Dec. 4 , 2006

It's more than just coffee and a cookie: it's company

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Between them, they have 40 children, and more than 70 grandchildren.

The 10 “regulars” who meet for coffee every morning at Flippin’ Bill’s in Delano also have a lot of stories, and plenty of bull to go around.

It’s been a morning ritual for some of these guys since the late 1970s. Coffee, a cookie or breakfast, and dice.

The newest of the crew is Bill Severin, who is 81. He is a retired school teacher, and has also done some crop adjusting. He moved to the Delano area about nine years ago, he said.

“These guys adopted me here,” Severin said with a laugh. “Just about every morning, we get together here.”

Severin, while a coach at Grand Meadow High School, south of Rochester, from 1958 to 1966, set a state record for only losing one football game during those years. He has five children and eight grandchildren.

Ken Moonen, who will be 72 later this month, was born and raised in Watertown, remembers the old Watertown-Delano rivalry well, and now lives near Delano on Farmington Avenue.

“They wouldn’t let him move to town,” joked Ed Meister.

Moonen helped start Harman Glass, before beginning J&J Glass, which is now operated by his sons, Ted, Mark, and Dan, and daughter Mary Jo Schaust.

He said the company has done windows for 99 McDonald’s restaurants across Minnesota and surrounding states, and says now, he just “drives around in my Model T.”

“My biggest job right now is to keep these guys in line,” Moonen joked. He has seven children and 17 grandchildren.

Across the table from Moonen sits “The Sheister” – Ed Meister.

Meister has lived in Delano for about 40 years, and is a retired contractor.

His sense of humor is a standout amongst the group, and he’ll make any newcomer feel right at home with a quick remark or comeback. When asked for his phone number in case this reporter had any follow-up questions, he stated he didn’t know it.

“I called home one time,” he joked. “A guy answered, so I hung up.”

Meister has five children, 11 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Next to Meister at the table is Milton Voltin. He recalls starting work at the local power plant April 8, 1950.

“I was burning ‘W’s’ into Delano’s football field during that time,” joked Moonen.

Voltin came to Delano from the Little Falls area, and recently turned 84.

“I’d swear he wasn’t a day over 95,” chimed in Meister.

Voltin worked for the City of Delano for 36 years, and also operated his own electrical contracting business before retiring in 1986. He has six children and 12 grandchildren.

Pete Theis, who has lived in Delano since 1950, owned and operated the Amoco Station in town for many years. He grew up in Watkins.

“I started coming here when I retired in 2000,” Theis said. “I was busy working, and had to go to work at 8.”

Theis has three children and four grandchildren, and he served on the Delano Fire Department for 30 years. One of Pete’s sons, Chuck, is also a regular at the table each morning. Chuck Theis works for Northwest Airlines, and also served on the Delano Fire Department for 17 years.

Wayne Espey has also been a familiar face around the table, as well as at the football stadium, for many years.

The former Delano Citizen of the Year moved to the area in the mid-1960s, and although is retired, still does some auctioneering.

He was also a school teacher in Hopkins before moving to Delano. He started coming to morning coffee with Aubie Theis.

“He asked me to come to town to sell real estate,” Espey said. “That’s how I got started with that. Auctioneering goes well with that.”

Espey has three children and nine grandchildren.

LeRoy Moonen grew up near Watertown, and has lived in Delano for 25 to 30 years. He is retired from Ditty Plumbing and Heating, and has been coming for coffee “off and on for many years.”

Moonen has four children and five grandchildren. He also served on the Delano Fire Department for 21 years. He said he started coming for morning coffee with the guys shortly after Jon Hanson took over operations of Tom Thumb (now Flippin’ Bill’s).

Clarian Kowalski, who was not at morning coffee when the group was interviewed, is originally from northwest Minnesota, according to Espey. He did a lot of contracting work, and is “just a whiz at it.”

And there’s Al. Al Lindquist has lived in Delano since 1964, and is a retired drywall contractor. Lindquist has been in construction his entire life.

He was born and raised on the Iron Range, and said he was working for a contractor who developed land near Delano, and eventually bought a piece of land for his own, and relocated to the area. He has four children and five grandchildren.

“In about 2000, I guess, I started coming here,” Lindquist said. “It’s a way to waste time. We don’t come up here for the money, that’s for sure!”

“They call this ‘male bonding’ when we come up here,” he added with a laugh.

As far as these 10 members of the group, origins date back to 1979, when a group gathered at what is now Three Crows on River Street, formerly Bodo’s Cafe, which was owned by Bob and Delores Klaers, Ken Moonen said.

“It was a pretty popular place,” added Meister.

“That was back in the old days when I was working and not having coffee,” Moonen said.

Espey said many members have either passed away or moved out of the area. Espey said Rich Ditty came for coffee every morning for years.

“He came for many years and shook dice,” Espey said. “He’s retired now, and lives on Leech Lake near Walker.”

An air of sadness came over the group as they read the daily morning paper, and learned of the passing of one of their own.

Jerry “Springer” Gosewisch’s funeral notice was in the newspaper.

“He was a lot of fun,” Espey said. “We went and visited him in the hospital.”

The group also said that Don Farniok, who was a truck driver, always stopped for morning coffee when he wasn’t on the road. Former Delano Fire Chief Winnie Sinkel was also a regular around the table for many years.

Espey noted there are a lot of locals who will stop by from time to time and have morning coffee with the guys, including Kevin Max and Bill Eppel.

“We consider Bill part of the group, but he doesn’t shake,” Espey said.

He said it seems like most people begin showing up only from time to time, and continually show up more often. Eventually, they are considered a part of the group.

They even have someone who comes all the way from California to shake dice with them. Well, he may come back for other reasons, but former Delano resident Jim Althoff stops in at Flippin’ Bill’s several times a year when he is back in the area.

The group only meets Monday through Friday.

“We don’t work weekends,” joked Espey.

Espey considers Severin to be the “celebrity” of the group, for his state football record.

“The funniest thing is probably meeting you,” Pete Theis joked to Espey, when asked about the funniest memory from over the years.

“We’re older. We can’t remember things under pressure,” Espey joked.

Chuck Theis and Glen Pilarski are several of the “newbies” in the group.

“I’m sure they’ll continue the tradition,” Espey said.

“It’s a way to get the day going,” he added. “It’s the highlight of many of these guys’ days.”

Voltin is the group’s computer whiz, and maintains a payment log, complete with nicknames of all the guys.

Kim Meyer, who has worked the counter at Flippin’ Bill’s for about 11 months, said the guys all give her a hard time, and “they drink too much coffee."

“They are all great guys,” she said. “Oh, and Ed, by far, is the rowdiest.”

“She’s as much a part of the group as anybody,” Espey said of Meyer.

Bonnie Brandenbur has been a cook at Flippin’ Bill’s for the past seven years.

“They harass me and give me a hard time daily,” she said of the group. “Some of them I fix the same breakfast for every day. I think their wives must throw them out.

“When I see LeRoy’s truck, I start his breakfast and have it ready when he comes in . . . he’s been having the exact same breakfast Monday through Friday for seven years.”

As Meister makes another wisecrack in the background, Espey can’t help but take notice.

“You can see how the coffee stimulates the imagination,” Espey said with a laugh.

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