Across this great nation, in towns large and small, there is a tradition so important and worthwhile that without it, communities would lose their soul.
This tradition takes place in cafés, bars, restaurants, business back rooms and any number of other locations. I’m referring to morning and afternoon coffee groups that attract a huge cross section of the people that make a community.
Some twenty-five years ago I was hired to run the South Idaho Press and Minidoka County News. My immediate supervisor, a man who ran a newspaper in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, met me here to introduce me to my new team. His advice was simple – “Get to know the community,” he advised, adding that the best way to do so was to find out where the many coffee groups met and join them.
It’s true that some of the best information a newspaper editor can gain about the happenings around town most often have their genesis in small groups where men and sometimes women meet to share information. The premise of a coffee group is simple – it is fellowship in its purest form. Meeting informally without structure and with nobody really in charge, can be a tradition that can last decades.
Not long after arriving in Idaho, I was visited by Lex Kunau, a man I like to refer to as the godfather of Burley. Lex invited me to join him and his friends for coffee. At the time his group was meeting in the conference room of the Roper Clothing Company. I hadn’t been nervous to go the first time because Lex and his group put me at ease from the first visit. There was always a coffee pot brewing but as a non-coffee drinker I quickly learned that Lex had a fridge filled with juices, water and other beverages for those who didn’t drink coffee.
In those first days I was able to meet Jim Roper, Glen Kunau, Jim Lynch Sr. and many others. Many of the names elude me today but each encounter contained valuable information about a myriad of topics. In the early days the long-time members of this group each brought their copy of the Wall Street Journal so they could discuss important topics, not the least of them being various stocks of interest. It wasn’t uncommon for the members of the group to buy a few shares of a particular stock just to follow its progress over time.
One of the traditions that Lex followed was providing a personalized coffee mug for every attendee. It didn’t matter how often you came to Coffee. If you came once, Lex had a coffee mug made that had your name embossed on it. If something happened to your mug and it broke there would be a replacement by the next time you attended. A bookcase held the mugs and when it became overwhelmed with mugs the less frequent visitors were placed on a second bookcase in the back room.
Recently, while visiting with the current members of the afternoon coffee group I realized yet another tradition that had before that day escaped my attention. One month ago we lost one of the regulars in our group when Dick Huizinga passed away. Knowing that Dick would be attending a new coffee group in the heavens, his mug made it to the top shelf of the bookcase. You see, each time anyone that has ever attended this group and has a personalized mug passes away, his or her coffee mug is promoted to the top shelf.
Standing back and seeing how many people have been promoted to the top shelf in this coffee group made me a little sad. Without exception, these were people who have helped make this community what it is today. These men and women built subdivisions, opened retail stores, ran companies and helped educate those of us who have come along and benefitted from their industry.
The great thing about these groups who meet for fellowship is that there is no topic that is off limits, and everybody’s opinion is valued. That is not to say that there is always agreement. Even when opinions differ, no one is singled out as being wrong just because they don’t share the same ideas.
And when my time comes I’ll be happy to see my mug moved to the top shelf – though I’m in no hurry for that to happen.