koran, 86, who has been a member for almost 20 years. "But it does break up the monotony and we have a good time talking about the good old days."
For more information about the club or how to join, call Galliazzo at (330) 729-1292.

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