Joel Isenberg at the Oct. 2 meeting of the Buckhead 50 club.

What’s the 50 in the Buckhead Fifty?

“We don’t know,” admits member Vance Rankin, who you’d think probably should know because he’s been a member of the venerable civic club for decades.

Not knowing means that theories abound among club members as to just where that “fifty” came from.

Jack Kelleher thinks it’s because the club had 50 members when it was organized back in 1932. Sam Osborn suggests it’s because all the members are older than 50.

Meanwhile, the official club history, the one written by an officially appointed history committee and formally adopted by the club in 1979, says “the name ‘Buckhead Fifty Club’ was chosen in order to distinguish it from the other clubs in the Atlanta area.”

Oh. Well, no help there.

But members of the men-only Buckhead Fifty Club don’t seem all that concerned these days about why they’re called what they’re called.

Yes, there are many more than 50 of them now. And, yes, “the average age is north of 60,” club president Michael Moore admits. But this group’s celebrating its 80th year in 2012. Members call it the oldest civic club in Buckhead, a place where civic clubs seem likely to pop up after every decent rain.

The Buckhead Fifty started, Moore said, as a service group. Long before Buckhead became a neighborhood of the city of Atlanta, the Fifty gathered to do things for their community. “It was the prestigious organization of north Atlanta,” Moore said. “Even the governor was a member.”

In those days, the Buckhead Fifty Club was interested in paving streets, providing street lights, collecting garbage and cleaning the streets, according to that official history. And, this being Buckhead, they also worried about parking, the history says.

Now the club’s work is mostly social. They adopt a family at Christmas, Moore said, but members say that, for the most part, they just enjoy getting together at the American Legion Hut at Chastain Park to have supper, listen to a speaker and chat with one another. “They’re a lot of old friends,” Moore said. “The camaraderie is probably the biggest factor with these guys.”

They meet once a month during 11 months of the year, taking a vacation from their gatherings each July. During a recent meeting (which featured a barbecue dinner and a talk by Wright Mitchell, president of the Buckhead Heritage Society), several members said they simply like spending an evening with the others. “It’s a convivial bunch of folks that enjoy life and have a good conversation,” Kelleher said.

“It doesn’t do anything but meet and that appealed to me,” long-time member Joel Isenberg said. “The president wants it to evolve into doing some good. That would be OK – that’s a good thing – but to me, it’s just for the fellowship.”

Only about half of the members now live in Buckhead, Moore said. The rest are scattered across metro Atlanta.

Former Fulton Sheriff Myron Freeman, who lives in south Fulton, said he joined the group in 2006 because of its makeup. “You have people of all walks of life,” he said. “You have CEOs of companies, you’ve got CEOs of banks. It’s just a conglomeration. Whatever you want in the community, you can find it here. It’s a good group.”

A few old Buckhead boys remain. Frank Farris says he grew up in the community. He lived off Wieuca Road then. He joined the Fifty in 1967 and has been a member since, longer than anyone else now in the club. Now 73, he commutes from Canton for the meetings, he said. “I just love Buckhead,” he said.

Besides, meetings give new members such as Osborn, an architect who’s lived in Peachtree Hills since 1976, a chance to get to know some folks with long-time Buckhead ties.

“It really is about the community to some people, in a meaningful way,” Osborn said.

“It’s fun to meet people who have been here since the get-go — since Sherman.”