CHATHAM – The nature of retirement has changed in the past few decades. With fewer companies offering pensions, older folks who might have quit the workforce altogether once they reached 65 are now either working longer or transitioning to some sort of quasi-retirement that includes a part-time job or consulting work.
Those factors have led the Chatham Retired Men's Club, now in its 62nd year, to drop the word “Retired” from its name. Leaders of the social organization founded in 1957 say they hope the change to The Chatham Men's Club will communicate that the group isn't just for retirees.
Tom Clarke, chairman of the group's executive committee and its former moderator, said while there's no specific age requirement for joining, the target group is men 50 year old or older, typically anyone eligible to join the AARP. Members must be Chatham residents or taxpayers, and more importantly, must have the time to attend weekly Friday afternoon meetings, the group's chief activity.
The name change reflects reality, said Kurt Shallow, chairman of the marketing and communications committee.
“We just felt the definition we had was kind of limiting,” he said. “When you walk into that room, a fair number of people are at retirement age but still working.”
“The idea of retirees being old and crotchety just doesn't hold true,” added Clarke.
Indeed, many people perceive the group as a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking coffee and eating donuts, he added. While coffee and donut time at the beginning of every meeting is indeed something most members look forward to, it's the camaraderie and friendships that span generations and social strata that make the club special.
“You could be sitting next to the retired HR director of a Fortune 400 company or a local fisherman,” he said. “There's no hierarchy in the room, which is what I love.”
The club currently has about 130 members, ranging in age from their early 50s to their late 90s. “And they're all interesting people,” said current moderator George Lane added. Sixty to 70 regularly attend the weekly meetings at the community center, which are held from September into the spring. The group is known for the quality of its speakers, who address topics ranging from local issues—an overview of town meeting and the annual budget are presented every year by Town Manager Jill Goldsmith—to overviews of business, science, technology and even national politics. This year's season kicked off last Friday with State Representative Sarah Peake, and one of last year's speakers was John Dowd, President Trump's former lawyer. The social and professional connections of members have helped keep the caliber of speakers quite high.
“It's a really good couple of hours,” said Shallow. Members also volunteer for a number of organizations and contribute to the Chatham Food Pantry.
Many people today go through not only a number of jobs but a number of careers before they reach retirement age and don't want to slow down, said Lane. There's no shortage of things to keep folks occupied these days, and those who want to work less and devote more time to other activities will find that they can make connections through the club. It's especially helpful to new residents as a way to get to know the community and connect with other men.
“You form friendships there that you would not otherwise have formed,” said Shallow. When he first moved to town he found that while his wife found friends and activities easily, it was harder for him. “It's harder for men to make those connections,” he said, and the club proved to be a means toward that end.
In the past new members came to the club chiefly through word of mouth. Recently a website was established—chathammensclub.org—as well as a Facebook page to both communicate with members and provide a platform through which prospective members could learn about the group.
It's a far cry from the group's origins, when Ted Bigelow asked a few friends over to his Tide Mill Lane home—they actually met in the garden shed—to discuss current affairs over coffee and donuts. Two years later, in 1959, the group had grown to 13 and was hosted by Fire Chief Chester A. Eldredge at the fire station. In 1965 bylaws were created and the presiding officer became the moderator; there were 25 members who met at St. Martin's Lodge. The group moved to the parish hall at St. Christopher's Church in 1979, to the VFW for one year in 2006, and then to the community center when it opened in 2007. Over the years, more than 40 men have served as presiding officer or moderator.
Today the group has seven active committees, including the executive committee, which functions more or less as a board of directors. Chuck Borkowski heads up the program committee, and he's done an “amazing” job of finding an array of interesting speakers, Shallow said. But the most important committee is the coffee committee; they're the first ones members see when the arrive at the Friday meetings.
“You get to meet members and become friends through the coffee committee,” said Lane. “They're no better way to get to know the club and its members.”
Just as today's retirees are not like those of generations past, the Chatham Men's Club will no longer be operating under the radar.
“It's not going to be a quiet club anymore,” said Lane.
“I think as a club we need to stay young and flexible,” he added. “There's an audience out there we want to connect with. I think that's going to spell a different dynamic down the road.”
For more information about joining the Chatham Men's Club, visit its webpage or attend its Friday afternoon meetings, held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the community center.