Lunch Bunch: Remembering the Best of Times

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By Roberto Vazquez
POLY LUNCH BUNCH MEMBERS, from left, seated at Joe Jost’s, are Fred Simpson, Tom DeLong, Dick Miller, Al Cruchley and Jim Ovard.

They’ve lost the Berg brothers, Dick and Dave. Gone are Bob Irwin, Don Rowan and Bill Selditz too.

“Each year, we lose a few more,” said Tom DeLong. DeLong and these men grew up in Bixby Knolls, graduated from Poly in the 1950s and still reunite once a year, as part of the Poly lunch bunch.

Jim Gill said, “Our motto is, ‘The greatest time in America, the greatest place in America and the greatest friends.’” It was a time when the music on the radio airwaves included Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and cool jazz. Gill shared, “R&B was the rage.”

It was also a time for fraternities (Comus, Sphinx and Delphi), when they cruised souped-up hot rods and gas cost just 15 cents.

Gill added, “And no one cared about your background, no one knew if you were rich or poor.”

Recently, the lunch bunch reunited at Joe Jost’s, their first meeting since 2019, due to COVID-19.

For Tom DeLong the reunions have become special events. “It’s kinda neat, something I look forward to. Hanging on to your roots, being able to rekindle your memories. If you’re lucky, those are good memories.”

Over schooners of ice-cold beers, they joked about aging, too. Steve Conley said, “If you have a calendar for 2022, you’re a real optimist.” DeLong chimed in, “I no longer buy green bananas!”

For Gordon Toombs the reunion at the tavern sparked a particular memory. With a gleam in his eyes, he recalled, “My first 15 cent glass of draft beer. I was 16 at the time. Those were the best of times.”

Carl Malkmus said, “This is the first time I come here and don’t have a beer!” He laughed, then shared that he came from south of Reno, just to reunite with his old friends.

From his home in Utah, Bob Swenson said, “I miss a lot of those guys. It was fun growing up.”

Swenson was a member of Comus. Asked if his fraternity was the most popular with the girls, Swenson replied, “You better believe it!”

The men recalled a Long Beach economy prospering after WWII. Jobs were plentiful in auto and aircraft manufacturing, as well the oil and naval shipyard industries. DeLong said, “Long Beach was vastly different than it is now.”

Steve Moseley agreed about that period in Long Beach history.

Moseley has the distinction of being the only member in the lunch bunch to not attend Poly, having attended Wilson High School.

He and his brothers, Bruce and Peter, were lucky just to be in Bixby Knolls. “My Dad found the last empty lot in Bixby Knolls, on California Avenue and Tehachapi, and hired a contractor right away. All of us (kids) came from stable families. Moms didn’t work, but dads worked hard.”

His father, Dave Moseley, worked for Douglas Aircraft. He noted the pride of Douglas employees in those days. “My dad used to say, ‘I would never work for anybody else, other than Donald Douglas.’”

It was that type of loyalty that embodied their generation. It was the era when Long Beach offered a change of pace and lifestyle from Los Angeles.

Gill pointed out, “Long Beach was the stepchild to Los Angeles. Long Beach was much more relaxed and laid back. It was founded by those Dust Bowl people from Iowa, Minnesota … Midwesterners.”

The lunch bunch began in 1997, when a handful of the neighborhood friends met at Myrtle’s Cafe, in Newport Beach. That first meeting included Joe Case, Tony Gregory, Bud Rasner and Bill and Bob Swenson.

The way Bob Swenson explains it, his brother Bill suggested they meet again, the following year.

Swenson then organized the second and third reunions at Los Castillos Restaurant, owned by fellow Poly grad, Joe Castillo. The group moved, thereafter, to the Long Beach Yacht Club, where it remained for nearly 20 years.

Over time, the leadership of the lunch bunch evolved.

After Swenson moved to Utah, Bud Rasner and Steve Conley organized the reunions, respectively, and now it’s Jim Gill.

Al Cruchley was grateful to see old friends again, recalling their lifelong friendships, going all the way back to Los Cerritos Elementary and Charles Evans Hughes Junior High. The main thing was the camaraderie,” he said. Adding, “I don’t know how we would be able to continue to function without Jim Gill … There are not enough Jim Gill’s in the world. The world would be a better place.”

One by one, the men began to leave the tavern.

Amid peanut shells and empty schooners, the conversation turned to the kids of today. Moseley, a retired educator stated, “They aren’t any different from my generation. Kids are kids.”

Moseley added, “One thing they have to do is let kids fail. We’ve become too overprotective.”

Asked the secret to his generation, Moseley said, “Teaching good values, strong family ties, everybody working together, everybody knowing boundaries…”

The last of the lunch bunch then rose and stepped into sunshine, bidding farewells. But before leaving, they made arrangements for next year’s reunion, and the chance to reminisce about the greatest time of their lives.

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