BAINBRIDGE — They call themselves the ROMEO group. It’s a fitting name for Retired Old Men Eating Out who gather for early morning spirited conversations around a table near the coffee machines at a local grocery store.
The group from Auburn, Bainbridge, Newbury, Chagrin Falls and even West Farmington has been meeting for the past 14 years at the Giant Eagle in Tanglewood Square Shopping Center.
Last week, they talked about the cow that was rescued from the mud in an Auburn pasture and herons that have returned to nest near Bentleyville. The ROMEOs also closely examined a bird feeder repaired by Jack Grote who is a wood artist.
The original members had met at the beverage store in Auburn. That was “until the new owners did away with our table” replacing it with a drive-thru, Auburn resident Carl Schneider said. “Rather than risk a chance of being taken away in someone’s car we found a new place to find our coffee,” he said with a chuckle.
“We started coming here and the store remodeled and they gave us a front row seat, and we’ve been here ever since. All of us are retired.” They range in age from their early 70s to upper 80s.
They are early risers, meeting at about 7 a.m. Conversations cover a range of topics. “Most of the politics we discuss are localized, including the individual townships, school boards, road, fire and police departments and the county commissioners,” Mr. Schneider said. “Very seldom do we talk about national politics.”
“I come to listen to the old guys,” Bob Noska of Auburn said with a laugh. “I’m one of the younger guys.” He is referred to as “Buggy Bob,” because he rents out buggy type equipment to concrete installers for moving the concrete.
Retired Kenston School bus driver Bob Hamilton, who retired three years ago, said he joins the group to find out what’s going on.
John Van Antwerp said he is a neighbor of Mr. Hamilton and joined the group.
In 2003, Mr. Schneider retired and he noted that a friend John Nelson, who recently passed away, told him about the coffee group every morning in Auburn. “I went there and was overwhelmed by the variety of things they talked about. It’s the best thing that has ever happened,” he said.
Dale Ryan grew up in Bainbridge, but now lives in Auburn. He retired two years ago and now is a ROMEO regular. “It’s a good group of friends. And I’ve learned a lot of history about Bainbridge and Auburn.”
Dave Pfouts of Bainbridge said he has been attending the coffee meetings since 2004. “I retired and the next day I was here. What would I do if I didn’t come?”
Mr. Grote of Bainbridge said he was introduced to the group 13 years ago by the late John Reithoffer of Auburn. He lives in the Tanglewood Lake and at one time he would walk over to the store. “I like being a member of the Liars Club,” he joked. “This is what I call networking. If I want to know something, they’ll set me straight or lie to me.”
The only woman currently in the group is Heidi Sanford, and she landed there all by happenstance. “I’m lucky. I moved here from Tokyo,” the Nashville, Tennessee native said. She walked by the group and was intrigued.
“I’d see the group of guys and Dave Pfouts invited me to sit down,” Mrs. Sanford said. “They are my most beautiful friends,” she said, telling them last week, “You all warmed my heart.
“Each one has so many gifts. They have all welcomed me,” she said. The best Christmas gift she received was this past December when they sent a picture of the group signed by ROMEO members.
“They are gracious, kind and welcoming and they even help us foreigners,” Mrs. Sanford jokingly said. “They are my favorite coffee men. I travel a lot and I come whenever I can.”
Bill Nokes started attending the morning coffee sessions, starting in Auburn. Two or three years ago he retired and is now a regular. He gets all his knowledge from the group, he said laughing.
Mr. Ryan noted, “You learn a lot about the news,” he said. And he added, if someone has a problem with something that doesn’t work with a piece of equipment or other item, someone else may have had the same problem and can help.
Mr. Grote is not originally from the area and if something breaks at his house, he fixes it but needs advice about parts and where to find them, Mr. Schneider said. “Dave Pfouts knows so much.
“Dale Ryan is a retired engineer and we ask him questions and that spurs more questions from others, and it is informative for all of us,” Mr. Schneider said.
If there is anything wrong, “Come here,” group member Joe Davis said. He said he used to go to a local fast-food restaurant and then he started attending the ROMEO group. He was principal of the Auburn School in the 1950s and principal of Brady Middle School in the Orange School District for 20 years and was more recently involved with Kenston Local School District. “These guys are pretty neat,” he said of the group.
Tony Fuller, the store produce man, nicknamed Bama for his home state of Alabama, occasionally slips over to have brief conversations with the ROMEO group.
“Bama knows every person who comes in the door and he is protective of this group,” Mrs. Sanford said.
Want to be a ROMEO? Just grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair, Mr. Schneider said. “And experience one of life’s greatest pleasures.”