By Gerhard Schneibel
Wilson McClure has been a familiar face as a greeter at Kroger in the Fountain Oaks Shopping Center for 10 years.
So that he and his buddies would have a place to meet, the 85-year-old started a Wednesday-morning breakfast group at the store about a year ago. The Liars, Lovers and Lovelies Society consists mostly of men who tout their alma maters and jibe each other, but women also regularly drop by for coffee and doughnuts.
McClure graduated from the University of Georgia. Richard Mitchell graduated from the engineering school at Auburn University.
“See, Auburn graduates a lot of engineers, and they go on to be astronauts and scientists,” Mitchell said during a recent gathering of the group. “Georgia graduates a lot of engineers, and they go on to be meter readers and pole climbers.”
“See what I have to put up with?” McClure said.
Asked why he attends, Ron Miller said, “It’s a habit you can’t break.”
“It’s part of his probation,” someone called out.
The group started informally and has flourished.
“It used to be over at the door. Wilson would have a little coffee over there, and you’d stop and get yourself a cup of coffee, and then we started congregating,” Miller said.
McClure spent his career years in business, working for Southern Bell and later Harry Norman, Realtors. At one point he planned to be a doctor and did pre-medical studies at Emory University, but his time as a World War II medic in the South Pacific changed his mind.
“I knew it wasn’t for me. I had seen enough dead people,” he said. “My mother told me, ‘Son, do what you want.’ So I went to Georgia.”
Another regular is Al Kolb, a University of Indiana graduate who composed and sings the group’s fight song.
“There’s always something to laugh about, and sometimes we even talk about a serious things like politics. Sometimes we even get good advice,” he said.
“Starbucks has nothing on us,” Miller said, adding that Kolb has no inhibitions about “standing there and reading poetry.”
The group is unusual because “in this age category, there aren’t too many other places you can go,” he said. “We can go back and reminisce. … Harold (Baily) and Wilson were just teenagers when they went into World War II. Nobody now understands that.”
Jean Taylor, who sometimes stops by later in the morning, said the group is about “friends, food, coffee.” Despite being boisterous, McClure and his friends are polite to her. “He always pours my coffee,” she said.
McClure’s wife, Helen, said the group gives the seniors a sense of community, and they support one another through whatever struggles they face.
“What is there now to support you when you’ve lost your loved ones and get old and retired?” she said. “It’s just solace; it’s good for people to have somebody to talk to.”
Jack Boyd, the manager of the Fountain Oaks Kroger, said the company is happy to provide coffee and have McClure’s group in the store every Wednesday. “I think it’s a way for them to get out and enjoy each other’s company, and it’s just a little something we can do for them and for the community.”