DRAFFENVILLE – The propane burners were fired up, the vegetable oil was bubbling and the fish filets were turning brown. The large pavilion at Mike Miller Park was filling up with the tantalizing smells of good food and with the murmur of conversation.
There were handshakes and hugs, smiles and laughter – and some tall tales.
“I caught all these fish,” one bragged, and everybody laughed and hooted derisively.
It was a Wednesday afternoon ritual, a loose-jointed summer schedule of get-togethers of a group of men from the Lakes region and from across the Commonwealth, part of an ongoing social event that revolves a round golf, fishing and fellowship.
Tom Buchanan, retired superintendent of Lyon County schools, is considered by most members of the group to be the administrator of this activity. It’s Buchanan, they say, who schedules the outings, makes hotel reservations, arranges tee times, sometimes breaks the group into teams for scrambles or other formats.
And they credit him for getting the activity started.
“Back about 22 years ago, there were several school superintendents who traveled a lot, back and forth to Lousiville, Lexington, all the places that we went to meet,” Buchanan said. “We decided that sometime we need to get together away from school.”
So, one summer, the handful of school administrators headed for the Gulf Coast. Getting away eventually became a twice-a-year ritual.
“At that time, I think we left on a Wednesday afternoon and played golf Thursday, Friday and Saturday and came home Sunday,” Buchanan said.
Destinations included Panama City and Destin, on Florida’s Gulf Coast; Myrtle Beach, S.C., one year; and other locations.
“The last 19 or so years we’ve been in Biloxi and Gulfport (Miss.),” he said.
A winter trip to Florida, in late January or early February, was added. Then, the weekly Wednesday get-togethers were added.
“We tried through the years, after retirement especially, playing on Wednesday,” Buchanan said. “Everyone knew where it would be – all summer long, late spring, early fall, we may still have 30 show up. We never know the number.”
More than 30 were on hand for a gathering at Miller Park in late September.
“The face of the group has changed,” Buchanan said. “Friends of superintendents and other people who wanted to go, we never eliminated anyone who wanted to go and play golf.”
The golf is an incidental, Buchanan said.
“We don’t play because of the golf,” he said. “We play because of the fellowship. We enjoy the golf, but if the fellowship weren’t there, none of us would by playing golf.”
The road trips are special events, of course, but the weekly assemblies are practically as big. They may be held at a public location such as Miller Park or hosted by any of the group’s members at their homes.
“Any Wednesday, we may have as many as five people who have driven from 170 to 200-plus miles to be with us,” Buchanan said. “That in itself just thrills me, to see those guys want to come and be with us. From around here, we go all the way from Fulton County to all over the state.”
Although the primary purpose is old-fashioned male bonding, wives are not excluded from these gatherings. Several spouses were on hand for the September gathering at Miller Park, and their contributions to the main course of fried fish helped make the meal complete.
Through more than two decades, the enthusiasm has not dimmed.
“I still see guys talk about the enjoyment of it and how much they relate to everybody, with tears in their eyes,” Buchanan said. “That’s just how we feel about each other. It’s been such a close-knit group, and even the guys that have come in for a year or two, they just fall right in immediately and they love our group, too.”
He looked around at the noisy group in the pavilion and said, “To watch people who look so forward to getting together each week or on these trips, it’s just a blessing for me. It’s another gift from the Lord and we thank Him daily for it.”