By Karen Mahoney
Special to Your Catholic Herald
On the last Wednesday of the month, members of the Over 50 Club attend morning Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Milwaukee and gather for a program and lunch.
More than 250 members strong, the group is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Wednesday May 28 at the parish.
Originally a weekly faith group social, the group began meeting in 1976 in the parish hall after the 9:30 a.m. Mass for seniors. Former Our Lady of Lourdes pastor Fr. Bill Stanfield designed a special Mass around the seniors’ needs.
According to charter member Janet Grafwallner, the original faith group encompassed a small table of seniors who chatted about Mass, faith, grandchildren or other events.
“We would usually have a little cake or doughnuts and some coffee or something,” she said. “It wasn’t much, but it was very nice.”
As the group grew, one Wednesday per month was set aside for the Over 50 Club. For 83-year-old Grafwallner, the group was a good way for her and her husband Ed to make new friends while sharing their faith with others.
“I usually worked with a group of nice ladies in the kitchen and my husband and I have made some great friends over the years,” she said. “Of course, a lot of them have passed away; in fact, all of the ones from the original kitchen are either gone or not well enough to help anymore.”
In addition to fellowship and faith sharing, the Over 50 Club has enjoyed trips, tours and educational experiences. More than 200 religious and educational programs have been presented during its 25-year history. One highlight for 93-year-old Leona Rieck was a trip to St. Louis after her husband passed away.
“My husband, Sid, died in 1985 and our president, Paul Wadina, encouraged me to go on the trip,” said the charter member, adding, “We went to the St. Louis Arch, but with Sid not there I was afraid to go up. So Paul took me by the hand and guided me up; he was so nice to me. Paul is very ill now but I hope he can make it to the celebration.”
After Rieck gave up her driver’s license three years ago, her daughter began bringing her to the monthly events and soon found she also felt at home with the over-50 crowd.
“She likes it, too, and if it weren’t for her I would have a tough time getting there each time,” she said. “We have a great president, Ray Reiman, and he comes up with some really good ideas. Last month we had Fr. Dominic (Roscioli) from Kenosha; sometimes we have the Boy Scouts, speakers or even singing groups. I look forward to every meeting.”
According to Reiman, in his sixth term as president of the organization, about 100 seniors gather for the 9:30 Mass, celebrated by Fr. Mick Savio, Our Lady of Lourdes pastor. A light luncheon is part of the Wednesday faith group and approximately 130 are regular attendees for the Over 50 Club.
“Annual dues are only $5 per person,” he said. “The food is bought with money donated by members at the weekly gatherings or brought in by guests celebrating their birthdays or just out of the goodness of their hearts.”
For charter member Kate Crisp, the club was the perfect outlet for her and her husband after he was laid off from his job in 1982.
“He didn’t have any work after that so for us, it was a wonderful chance to get to know others from our church and from other parishes who wanted to spend time together,” she said. “In the beginning we all got name tags and each time we renewed our membership we got a star on our name badge.”
As the parish sacristan, Crisp, 80, was already involved with her parish. Joining the club offered her husband an outlet to meet others and become part of a faith group.
“It is a good program, and it was nice for my husband because he would play Sheepshead and he would sit at one of the tables with a bunch of the guys and they would talk and talk,” she said. “We went on lots of trips, such as the Miller Brewery, the museums, Oshkosh; over the years we have gotten to see a lot of different things.”
Running the Over 50 Club takes a substantial amount of time and planning, but Reiman thrives on the activity.
“It is a good organization,” he said. “There are so many good people in the group and I like the fact that we not only gather for Mass, but it is also an enjoyable social group; the people in the group and other members of the board are great to work with.”
In addition to participating in Mass, and attending the celebratory lunch, surviving charter members, first president Paul Wadina, Gordy Berendt, Janet and Ed Grafwallner, Reggie Schmid, Kate Crisp, Leona Rieck, Joan Bogenski, Betty Hashek, Lauretta Redman, and Delphine and Eddie Kurdziel will be serenaded at the May 28 Social by Hall of Fame Concertinist Vern Tretow and his band, “Vern & the Originals.”
The Over 50 Club includes an annual holiday party in February and a picnic in July.
Admission for these two events, attended regularly by 150 to 175 members, is $5. Included are a catered meal and many door or bingo prizes.
Members at the special parties also can buy tickets for substantial raffle prizes donated by the Green Bay Packers, Sunset Playhouse, Discovery World, Milwaukee Bucks, Brewers and Admirals, local religious supply stores, and gift certificates by local businesses and restaurants.
In addition to president, Reiman, other officers are Tony Molter, vice president; Lucy Birschbach, secretary; Donald Brockman, treasurer; Pat Riedy, program chairman; and Bob Simms, tour chairman.