Clyde Kirby was staying at a hotel in Idaho when, at breakfast, he noticed a group of people gathered around a table covered with coffee cups. Talking. Laughing. “It wast just like home,” he says. “I realized, every town has one.”
A morning coffee club, to be precise. For more than 20 years, the Hood River Hotel has been home to its own coffee klatsch. Around 8 a.m. every day, the members start showing up, one by one. Most just sip coffee. On a recent morning, the only member eating breakfast was also the only woman, Sue Hull, a local stationer.
“Women are allowed,” Hull says, “they’re just not invited.”
The gang laughed.
“Oh, yeah, women started coming in the ’70s,” says John Stanley. “They’re just never allowed to be a majority.”
More laughter. It’s clear from the joshing that the club’s members take themselves seriously, but only when they’re poking fun at themselves. Or Democrats. The members mostly identify with the Republican Party. On this morning, one member, a longtime local Democrat, is missing.
“Even Rodger (Schock) is a Republican when he’s in here,” Stanley quips.
The club started as a way for downtown business owners to share news and views.
“Being a business owner and a Democrat is an oxymoron,” Hull says.
Topics of discussion range all over the map, embracing hot-button subjects such as sports and religion. “But it’s mostly politics,” says Norm Mayer.
“Everybody gets to spend time in the barrel,” says Clyde Kirby.
Since its inception around the time that the Hood River Hotel was remodeled and re-opened as a hotel, the club has seen members come and go. Sometimes they move south for the winter, and return in the spring. Sometimes they move underground.
“We’ve had up to 20 in here, if all the semi-regular and regulars show up,” Stanley says. “But we’ve been down to three or four. We’ve probably lost a half-dozen to a dozen guys.”
One, a charter member, is former state Sen. Ken Jernstedt, now living near Portland in an assisted living facility. Jernstedt was legally blind, and walked to meetings with the aid of his guide dog. On his 88th and 90th birthdays, the club held surprise parties for him, the latter with a live band.
“He told me, ‘I’d love to have my sight back, but because I’ve lost my sight, I’m in better physical condition than any of my peers’,” recalls member Glenn Adams.
“Ken walked everywhere. He’d walk down here and refuse a ride back up to his house. As he got older, though, he’d accept a ride back up.”