Same Time Next Month

Georgia Southern Alumni Gather for Monthly Reunion 15 Years Running

Every month, the location changes but the scene is the same — a ritual now 15 years and counting.

At a predetermined restaurant somewhere in Augusta, a group of about 20 Georgia Southern alumni, most of them now retirees, meet again to share good food and good memories.

They affectionately call each other by their last names. They give each other a good ribbing about how tall they used to be. They share handshakes and the occasional embrace. Some are visiting for the first time…or the first time in a long time. Some have travelled hours just to make it this month.

It’s a joyous time for old friends to reconnect and remember. And, like some of the best things in life, it was unexpectedly born out of tragedy.

Almost 60 years ago, Robert McNair (’64) and Larry Rachels (’64) were roommates who lived in Brannen Hall at Georgia Southern College. Back then, says McNair, Georgia Southern was home to about 2,500 students. Statesboro was largely confined to Main Street, where Highway 301, which served as the main route from Florida to New York, brought a steady stream of travelers through town.

“There was no I-95 — nothing like that,” said McNair. “And most of the travel going from North to South or vice versa came through Statesboro…. The Paragon [restaurant] was right off campus. It was a big spot. They built an A&W Root Beer, which was up the street. There was Franklin’s all the way up at 25 and 301…and they had a Howard Johnson’s restaurant at the end, and I think it was on Monday nights was all the fish you could eat. So you saw college students everywhere.”

McNair remembers staying up late with Rachels and his friends, going to the Alumni Gym at midnight and playing basketball for three or four hours, then driving up to Franklin’s for a hamburger, coming back and sleeping for a couple of hours before going to class.

“You can do that when you’re young,” he said, laughing. “I couldn’t do it any more.”

On the weekends, Rachels would head home to Warrenton, Georgia, to see his high school sweetheart, Joan, and work at Rachels Café, his family’s donut shop. By the time he got back to campus on Sunday night, there was a room full of guys waiting for him. He had a habit of bringing a couple dozen donuts back to the dorm.

After they both graduated in 1964, Rachels returned to Warrenton to marry Joan, and began working with a land surveyor with whom he later partnered and built a successful business. McNair became a senior insurance claims representative in Savannah. They rarely connected for years. In 1980, McNair remarried and asked Rachels to be a groomsman, but they lost touch again after the event.

“We went our separate ways,” said McNair. “After that, we really had no contact to amount to anything. Maybe once in a while if I was going through town or something I would stop and speak with him.”

In March of 2005, Rachels’ wife, Joan, passed away from cancer. McNair, who’d moved back to the Augusta area, happened to be passing through Warrenton soon after the funeral, and ran into an old friend who told him the news. He called Rachels to check on him, and the two sat down for a visit for the first time in decades.

“We sat there and talked for a while and just reminisced,” recalled McNair. “And I said, ‘Look, we live 20 miles apart. Why don’t we just meet in Thomson on Friday at Ryan’s?’ So we did that, and I said, ‘Why don’t we start doing this once a month? If you know somebody we went to school with locally, invite them. Before we knew it, we had about 18 people.”

Lamar Garrard (R) reconnects with classmates.

Many of the group’s regulars include prominent businessmen, administrators and politicians in the area, as well as educators and professionals. Pat Blanchard (’65) is a former bank president; E.G. Meybohm (’64) is a real estate investor; Tommy “Chico” Jones (’65) is a former program analyst for the Department of Defense; Jim Blanchard (’63) is a superior court judge in Columbia County; Gerald Baygents (’64) is a former school principal; Don Bargeron (’64) is a former cell phone executive; Bob Morris (’65) was an institutional food sales executive; Gary Hardy (’65) is a former finance office manager; Robert Bargeron (’63) is a former wholesale jewelry representative; Buddy Harrison (’64) is a former FBI agent; Randy Sherrer (’64) is a former bank executive; Charles Reeves (’65) a former education administrator; and Doug Day (’64) is a former school superintendent.

Despite their vocations or distinction, however, these friends simply get together to remember.

They were there in 1962 when the Eagles baseball team won the NAIA National Championship. They were in the Alumni Gym in 1964 when Eagles Hall of Fame basketball legend Fran Florian scored 60 in an upset against Jacksonville University. That same year, the Eagles made an NAIA national tournament bid.

They remember the popular bands that visited campus — Peter, Paul and Mary, The Letterman and The Chad Mitchell Trio. They remember the school dances, and the names and faces of the girls they danced with. They talk about old friends who are now sick, friends who’ve moved across the country, friends who have passed on.

Pictured (L to R): Gerald Baygents, Jim Blanchard and Randy Sherrer

“We talk about how great we were back then, which is all a bunch of tall tales, you know,” said Lamar Garrard (’64), laughing. A former salesman, Garrard is now a regionally syndicated sports columnist, and wrote an article about the Georgia Southern lunch group for The Warrenton Clipper.

“Each month when the first Friday rolls around, you will find this group of friends for over 50 years or longer eating, laughing, sharing stories, and having a grand time of fellowship at some local restaurant,” Garrard wrote. “These young at heart gentlemen all feel that it was just yesterday when they were living the carefree life of a college student in the 1960s.”

Despite all the historic events that surrounded them in the ’60s — the beginning of the space race, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the British Invasion — it’s the people that these alumni remember; the professors, classmates and friends that make up their years at Georgia Southern. McNair, now 81 years old, says the group is a vital connection to college memories he might otherwise forget.

“Somebody may know somebody that we knew, but we hadn’t been in touch with them in 40 or 50 years,” he said. “And they’ll bring up somebody’s name, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, yeah!’ And once in a while, people will bring their annuals and we’ll look at pictures of them. So it’s just a good time of reminiscing and remembering people.”

ROMEO Club members meeting for dinner
The ROMEO Club meets again. Pictured are ( Standing, L to R): Robert McNair, Lamar Garrard, Gerald Baygents, Jim Blanchard,
Don Bargeron, Tommy “Chico” Jones, Buddy Harrison, Gary Hardy, Randy Sherrer, Larry Rachels, Charles Reeves, (Seated) Pat Blanchard

“You know, we’re just a ROMEO club,” he added. “Retired Old Men Eating Out.” — Doy Cave

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