Twelve years ago, five Tiffin couples saw their youngest children graduate from Calvert High School, go off to college and become independent adults. Knowing they would miss seeing one another at sports contests and other school events, the parents decided to meet once a week for dinner.
The couples are Tim and Marge Iannantuono, Joella and Mike Kerschner, Rose and Dave Lucius, Jeff and Darlene Shook and Joyce and Curt Tusing.
When they started, they never imagined their get-togethers would continue for 12 years. Just about every Thursday, the group appears at a local restaurant.
"No one can believe we've been together this long and go out every week," Darlene Shook said. "But it's getting harder with the grandkids."
The friends take turns choosing places to eat. Their main consideration is accessibility for Joyce, who must use a wheelchair. The couples used to give birthday cards, but it became difficult to find different cards so often.
Dave said they tried a "traveling birthday card" that was left unsigned to pass on to the next celebrant. Now, they have switched to giving lottery tickets. During each person's birthday month, he or she gets to choose the venue for dinner. Members who share a birthday month each select two weeks.
"We try to eat one week in town and the next week out of town," Marge Ianntuono said.
"We don't have any rules," Joyce Tusing said.
At least not any formal rules. The spouse of the birthday person usually brings a cake, homemade or otherwise. Whatever is not eaten after dinner is given to the waitress. The group has "Empty Nesters" shirts in about five colors to wear when they travel out of town.
Because most of the "club" members are Calvert alumni, they often end up at football, basketball and volleyball games. Afterward, the group usually converges at Meg's Alpine.
"At the end of the fourth quarter, we'd come down here to get seats so Hopewell wouldn't get them. Then Hopewell people, they left early, so we had to start leaving earlier," Dave Lucius said.
After awhile, they just moved tables and all sat together to discuss the games.
Something all have in common is long marriages (34-39 years) to the same partner, and all are grandparents now. The Luciuses have three children and two grandchildren; Iannantuonos have three children and one grandchild; Kerschners have three sons and five grandchildren; and Tusings have two children and two grandchildren. The Shooks have three sons and eight grandchildren.
The couples often attend benefits together, such as St. Mary's Irish Reverse Raffle, the Calvert Auction, Stars Dancing for CASA and Community Hospice's Festival of Trees. They also patronize The Ritz as a group. For Christmas, the couples get together either at one of their homes or at a restaurant, but they make their celebration before or after the actual holiday to allow for family celebrations.
"We don't buy gifts. We take our money and pool it together and Darlene contacts the church to find a family," Joella Kerschner said.
"We gave it to the funeral home a couple years, and Eric (funeral director Shook) sent it over to the soldiers," Jeff Shook said.
The couples have taken turns attending their childrens' weddings, birthdays, showers and grandbabies' baptisms. They've also been together for their parents' funerals. In that respect, the couples serve as a support group for one another.
"If you have a problem, this table's got somebody that can solve it," Tim Iannantuono said. "We have a lot of different people at the table who bring a lot of different things."
The group also has camped and vacationed together such places as Toronto, Windsor, New York, Nashville, Las Vegas and the Lake Erie islands. They are contemplating a cruise in January or February.
Their travels began before cell phones and GPS units were widely available, so the drivers had walkie-talkies to stay together and find their way. Rose Lucius said they always take a group photo wherever they go.
"We're like doing everybody's bucket list," Rose Lucius said.
"I've loved them all," Joyce Tusing said.
The Nashville excursion was especially memorable. JoElla managed to lock herself out of their motel room, and Curt's car battery died. Although the guys were able to buy a battery at
a parts store, company policy said the staff couldn't install anything for customers.
"It was about 100 degrees and we were changing this battery," Tim said. "(The clerk) said 'I can give you the tools. I just can't touch your car.'"
The stories from their trips often surface over dinner. They seldom meet on weekends, but they have been known to move the day so more couples can attend. Their weekly gatherings have been going on so long their co-workers ask where they are going that week, and friends and family members know Thursdays are usually "dinner club" nights.
"Even our kids will try to arrange things around us. ... even the ones that come from out of town," Jeff Shook said.
"I was at my granddaughter's volleyball game tonight at Mohawk. ... I leaned over to say I was leaving and she said, 'I know. Grandma. It's supper club. I'll see you later,'" Darlene Shook said.